Yesterday United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kicked off her 2012 tour of Africa. Today she is in Senegal, where she is expected to give a speech about China that does not name China. Other scheduled stops on the tour include South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Ghana.
Press coverage of the tour has emphasized three issues: terrorism, Chinese economic influence in Africa, and democracy. Let’s leave the first of those aside for this post. I have just two brief points to make:
- American rhetoric will not deter African countries from accepting Chinese investment. However forceful the Secretary’s speeches, however persuasive her arguments, African countries will continue to partner with China. Money will speak louder than words.
- Democratic achievements sometimes seem firmer in the present than they do in hindsight. I too applaud Senegal’s democratic transfer of power from one leader to another. I applaud Malawi’s peaceful succession process, and Ghana’s. But each country’s trajectory is different, and today’s democrat may become tomorrow’s autocrat. Defeated Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade earned plaudits as a democrat when he came to office in 2000, only to become another leader seeking an exemption to term limits by 2012. I am not saying that Senegal, Malawi, and Ghana are headed for autocracy, but I am saying that “democratization” often proves fragile.
What do you expect from Secretary Clinton’s visit? What significance do you see in her choice of destinations?
[UPDATE]: Find the transcript of Sec. Clinton’s remarks in Dakar here. An excerpt:
Africa needs partnership, not patronage. And we have tried to build on that challenge. And throughout my trip across Africa this week, I will be talking about what it means, about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value rather than extracts it. That’s America’s commitment to Africa.
So the links between democracy and development is a defining element of the American model of partnership. And I acknowledge that in the past our policies did not always line up with our principles. But today, we are building relationships here in West Africa and across the continent that are not transactional or transitory. They are built to last. And they’re built on a foundation of shared democratic values and respect for the universal human rights of every man and woman. We want to add value to our partners, and we want to add value to people’s lives. So the United States will stand up for democracy and universal human rights, even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing. Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will.