Hillary and the African Press

In the course of private meetings with Kenyan officials on her recent African trip, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed for the dismissal of the Kenyan chief of police, the attorney general and other government figures she said were linked with corruption and the country’s recent post-election violence. According to the Kenyan paper the Nation, quoting a government minister who was present at one such meeting, Clinton presented the Kenyan government with a list of “violence and corruption suspects,” promising to name, shame and ban them from visiting the United States, the Nation reported. Among older Africans, that would stir memories of British colonial district commissioners lecturing tribal chiefs!

Another Kenyan newspaper, the East African Standard, quoted a cabinet member as saying that Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were “shocked and disturbed by Clinton’s attacks.” Their response was to blame the U.S. ambassador to Nairobi, Michael Rannenberger, for failing to “adequately inform Washington of progress in the ongoing reform program,” the paper reported. The irony is that Clinton later called the meeting “a good conversation,” and said she had delivered a message from “a son of Kenya, Barack Obama.”

While the U.S. mainstream media fixated on Hillary Clinton’s irate response to a student questioner in Kinshasa, the incident gets hardly a mention in the African media; but some of the leading papers and news websites in the region reacted to the Secretary’s marathon tour with disappointment and irritation.

Disappointment that Clinton had little new to offer in terms of either aid or relations with the Obama administration; irritation at what was seen as Clinton’s hectoring tone. Prior to her arrival, Odinga had said Africa did not need lectures from the West. The South African Pretoria News quoted a prominent political analyst, Shadrack Gutto as saying — in the paper’s words — “Africa should not let ‘arrogant’ Americans to dictate terms when discussing issues that affect the continent.”

“Of course, lectures is exactly what the African leadership got,” one commentator wrote.

An editorial in the Standard regretted the “strained relationship with the United States whose leader traces his roots to Kenya, but increasingly sees little else to share with his father’s birthplace.” In Nigeria, where Clinton again tackled the issue of corruption in government head on, the newspaper This Day said her trip was organized “to compensate the other prominent African countries who felt slighted by their non-inclusion in his itinerary” when Barack Obama visited Ghana in June.

Meanwhile, Congolese media praised Clinton’s robust campaign against women abuse, but even the opposition paper Le Phare said President Joseph Kabila shared the Secretary’s concern, and a “zero tolerance” policy against rapists was already in place. Still, Le Phare said, Clinton told the government “there should be arrests, prosecutions and sentences.” She accused the Congolese military of using rape as “a tactic to intimidate the civilian population.”

A number of commentators also pointed out that Clinton’s visit — and in particular the inclusion of oil-producing Angola in her itinerary, reflected Washington’s growing concern at China’s mounting influence in the region.

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