DAKAR — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Africa Tuesday for an 11-day tour focusing on strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth and advancing security.
The State Department says Secretary Clinton will visit at least six countries on her tour, including South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa in addition to Senegal.
The first stop will be Dakar, where she will give a speech that, according to a news release, will applaud "the resilience of Senegal's democratic institutions" and highlight "America's approach to partnership."
J. Peter Pham, the head of the Washington-based Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, said this trip reflects sub-Saharan Africa's growing strategic importance to the United States.
"Not only the potential dangers in vast ungoverned spaces to harbor terrorists and other extremists, a point driven home if by nothing than what has happened in Somalia in recent years as well as what is happening in northern Mali, but also the recognition of increased dependence of the United States on energy resources from Africa, both North Africa and the Gulf of Guinea area, which now surpass U.S. energy imports from the Persian Gulf region," said Pham.
This will be the secretary's first trip to Africa since the Obama administration released its new strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa in June. The policy has four pillars: strengthening democratic institutions; spurring economic growth, trade and investment; advancing peace and security; and promoting development.
Alex Vines, the head of the Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House, said the trip is about "drumming up business for American companies."
"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," said Vines. "That's what this trip is about. This is very much a commercial trip."
Vines said increased U.S. commercial investment would be good for Africa, which is home to some of the world's fastest growing economies and populations.
"This is also kind of a delayed response to what China's been doing," he said. "Sub-Saharan Africa now is seen as more a continent of opportunity than risk and U.S. companies have been traditionally, except in the oil business, extremely conservative."
Last June, Secretary Clinton visited Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. During that trip, Clinton voiced concern about China's aid and investment practices in Africa, saying they are not always consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance.
Pham of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center said this trip is a chance for Secretary Clinton to make an argument for the benefits of U.S. Africa policy compared to engagements of other countries, including China.
"To draw the contrast that the comprehensive, long-term sustained approach is what is ultimately beneficial to African countries and their peoples as a whole rather than deals which may benefit political elite or may have short-term benefits but aren't sustainable in the long-term," he said.
Secretary Clinton's agenda includes nods to democratic success stories like Senegal and Malawi, which have both seen peaceful transitions of power this year, as well as strategic stops in Uganda and Kenya to look at regional security issues.
The State Department says Secretary Clinton will also visit South Sudan, the continent's newest nation, to "reaffirm U.S. support and to encourage progress in negotiations with Sudan to reach agreement on issues related to security, oil and citizenship."
The U.N. Security Council has given the two countries until Thursday to reach a peace agreement.