- diplomacy - Hillary Clinton - US politics - USA
AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a tour of seven African states on Tuesday in Kenya, where she will seek action to stabilise neighbouring Somalia and push for free trade with the continent.
The 11-day trip will be her longest since she became the top US diplomat six months ago and her first to sub-Saharan Africa, where some had feared the continent was not an early priority for the administration.
The State Department has underlined that her visit, which comes just three weeks after President Barack Obama visited the continent, is the earliest trip by a secretary of state to Africa of any administration.
Clinton will seek to build ties with three African powers -- Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa -- and show support for three nations recovering from conflict -- Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia -- while also stopping in small US ally Cape Verde.
On Wednesday, she will address a forum of some 40 African states that enjoy trade preferences in the giant US market on the condition they uphold free elections and markets.
She will also use her Nairobi visit to confer with Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who is struggling to fend off a three-month-old insurgent offensive.
Washington and Nairobi share fears that the lawless Horn of Africa country could become a new haven for Al-Qaeda affiliates.
Clinton's trip follows a visit to Ghana last month by Obama, whose father was born in Kenya. The first African-American US president appealed to Africans to hold their governments accountable and fight corruption.
A Gallup poll released Monday found that Obama's African roots have led to a jump in the popularity of the United States in sub-Saharan Africa, where an overwhelming 87 percent backed US leadership in the seven countries surveyed.
As evidence that the Kenyan leg would be more than a courtesy call, the US embassy issued a terse statement scolding the country's leaders for shunning the creation of a special court to try suspects in the deadly violence that erupted after December 2007 elections.
"The United States will stand firmly behind the Kenyan people as they insist on full implementation of the reform agenda. We will take the necessary steps to hold accountable those who do not support the reform agenda or who support violence," the statement said.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson also said that Kenya needed to tackle corruption and clean up its political act.
"Corruption is a serious cancer affecting the society," Carson told reporters on Clinton's plane.
He said that implementation of the power-sharing deal that ended the post-election violence last year had been "slow and sometimes very frustrating."
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga retorted that his country could do without lectures on governance.
"We need more lectures on how we are going to trade with the rest of the world than how we are going to govern ourselves," he said.
But Carson stressed that the United States was strongly committed to its relationship with Kenya.
"It is and has been America's most important ally in east Africa since its independence," Carson said.
He hailed Kenya's role as a hub for relief operations after Rwanda's 1994 genocide and, more recently, in southern Sudan where a shaky accord is holding ending decades of war.
Carson said that Sudan would not be a focal point of the Kenya visit, saying that the US special envoy on Sudan, Scott Gration, would visit the region separately starting next week.
Gration, a former military man close to Obama, caused a stir recently in Washington when he appeared to call for an end to sanctions against Sudan, saying they complicated his job -- a position at odds with others in the administration.