Secretary Clinton will be leaving August 5 for a seven-country tour of Africa. She will hit Kenya, South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde. (Whew!) The itinerary suggests that the theme of the trip will be more real politik than President Obama's recent visit to Ghana which stressed good governance and was a celebration of Ghana's recent electoral and economic successes. The Secretary, in choosing the largest economies and the continent's most influential capitals, is likely to highlight more traditional US economic and security interests. A few thoughts on what to expect ― and what Africa can hope for:
Permanent AGOA? The impetus for the trip is so the Secretary can open the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum, this year held in Nairobi. The discussions are likely to center on responses to the global economic crisis, and there seems little chance of any major changes to US trade policy this year. Although Africans shouldn't hold their breath, one concrete and useful outcome would be a promise that the administration would seek to make AGOA provisions permanent (they currently are set to expire in 2015). For more on the rationale for permanent duty-free, quota-free market access for the world's poorest countries, see this memo that Kimberly Elliot wrote soon after Clinton was named secretary of state.
Friends again in Pretoria? US relations with South Africa are just awful, but with new administrations on both sides, there is an opportunity to start afresh. (Although I hope the Secretary will leave the "reset" button at home this time.)
Soft love in Monrovia. The Liberian government will be looking for some affirmation that the special status they have enjoyed remains intact. Although major new initiatives are probably unlikely, the Liberians, who enjoyed unprecedented access to Bush administration officials, should take some comfort from a little State Department love.
Tough love in Abuja. There was much speculation in the local Nigerian press that the Clinton visit was to help mend fences after the perceived snub of Obama choosing Ghana instead of them. Having lived through planning for Secretary of State visits, I highly doubt that her staff thought much about this in choosing stops. Instead, the trip will be explicitly to discuss how to get moving on the major issues of mutual interest between the US and Nigeria: regional security, democracy, health and poverty, and energy. The recent battles between Islamic militants and the military is also a reminder that we have mutual counterterrorism objectives. However, I don't expect an easy conversation. Behind closed doors, Secretary Clinton is likely to express American frustration with lack of progress in nearly all of these areas and concern about the Yar'Adua government's policy drift.
USAID? While the trip seems (rightly) focused on things other than aid, the elephant in the room could be the missing, still yet unnamed, USAID head. Rumors are that the naming is close. But if there isn't one announced by the time Clinton is wheels-up on August 5, it will be a difficult argument to make―more than 6 months after the inauguration and still no one in the job ― that development is really a priority.