An Africa policy, early on

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seven-nation tour of Africa reaffirms the administration’s pledge to keep the long-neglected continent in its sights. On her first stops in Kenya and South Africa this week, Clinton stuck with the message of tough love that President Obama delivered in Ghana last month, balancing trade and development talk with the need to confront lawlessness and impunity. It’s a good beginning to an Africa policy still in the making.

Africa is an area where Democrats and Republicans have found agreement, although too often what they have agreed is to pay little attention to it. President George W. Bush’s support for HIV/AIDS and malaria programs were widely hailed on the continent, even when his global “war on terror” made him personally unpopular. Now Obama has the opportunity to build on those programs while using his native-son credentials to push for more reform in a region that is sometimes irked by U.S. finger-wagging.

Last month, Obama galvanized fellow leaders of the Group of 8 countries to provide $20 billion over three years for global agricultural development, much of that to benefit Africa. Now he has to ensure that donors follow through, starting with the United States. Bills before both houses of Congress for next year’s budget would fall short of the more than $1 billion needed to meet the U.S. annual commitment. Obama will have to press for more if he is to deliver on his goal of African “food security”-- raising productivity to feed Africans and increase exports.


While addressing economic issues this week, Clinton has also expanded on Obama’s demand for good governance and rule of law. She admonished the leaders of Kenya for corruption and their failure to prosecute perpetrators of violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives after the country’s disputed 2007 election. She told the president of Somalia’s transitional government that the United States would support him against insurgents and pirates (we hope by addressing poverty as well as bolstering the military). And she sought the support of South Africa’s new president in forcing Zimbabwe’s repressive ruler to honor a power-sharing agreement. In Congo, she will shine needed light on political violence against women; in Nigeria, she’ll turn her attention to rebels engaged in kidnapping and siphoning a million barrels of oil a day to an international black market.

The administration is right that foreign aid and institution-building must go hand in hand if there is to be transformational change in Africa. Fighting poverty is essential for security. Although elections are necessary for democracy, they are insufficient without a functioning judicial system to keep elected leaders in check.