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U.S. losing clout among entrenched African leaders

Sec. of State Kerry and Sudan President Salva Kiir

Sec. of State Kerry and Sudan President Salva Kiir

(GIN) — During his just concluded Africa tour, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was hitting a brick wall with African leaders who seemed unresponsive to his calls for free and fair elections, for new schools, hospitals, new roads and bridges, and for curbing rampant corruption in the region.

In fact, Kerry had barely finished his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo when the local information minister issued a press release denying what Kerry had reportedly sought — the promise Pres. Joseph Kabila would step down after two terms as called for by the constitution and not run for a third term.

“Mr. Kerry told us a lot of things,” said Minister Lambert Mende. “We are very happy with what he told us, and we agree with the fact a government must respect the state constitution. It is our constitution; it is the will of our people… We have no problem with that advice,” he said.

But he adamantly denied Kabila was told not to seek a third term.

Kerry, who met privately with the Congolese president, was said to have put $30 million on the table — twice the amount as the previous year — to ensure elections were swiftly held. Congo’s total aid package for 2013 was $210 million.

Kerry also sought some security assurances — namely  Kabila would end his tacit support for rebel groups accused of human rights abuses especially against women. “This is the group that includes ‘the genocidaires’ — those involved in the genocide,” said Russ Feingold, the American special envoy to the region. “They’re just a few hours from Rwanda, where this horrible crime was committed. They have been involved in very significant crimes and violence, including sexually-based violence in eastern Congo.”

A visit to Juba in South Sudan, gave Kerry a chance to restart stalled peace talks. Two sides — that of President Salva Kiir and that of former VP-turned-rebel-leader Riek Machar — have been at war for the past six months and deadly new fighting has been reported since Kerry’s departure.

At a stop in Angola, Secretary Kerry lavished praise on the president, but the country has done little to better the lives of poor Angolans — most of whom live in informal slums where they are unprotected from eviction and are not guaranteed adequate housing.

Still, the tour tests the waters for the first U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 5 and 6.

According to the White House, “The summit will build on the progress made since the president’s trip to Africa last summer, advance the administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development and its people.

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