DAKAR — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Senegal as a democratic beacon in Africa Wednesday as she began an 11-day whirl around the continent that will focus on peace, security and development.
Her visit comes amid growing threats from Al-Qaeda on the continent and as the US seeks to claw back ground from China, which has become Africa's biggest economic partner, by promoting "sustainable partnership that adds value."
"If anyone doubts whether democracy can flourish in African soil, let them come to Senegal," Clinton said during a speech at Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University.
"Americans admire Senegal as one of the only countries in West Africa never to have a military coup."
Her speech came after a closed-door meeting with President Macky Sall, who won a rocky election in March. His predecessor Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat after pushing the nation into crisis with a controversial third term bid.
While Clinton noted the restoration of constitutional order in countries such as Niger and Guinea after coups, and a host of credible elections in the last year, she said too many nations' democracy was still threatened.
While Senegal has been a beacon of democracy, two of its neighbours Mali and Guinea-Bissau suffered coups this year.
Guinea-Bissau has long been a problem child -- no elected president has ever finished a term in office -- and Clinton warned its "already weak economy ... is collapsing" and drug trafficking growing.
Mali was one of the region's stable democracies until a March coup which created a vacuum in the vast desert north where Islamic extremists have taken control, raising fears that it may become a new terrorist training ground.
While an interim government has taken charge, it has been unable to curtail the Islamists and the military is still accused of meddling in political affairs.
Clinton warned that full US development assistance would not resume "until the military accepts civilian control and a democratically-elected government takes office."
"This link between democracy and development is now a defining element of the American model of partnership," she added.
She said the US was building relationships that were "not transactional or transitory" but built to last and add value to people's lives.
"So America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing. Not every partner makes that choice, but we do."
Clinton said Senegal and the US were working closely together to combat terrorism and drug trafficking and supporting peace and security in the region.
She warned democracy was threatened by "violent extremism, transnational crime and rampant corruption."
"The old ways of governing are no longer acceptable. It is time for leaders to accept accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity," said Clinton.
"And if they will not, then it is time for them to go."
In June, US President Barack Obama had laid out his strategy for African development with the aim of consolidating security and democracy and stimulating growth.
The United States is facing competition from China's economic offensive on the continent. China has been Africa's principle economic partner since 2009, and just doubled its credit line to Africa to $20 billion (18 billion euro).
"China is not our economic adversary in Africa, but simply a competitor like any other country," a US official told AFP. But "when we do business overseas, we do it in an open and transparent manner."
Clinton has in the past warned Africa of neo-colonialism, amid concerns that China's voracious appetite for commodities has seen it ignore human rights abuses and exploit the continent for its own benefit.
She leaves Dakar on Thursday to head to Uganda, on her way to troubled South Sudan.
The world's newest nation, in whose birth the United States played a major part, has yet to agree on its border with the runmp state of Sudan and settle a crippling dispute on oil revenues.
The UN Security Council has given the two states, who this year came close to all-out war, until Thursday to make a peace deal or face sanctions.
She will also stop in Uganda, where an outbreak of the Ebola virus -- one of the world's most virulent diseases -- reached the cpital for the first time and already killed 15 people nationwide.
She then heads to Kenya, Malawi and South Africa where she will meet 94-year-old former president and democracy icon Nelson Mandela.
Clinton's trip ends with the August 10 state funeral of Ghana's late president John Atta Mills who died on July 24.
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