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Why Cheap-Shot Diplomacy in Africa Won't Work

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton snipes at China's booming presence in Africa during a press conference on Aug. 1 at Senegal's Dakar University
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton snipes at China's booming presence in Africa during a press conference on Aug. 1 at Senegal's Dakar UniversityPhotograph by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned from a seven-nation tour of Africa last week, leaving controversy in her wake over veiled references to China’s engagement on the continent being self interested and value-subtracting. For all that this may sometimes be the case, U.S. engagement in the region is hardly driven primarily by the noblest of humanitarian interests and if Africa is to move from charity to economic partnership, it will be hard to do without engaging the world’s fastest growing economy—something Clinton should understand from looking at America’s own balance sheet.

Clinton rounded off her travels by attending the funeral of Ghana’s President John Atta Mills, who died in office last month. The orderly transfer of power after his death is the kind of democratic stability that the Secretary of State’s visit was meant to promote. But Clinton’s tour had clear economic motives as well. She was accompanied by a large business delegation, including representatives of Boeing and General Electric, and she highlighted trade and investment links between the U.S. and the region. That fits a broader realignment of U.S. engagement in Africa toward economic partnership, including the administration’s “Doing Business in Africa” campaign designed to encourage U.S. foreign direct investment in the continent and a proposal for a U.S.-East African Community trade and investment partnership.