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Hillary Clinton Starts Tour of Seven African Countries


On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begins a visit to seven countries in Africa. The 11-day trip is to highlight the Obama administration's support for African democracy, economic growth and conflict resolution. In Kenya, Clinton is speaking at a U.S.- Africa trade and economic forum. She is also meeting with the transitional leader of Somalia.

U.S. officials say the visit is aimed at showing America's commitment to Africa as a U.S. foreign policy priority. Last month, President Obama went to Ghana - his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since becoming president.

During a whirlwind tour, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with leaders of seven African countries - Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde.

On Tuesday, Clinton is the key speaker at the 8th U.S.-sub-Saharan Africa Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The forum is designed to help increase trade between the U.S. and Africa. Clinton will discuss new approaches to development, emphasizing investment and economic growth, including stronger African links to global markets.

"The United States is desirous of having a broad-based relationship with the continent - that it's not simply interested in providing aid but also opening up and encouraging business opportunities," said Johnnie Carson, the top U.S official for Africa, is with a delegation traveling with Clinton.

U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, is also with the delegation. He says despite economic success stories in Africa, some countries must make changes before their business and investment can grow.

"So what we will do is look case by case. You are not going to build a robust, competitive society if you don't invest in educating people, both men and women," he said. "You aren't going to be able to move goods and services to market, if you don't look at basic infrastructure, and it takes time to build roads, energy and power."

In Nairobi, Clinton is also meeting with leaders from the two major parties in the national unity government to encourage them to take more steps toward reconciliation.

Clinton is also meeting in the Kenyan capital with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, head of the transitional government of Somalia. The U.S. is backing the fragile government which is battling insurgents, known as al-Shabab, who want an Islamic government. The U.S. says al-Shabab is a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida.

Africa envoy Carson is critical of nearby Eritrea for it support of al-Shabab. The situation in Somalia, he says, is not only creating instability but starvation.

"Somali refugees are flowing across the borders into Kenya at between 5,000 and 6,000 a month. Forty percent of the people in southern Somalia are in desperate need of food."

During her tour, Clinton is also addressing food security in Africa.

Economist George Ayittey in Washington recalls when the African continent was exporting food in the 1960's, instead of relying on foreign aid for food.

"Africa gets the foreign aid and turns around and uses that to import food, which means that Africa relies on foreign aid to feed itself," he said. "For Africa to move forward, it needs to produce enough food to feed itself and that is where the focus by Clinton would be extremely helpful."

In South Africa, the U.S. secretary of state will look at the problem of AIDS. She is also meeting with South Africa's leaders to encourage them to push Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, to fully implement a power-sharing accord with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangerai.

Clinton is expected to urge oil rich Nigeria to combat corruption. She is also going to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the site of two wars in the past decade. The region has one of the world's highest rates of sexual violence against women by soldiers and rebel groups.

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