ACCRA, Ghana — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending the funeral of late Ghanian President John Atta Mills on Friday before heading to Benin, her last stop of an 11-day tour of the continent.
Clinton's trip to sub-Saharan Africa, likely her last as America's top diplomat, took her to nine countries, where she celebrated successes and addressed ongoing challenges with regards to security, economic cooperation and development goals, such as promoting women and eradicating HIV/AIDS. Clinton reaffirmed American support in these areas at each stop.
She called on African countries, in particular South Africa where she spent four days, to take their place on the world stage and to be less "wary" of intervention when it comes to protecting democratic values and human rights.
"Consider some of the problems we face today: an anemic global economy, trans-national crime and terrorism, climate change, disease, famine, nuclear proliferation," said Clinton. "None of these problems can be [solved] by any one country acting alone, or even several countries acting together. Each one calls for a global network of partners. Now I've often heard it said that African problems need African solutions. Well, I'm here to say that some of our global problems need African solutions too."
Analysts said Clinton's trip reflected Africa's growing strategic importance to the United States - not only with regards to security and counterterrorism but also energy. Analysts say Africa, in particular the Gulf of Guinea region, is rivaling the Persian Gulf as a source of oil imports.
Clinton stopped in Africa's top oil-producing nations like Nigeria, Ghana and South Sudan, as well as oil debutantes like Kenya and Uganda.
Razia Khan, the head of Africa research at London-based Standard Chartered Bank, said those stops were no accident.
"East Africa is increasingly seen as the new exploration hotspot in terms of oil and gas," said Khan. "Its proximity to more rapidly growing Asian economies means that a lot of trade will probably be focused on the Asia-Africa corridor."
Clinton never mentioned China by name, however many argue that countering China's economic dominance in Africa was, in fact, a key goal of this trip. Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House, said the Clinton clearly had commercial interests in mind.
"Over the last year, there's been a significant push by the Obama administration to ensure that U.S. companies are more aggressive looking for market access and share," Vines said. "That's what this trip is about."
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the world's fastest growing economies and populations. Clinton argued for greater trade among African countries and with the United States that she said would create jobs and economic growth on all sides.
Clinton referred frequently to President's Barack Obama's words in Ghana in 2009.
"Africa needs partnership, not patronage," he said. "Strong institutions, not strong men."
Clinton also praised democratic success in Senegal and Ghana, while calling for free, fair and peaceful elections in Kenya next year and continued progress in Somalia's political transition.
She scored a key diplomatic win in South Sudan which reached an agreement with its former rulers to the North to resume oil production, a move seen as essential to heading off imminent economic collapse and further conflict.
Clinton also reinforced economic and security cooperation with continent heavyweights and key strategic partners, South Africa and Nigeria.
Throughout her trip, the secretary consistently kept women on the agenda. Clinton reminded South Sudan, the world's newest nation, to "include women at every step" of its journey.
She praised the political climb of women in Senegal, where women occupy one of the largest percentages of seats in directly-elected legislative bodies in the world.
"And of course, it makes perfect sense because democracies must be open to and include all of their people, men and women, not just to vote, but to have the chance to participate and to lead," said Clinton.
Observers remarked that the secretary looked particularly "lit up inside" during her visit to Malawi, where she talked about sexual health and economic advancement with women and girls and met with the nation's new president Joyce Banda, Africa's second-ever female leader.
Clinton also met now 94-year-old former South African leader Nelson Mandela at his home in Qunu.
In a rare personal glimpse, the secretary went off script during her remarks in Cape Town and shared her own past yearnings for revenge during her up-and-down journey in American politics.
"It’s easy to lose sight of the common humanity of those who oppose you," she said. "You get to feeling that your way is the right way, that your agenda is the only one that will save the people. And all of the sudden, you begin to dehumanize the opposition and the other."
A key turning point for her, she said, came at Mandela's inauguration in 1994, when the anti-apartheid leader called on his three white jailers to stand.
The men, Mandela said, had treated him like a human being during his 27 years of political imprisonment. He thanked them and said he had made the choice upon his release to let go of "bitterness and hatred" and work toward reconciliation.