Leading article: Serious about Africa

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The Independent Online

It would be a shame as well as wrong were Hillary Clinton's moment of irritation at a misinterpreted question about her husband in the Congo to blight an African journey remarkable for its energy and its sense. In a tour of seven countries which finished yesterday, the US Secretary of State has doggedly spelled out the message given by President Obama in Ghana earlier this summer. Which is that the US remains fully committed to the continent, but that it is finally up to the Africans themselves to tackle the corruption and the violence that have so persistently pulled them back from achieving their potential.

It is easy enough to scoff at a Western politician assuring friendship to developing countries while doling out homilies on their behaviour. And many Africans do just that. America's commitment to the continent is not totally altruistic. It has huge commercial interests in Africa's resources and has become deeply concerned at China's growing influence and competition for those resources.

But praise be where praise is due. To an extent for which he has never been given full credit, President Bush set America on a policy of genuine aid and support for Africa's poor. If the last president badly confused the issue of help for Aids with Christian fundamentalist objections to birth control and abortion, he also greatly increased the amount of humanitarian assistance to Africa. His problem was to follow through. For all America's best intentions, too much of its assistance was lost in the endemic corruption of so many regimes, while the Middle East and Asia diverted Washington's political engagement.

The important thing about Mrs Clinton's tour was that it followed so soon and so directly on Mr Obama's visit and that it took in such a range of centres. They included not just the places of obvious warmth towards the US – South Africa and Liberia – but the more trouble-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Kenya, where corruption and ethnic violence still threaten development and where Mrs Clinton was not bashful is setting out the world's concerns. However Washington's relationship with Africa now develops, it has a Secretary of State clearly ready to do the hard work of practical engagement.