Hillary Clinton Echoes President Obama, Addresses Corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa

August 6th, 2009

Kicking off her visit to sub-Saharan Africa in Kenya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used her time there to speak pointedly about corruption, the same issue highlighted by President Obama in his trip to Accra earlier this summer. U.S. news coverage emphasized this feature of her visit, with a CNN article, Clinton in Kenya urges a cleanup of corruption, stating: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a ‘tough but lovingly presented’ message to Kenya on Thursday: shun corruption and reform government.”

Clinton drove home the economic consequences of corruption, arguing that: “This is not just about good governance — it’s also about good business.”

An Associated Press article opens with the lines:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Kenya on Wednesday for rampant graft and corruption as she made the case that business and trade across Africa cannot grow without good governance and solid democracy…Clinton said, “True economic progress in Africa will depend on responsible governments that reject corruption, enforce the rule of law and deliver results for their people.”

Clinton also focused on the heavily contested debate over where suspected perpetrators of the violence following the December 2007 elections should be tried and on the government’s failure to implement the reforms agreed upon during the formation of the current coalition government. Commenting on the post-election violence, the role of the U.S. in resolving the dispute, and the current state of justice, she stated:

“…the absence of strong and effective democratic institutions has permitted ongoing corruption, impunity, politically motivated violence and a lack of respect for a rule of law,” Clinton said. “These conditions helped fuel the postelection violence and they are continuing to hold Kenya back.”

Clinton also took note of rampant corruption within Kenya’s judiciary system, her visit coming on the heels of a decision to try suspected perpetrators of violence within the court system instead of a special tribunal. She even used a phrase commonly uttered in Kenya, “why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge,” in reference to judicial corruption.

Kenyan newspapers covered these issues, with an additional focus on Clinton’s message that Kenyans must be responsible for reducing corruption and on the fact that the U.S. would not pose sanctions on Kenya (coverage leading up to Clinton’s visit speculated potential sanctions from the U.S.) An article in one of Kenya’s major newspapers even opened with the line:

“Hillary Clinton’s top assistant on Africa has made clear why the United States is unlikely to take punitive action aimed at forcing reforms in Kenya.”

CNN also noted this point, quoting Clinton saying that: “We will consider consequences aimed at individuals, not aimed at the people of Kenya.” The emphasis Clinton placed on the role of Kenyans to solve corruption ranged from the statements that: “The US cannot solve Kenya’s problems… we cannot dictate to you how to run this government; it is not up to us…The answers to Kenya’s challenges lie with Kenyans,” to concrete steps Kenyans could take to act. Quoting The Daily Nation, a major Kenyan newspaper:

Terming Kenya as a “very political country” where “everybody has a political opinion”, Mrs Clinton asked those in the civil society to join politics and try to change the system from within…The pledge to support Kenya’s relatively vibrant civil society led to a call to all Kenyans to submit their ideas to a special portal on the website of the US Embassy in Nairobi…“Use the website to tell us what you think we can do to help you make your country better,” she said.

Clinton has driven home the message that taking measures against corruption is necessary not only to attract investment, but also to end impunity and other social ills underlying the violence that ensued after the 2007 elections. She has placed the burden of doing so on Kenyans, but has nonetheless firmly stated the U.S. position and a willingness to assist Kenyans in the fight against corruption. In doing so, she has echoed the message that President Obama set forth in Accra, that while Africa faces a history wrought with challenges that plague the continent today, it is up to Africans to take responsibility for Africa. To conclude in the same vein, Obama delivered a video message after Clinton’s speech, in which he proclaimed that: “Only Africans can unlock Africa’s potential.”

Written by Rachel Brown

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