DAKAR (AFP) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will laud Senegal’s democratic credentials Wednesday on the first leg of a 11-day African tour focused on peace and security that will also take her to troubled South Sudan.
Her visit comes amid growing threats from Al-Qaeda on the continent and as the US seeks to claw back ground from China which has become Africa’s biggest economic partner.
Clinton, whose tour will also take her to Ebola-hit Uganda, was expected to meet Senegalese President Macky Sall Wednesday.
The 50-year-old Sall thrashed his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade at the polls in March after the veteran leader’s bid for a controversial third term in office sparked riots and threatened to tarnish Senegal’s democracy.
Wade’s acceptance of the results and the smooth transition of power was hailed as an example on the continent.
“Our desire is to applaud the election of President Sall,” a US official said. “Senegal has been our strongest and most reliable partner in francophone Africa”.
The US foreign affairs chief was also expected to make a speech at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University.
She will “deliver a speech applauding the resilience of Senegal’s democratic institutions and highlighting America’s approach to partnership,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
She is then expected to head on to South Sudan, followed by stops in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana.
She has also added a stop in Ghana to attend the August 10 state funeral of president John Atta Milla who died on July 24, according to a US official.
In June, US President Barack Obama had laid out his strategy for African development with the aim of consolidating security and democracy and stimulating growth.
“We want to underscore the US importance for strong, open, accountable and democratic institutions,” the US official said. “We want to expand opportunities for US trade and development. Our desire is to encourage better growth and investment.”
The continent has become a hive of terrorist activity and extremism, and concerns are high after Al-Qaeda affiliates seized the north of Senegal’s neighbour Mali, four months ago.
The United States is also facing competition from China’s economic offensive on the continent. China has been Africa’s principle economic partner since 2009, and just doubled its credit line to Africa to $20 billion (18 billion euro)
“China is not our economic adversary in Africa, but simply a competitor like any other country,” the official said. But “when we do business overseas, we do it in an open and transparent manner.”
Clinton has in the past warned Africa of neo-colonialism, amid concerns that China’s voracious appetite for commodities has seen it ignore human rights abuses and exploit the continent for its own benefit.
A likely highlight of the trip will be a meeting with 94-year-old former South African president and democracy icon Nelson Mandela.
Her visit to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, will take her to the continent’s newest, and one of its most troubled, nations.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July last year but the two have yet to set a definitive border and are in dispute over oil revenues and citizenship rules.
The United States is leading international calls to the two neighbours to step up efforts to reach a peace deal this week or face possible United Nations sanctions.
The UN Security Council has given the two states, who this year came close to all-out war, until Thursday to make a peace deal.
While in South Sudan, Clinton will meet President Salva Kiir “to reaffirm US support and to encourage progress in negotiations with Sudan to reach agreement on issues related to security, oil and citizenship,” Nuland said.
Before returning to the United States on August 10, Clinton will also stop in Uganda, undeterred by reports that the deadly Ebola virus has reached the capital Kampala.
Fourteen people have died since Ebola broke out in western Uganda three weeks ago.
In Kenya, Clinton will hold talks with top officials, and, “to underscore US support for completing the political transition in Somalia by August 20,” will also meet Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, according to Nuland.
After visiting Malawi, Clinton will head to South Africa accompanied by an American business delegation.