By MATTHEW LEE*
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — In veiled swipes at China’s investments in Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday urged African leaders to embrace democracy and partnerships with responsible foreign powers as a means to improving their living standards and addressing the root causes of extremism on the continent.
Clinton, speaking to university students, lawmakers and diplomats in Senegal’s capital, challenged Africa’s elite to fully respect human rights and she warned of the consequences of rampant abuses, corruption and intolerance that breed contempt and contribute to instability.
“There are still too many places in the region and across the continent where democracy is threatened, where human rights are abused, and the rule of law is undermined,” Clinton said. “Too many Africans still live under autocratic rulers who care more about preserving their grip on power than promoting the welfare of their citizens. Violent extremism, transnational crime and rampant corruption all threaten democracy.”
She said America would stand by African reformers and she indirectly took on China. Beijing has been criticized for ignoring human rights concerns, local laws and environmental regulations as it boosts investment in Africa in search of energy and resources to fuel its exploding economy.
By contrast, she said the United States is committed to “a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it” from Africa. “The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves leaving nothing or very little behind should be over in the 21st century,” she said.
Without mentioning China by name, she maintained that unlike other countries, “America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing.”
“Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will,” she said, calling support for democracy and human rights the “heart of the American model of partnership.”
A senior U.S. official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the administration believes the US and China, among others, are competing for African resources. Further, administration officials say they think the U.S. is acting more in the interests of the African people by conditioning aid on good governance and requiring American companies to respect local laws and regulations.
Clinton’s comments follow a China-Africa summit last month at which Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged $20 billion in credit to African governments over the next three years to support infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and small business growth. At the event, Hu commended the hands-off approach of China’s investment decisions on the continent.
China will “give genuine support to African countries’ independent choice of development path,” he said. Hu suggested that human rights conditions and other rules imposed by the West on assistance are unnecessary and burdensome.
Hu also said China and African nations should increase cooperation to “oppose the practices of the big bullying the small, the strong domineering over the weak and the rich oppressing the poor.”
Analysts say China’s growing role is on the minds of American and African policymakers. Clinton’s visit comes as Africans are seeking to redefine their relationship with China to that of “equal partners” and not only resource providers, according to Haroon Bhorat, an economist at the University of Cape Town.
Clinton was in Dakar on the first leg of an 11-day African tour that will take her to at least six other nations, including Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana. In Ghana, she will attend the state funeral for the late president, John Atta Mills, who died last week.
Her speech coincided with the first major storm of the rainy season, a positive sign in a place where drought is responsible for a food crisis.
Clinton praised Senegal, the only mainland West African country never to have experienced a coup, for its democratic history and recent elections in which a longtime incumbent lost and handed over power to the victor, Macky Sall, whom she met before the delivering the speech.
But she noted that such trends were not necessarily the norm in the region, such as in Mali or Guinea-Bissau where militaries ousted an elected president.
“Leaders who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves, their families and their supporters at the expense of their own people — who define democracy as one election, one time — are on the wrong side of history,” Clinton said.
In Mali, long considered a model of West African democracy until the coup, Clinton said the military and members of the ousted government must reach consensus to restore civilian leadership and blunt the threat posed by radical Islamists who are taking advantage of a power vacuum in the north.
“We encourage all parties to set aside their differences and work to restore democracy, preserve the territorial integrity of the country, and reject the appeals of violent extremism,” she said. She added that the U.S. would continue to withhold full development assistance, including security aid, until a democratically elected government is in place.
Guinea-Bissau, where no president has ever served a full-five year term, Clinton said there was a real threat from what she called the “very troubling trend” of drug trafficking. She warned that unless democracy was restored there was a risk that it could become “totally dependent” on Latin American drug traffickers.
In South Sudan, she will congratulate leaders on reaching the one-year mark of the creation of their country after it split with Sudan. But she also will stress the need for the nascent state to resolve its differences with Sudan that threatened to reignite what had been Africa’s longest-running civil war when it ended with a historic peace treaty in 2005.
In Uganda, where the U.S. has sent a small number of special forces troops to help African militaries combat the Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony, Clinton will return to the security theme.
From Uganda, Clinton will travel to Kenya, where in addition to urging leaders to hold peaceful, free and fair national elections in 2013, she will meet Somali officials and underscore U.S. support for completing a planned political transition later in August.
After a brief stop in Malawi, Clinton then heads to South Africa, where she will continue a strategic dialogue with South African officials, promote U.S. business in the country and pay her respects to former President Nelson Mandela, who recently celebrated his 94th birthday.
She will then attend Mills’ funeral in Accra, Ghana.
*Source AP.Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.