While Secretary of State Clinton’s prepared remarks for Day 1 of her Africa trip focused primarily on the economic potential of Africa and trade partnerships with the U.S. (naturally, since she was the key note speaker at the Africa Growth and Development Act conference), she had a few opportunities to talk about the continent’s hotspots.
The first question from the media during the Secretary Clinton and Kenyan foreign minister’s joint press conference included a hard-hitting note about the amount of pressure the U.S. has leveled at the Kenyan government to try the individuals responsible for post-election violence compared to the scant reaction from the U.S. in the wake of the issuance of an arrest warrant for President Bashir in neighboring Sudan. “Is it because [Sudan] has natural resources like oil, or because they’re dealing with the Chinese it’s a very sensitive situation? In other words, is it sort of a double standard?” the journalist asked.
Secretary Clinton was quick to call the ICC’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir “very significant” and note that it conveys a strong message that Bashir’s actions are “outside the bounds of accepted standards.” However, she seemed to emphasize the symbolic nature of the arrest warrant rather than suggest that it could be an important point of leverage with the ruling National Congress Party for implementing a comprehensive peace in Sudan:
“The United States and others have continued to support the need to eventually bring President Bashir to justice, but he’s found a lot of protectors, and mostly in this continent, where people have allowed him to travel and have not used the forces of their own judicial and law enforcement institutions to arrest him, to turn him over the ICC.”
Perhaps Secretary Clinton sought to simply highlight the challenging nature of executing an ICC arrest warrant, but it’s disappointing to hear it implied that this important justice component may not be central to the U.S.’s policy in Sudan, and instead may be more a result of a progression of events down the road. The secretary could have used the opportunity to signal to U.S. allies in Africa that a visit from Bashir would be harmful to U.S. relations. Khartoum is undoubtedly listening closely to this rhetoric, and it does the U.S. no good – particularly when the administration’s policy review is ongoing – to suggest that the Obama administration may be anything less than 100 percent supportive of seeing a wanted war criminal brought to justice – and soon.
As a preview to her meeting tomorrow with the president of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, Clinton said simply that the U.S. is supporting the TFG and would discuss with President Sheikh Sharif what more the international community can do to help the TFG stabilize the country.
To elaborate a bit (though just a bit) on what we might expect to see from the meeting, a senior State Department official indicated in June that the U.S. government would send additional shipments of small arms to the TFG and provide military training to government forces. Speaking to reporters last week, the America’s top Africa diplomat Johnnie Carson noted, "We are prepared to provide additional assistance to the (Somali) government,” but didn’t give specific details. Of course, U.S. engagement with Somalia is delicate because any overt support from the United States is not typically well received in Somalia and, in fact, has been used by extremists to rally support, so don’t expect to see any grand plans outlined.
The secretary and her entourage are updating a special blog at State.gov, so read about the trip from their perspective here and then join the conversation about the trip on twitter at #hillaryafrica.