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Clinton Prepares for Economic-Oriented Africa Tour

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (file photo)
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (file photo)
Nico Colombant

Enhancing trade, development and regional security will be key priorities for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on an Africa tour later this week.

After a stop in the United Arab Emirates to discuss Libya, Secretary Clinton will start the Africa portion of her trip with a scheduled visit to Zambia's capital, Lusaka, Friday.

There, she will speak at the African Growth and Opportunity Act ministerial forum.  The U.S. act, known by its acronym AGOA, provides preferential trade treatment, such as duty free entry, for some African products.

A Clinton spokesman said she would showcase what he called the "centerpiece" of U.S. trade policy with the continent.

J. Peter Pham, an Africa expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, says Clinton's participation is very meaningful.

"Any time senior level U.S. officials engage in Africa, it is very important because Africa suffers often from attention deficit in this town, in Washington," said Pham. "For our senior officials, with so many different challenges and crises around the world, unless there is a pressing calamity or some other disaster in Africa, Africa does not get that engagement."

Pham says he would like to see AGOA, in his words, "re-tooled" to encourage more U.S. investment in Africa and more imported African manufactured goods, beyond the prevalent energy sector.

Development expert Raymond Gilpin, with the United States Institute of Peace, shares these concerns, given that petroleum products account for more than 90 percent of the overall value of U.S. AGOA imports.

"Quite a significant amount of African exports to the United States are still non-AGOA," said Gilpin. "The lion share of AGOA trade is in the petroleum sector and not in the non-petroleum sectors where we would really want to foster sustainable and sustained economic progress as well.  To that extent, it seems a significant constituency in Africa has not been as engaged as it should be. Hopefully, this meeting will also highlight that fact and try to sensitize the key constituencies a lot more, work with chambers of commerce, work with civil society and business groups and work with African governments so that they could feel a greater sense of ownership."

After Zambia, Clinton will visit Tanzania, which in 2008 signed a nearly $700 million, five-year compact with the U.S. government Millennium Challenge Corporation. The money is going toward reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth with investments in transportation, energy and water.

Her other stop will be Ethiopia, a long standing U.S. security ally in the volatile east of Africa. Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti says that visit will be important as well.

"We do have cooperation in various fields," said Mufti. "We have economic cooperation, defense, etc. So we would like to boost this relationship and hopefully this relationship could be strengthened in tandem with the regional stability that we are looking for."

Renewed violence between northern and southern Sudanese as well as the ongoing fighting in Somalia are shared U.S, Ethiopian concerns.

But the leader of the main opposition coalition known as Medrek, former President Negasso Gidada, says he is very disappointed that, as far as he knows, no meeting between Clinton and Ethiopia's opposition has been scheduled.

The opposition leader says internal African politics are also very important. He says, as long as there are serious shortcomings in democracy and human rights, other priorities, such as development and stability, are at risk.

"I think the embassy here should still try to arrange the program so that she meets with us, because it is really a pity if she does not," Gidada said.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been ruling Ethiopia for 20 years, with opposition accusations he denies elections are not free and fair. Planned social media led protests against the anniversary of his rule last month failed to garner much support, amid fears of an internal security crackdown.

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