U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will encourage East African leaders this week to boost security and political stability in a region threatened by al-Qaeda and growing in importance as a source of energy.
Clinton is scheduled to arrive in Uganda today as part of an 11-day tour that began in Senegal on July 31. She will meet leaders from Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Somalia, countries essential to Washington’s strategy to fight Islamist militants and expand American economic interests.
“The dimension of security will be a central part of her visit,” Joseph Siegel, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said in a phone interview from Washington on July 31. “The U.S. shares an interest in bringing stability to Somalia -- that’s a key point of focus -- and reducing the threat that terrorism poses regionally and internationally.”
The Horn of Africa nation’s Western-backed transitional government and an African Union-led military force are battling the Islamist insurgent group, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Somalia. The country has been without an effective central government since 1991 and Islamist militants, pirates and criminal groups have made it a regional base of operations.
Al-Shabaab, which has been trying to rule Somalia by strict Islamic law since 2007, has lost ground as the AU and Ethiopian troops stepped up a multi-front offensive against them to pave the way for Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s administration to establish a permanent government.
“Somalia is the principal source of instability in the Horn of Africa and several East African states -- Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia -- have taken a lead in trying to stabilize the situation and have made more progress than we’ve seen in the last 20 years,” Siegel said. “Clinton will applaud that.”
The U.S. has killed al-Shabaab militants in special forces raids, offered $33 million in bounties for the capture of its leaders and supported the interim government, which yesterday passed a draft constitution despite suicide bombers’ attempts to blow up the venue where they met to vote.
In neighboring Kenya, Clinton and Ahmed will discuss a so-called political road map that includes a deadline to elect a new Somali parliament, speaker and president by Aug. 20. She will arrive on Aug. 4, according to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
She is also expected to meet with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi, the capital, to appeal for fair and peaceful elections set for March 2013. It will be the first poll since allegations of ballot fraud in a December 2007 vote set off two months of ethnic and political clashes that killed about 1,100 people and paralyzed East Africa’s largest economy.
East Africa is becoming a more favored destination for investment and a potential source of energy supplies for the U.S., Mwangi Kimenyi, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said by phone from Aspen, Colorado, on July 31. Uganda is expected to start pumping its first crude this year, while Kenya discovered oil for the first time in March.
“There is increasing commercial interest in East Africa from the U.S., which sees its national security interests tied to securing energy supplies,” Kimenyi said.
U.S. oil and gas companies are increasingly taking on acreage in East Africa. Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp. paid $35 million to Africa Oil Corp. for stakes in two Kenyan prospects last month, while Anadarko Petroleum Corp., also based in Houston, has made the decade’s biggest gas discovery off Mozambique and has rights to explore off Kenya’s coast.
In South Sudan, which marked a year of independence from Sudan on July 9, Clinton will meet President Salva Kiir tomorrow to discuss topics including “security, oil and citizenship,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a July 30 statement.
Hostilities escalated in April as troops from South Sudan occupied the Heglig oilfield which is claimed by both, driving the two countries to the edge of war. Even though South Sudan withdrew after 10 days, the United Nations Security Council threatened to impose sanctions if differences over oil transit fees, borders and security aren’t settled by today.
In Uganda, Clinton will urge President Yoweri Museveni to strengthen democracy and human rights, while acknowledging the country’s role in boosting security including trying to hunt down warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, Nuland said. Uganda was also the first country to offer troops for the AU force in Somalia, and the U.S. sponsored training and equipment. She’ll arrive today, James Mugume, permanent secretary at Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said by telephone from Kampala, the capital.
The U.S. last year deployed 100 soldiers to help Uganda and neighboring armies find the LRA fighters, who also roam across South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After a visit to Malawi and President Joyce Banda, Clinton will travel to sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy where she will pay tribute to former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who turned 94 on July 18.
“South Africa is a key player in terms of governance, economic and humanitarian interests, peace and security,” Anne Fruhauf, an Africa analyst with Eurasia Group in London, said in an e-mailed response to questions on July 31. “Its recent win of the African Union presidency only reinforces this.”
Clinton cited Senegal as a beacon of democracy in Africa during a speech in the capital, Dakar, yesterday. Abdoulaye Wade, who ran for a third term in March presidential elections which opponents said violated the country’s constitution, conceded defeat to challenger Macky Sall.
Clinton will attend the state funeral of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills on the final stop of her African tour, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported yesterday. Mills died on July 24 in Accra, the capital.