Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's seven-nation tour of Africa seeks to affirm a commitment by the Obama administration to tackle trouble spots from Somalia and Zimbabwe to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.
Clinton kicked off the 11-day trip — her longest overseas journey to date as the top U.S. diplomat — by flying Monday night to Kenya where she will address an African trade and development forum, meet top Kenyan officials and see the beleaguered president of lawless Somalia's interim government.
Kenya, the homeland of President Barack Obama's late father, is struggling to overcome political and tribal divisions laid bare in early 2008 after disputed elections between the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Obama, on a visit to Kenya in 2006, had urged Kenyans not to let those differences mar their democratic development, and U.S. officials say Clinton will repeat that message with Kibaki and Odinga, who became prime minister in a power-sharing deal that ended the crisis.
U.S. support to Somalia
Officials say she will also offer U.S. support to Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, whose embattled government is trying to face down Islamist extremists accused of links with al-Qaida who threaten to destabilize the Horn of Africa region.
"We think that the problems in southern Somalia have started to bleed regionally and internationally," the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said last week. He noted that violence in Somalia, which has not had a functioning central authority since 1991, has led to an exodus of refugees that has strained the capacity of its neighbors, notably Kenya.
Clinton then travels to South Africa, where she will urge President Jacob Zuma's government to do more to press neighboring Zimbabwe, in the throes of economic crisis, to fully implement a political pact between President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Health care initiatives
In Pretoria, Johannesburg and Capetown, Clinton will also underscore the importance of efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and pledge continuing U.S. backing for health care initiatives in Africa, some of which have been led by her husband's private foundation.
Clinton will then visit oil-rich Angola, one of southern Africa's largest energy producers and a major supplier of crude and natural gas to the U.S. market. Angola has in recent years been courted by China, and Clinton's trip there is intended to strengthen its ties with the U.S.
From Angola, Clinton heads to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been wracked by violence since genocidal forces from Rwanda fled into its eastern mountains 15 years ago. At its height, the conflict involved half a dozen of the country's neighbors.
While a 2003 peace deal reduced the fighting, the army and rebel groups continue to attack villages and mutilate and kill civilians, often using rape as a weapon of war. Clinton will visit Goma in eastern Congo and press Congolese authorities and a U.N. peacekeeping force there to step up efforts to end the epidemic of gender-based violence.
After Congo, the secretary will move on to Nigeria, another major U.S. energy supplier that has been struggling with rampant corruption. Last week's violence between police and an Islamist sect killed more than 700 people.
Clinton plans to address both issues in Abuja, where she will also discuss the importance of good governance and praise Nigeria's role as a leader and major troop contributor to regional and U.N. peacekeeping missions.
In Liberia, which is recovering from 20 years of civil strife, Clinton will show U.S. support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the only female African president, and offer backing for development and security reform.
Clinton's last stop will be Cape Verde, a group of nine small islands off Senegal with a population of less than half a million that is often hailed as a success story for African democracy despite its lack of natural resources.
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