On August 5th, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began an 11-day Africa trip to highlight the Obama administration’s commitment to the continent. Starting in Kenya, Secretary Clinton traveled to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde.
In meetings with the leaders of these countries, Secretary Clinton addressed a range of topics from economic growth to agricultural development. Most notably, for those in the sexual and reproductive health field, in South Africa, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo discussions focused on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and gender-based sexual violence. Accompanied by the newly confirmed United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Dr. Eric Goosby, and Chairwoman of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee, Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), Secretary Clinton had an opportunity to assess some of the realities on the ground and to begin to develop new United States policies concerning HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.
In South Africa, Secretary Clinton was eager to offer U.S. support for South African President Jacob Zuma’s HIV/AIDS prevention programs.[i] With approximately six million people infected with HIV, South Africa has the largest population living with HIV in the world.[ii] Secretary Clinton accompanied South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to an HIV/AIDS clinic jointly funded by the United States and South Africa, and listened to the stories of people living with HIV.
At the clinic, Secretary Clinton and Congresswoman Lowey both relayed that the US will continue to support South Africa by increasing US funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs. “Coordination of all the monies that come into the communities is really essential…and so we have to use every dollar efficiently,” said Congresswoman Lowey.[iii]
Secretary Clinton also signed a new agreement that would increase U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS prevention programs from $7 million to $17 million in Angola.[iv]
While traveling through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Secretary Clinton called on the Congolese government to put a stop to the high prevalence of sexual violence. Military and rebel groups have been using sexual violence as a “weapon of war” since the start of the Eastern Congo Conflict in 1996.[v]
Secretary Clinton traveled to the eastern city of Goma, which is the epicenter of sexual crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[vi] Since 1996, the United Nations has recorded 200,000 cases of sexual violence in eastern Congo with 7,703 cases occurring in the past year.[vii] These atrocities, which include rape, gang rape, and other acts of sexual violence, disproportionately affect women and girls. The outcome of this nearly constant violence has led to unwanted pregnancies, severe injuries, HIV infection, and the death of tens of thousands women.[viii]
Secretary Clinton has called upon Congolese youth and the United Nations to pressure the Congolese government to provide stronger preventative action. “The entire society needs to be speaking out against this,” said Secretary Clinton in a speech to university students in Kinshasa, “It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country.” Secretary Clinton has also called on the United Nations to enforce “stricter measures” on nations that condone sexual violence and has expressed her support for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has called for global efforts to stop armed forces from using sexual violence as a weapon of war.[ix]
At the conclusion of her trip, Secretary Clinton announced that Africa can expect the Obama administration to continue supporting the Millennium-Challenge development grants and the fight against HIV/AIDS.[x] Her seven-country tour signified a strong commitment to make Africa a priority in US foreign policy. “The Obama administration has delivered a message of tough love. We're not sugarcoating the problems…,” said Secretary Clinton, “We are investing time and effort in the people of Africa.”[xi]
[i] Mary Beth Sheridan, “Clinton Hails Zuma's Policies on HIV/AIDS,” Washington Post, 8 August 2009, accessed 18 August 2009, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/07/AR2009080701520.html>.
[ii] Mary Beth Sheridan, “Clinton Hails Zuma's Policies on HIV/AIDS,” Washington Post, 8 August 2009, accessed 18 August 2009, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/07/AR2009080701520.html>.
[iii] Ian Kelly, “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Travel to Africa,” US Department of State Diplomacy in Action, 27 July 2009, accessed 20 August 2009, <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/july/126522.htm>.
[v] Matthew Lee, “Clinton assails rampant sexual violence in Congo,” Associated Press, 10 August 2009, accessed 18 August 2009, <http://www.newsday.com/clinton-assails-rampant-sexual-violence-in-congo-1.1359276>.
[x] Mary Beth Sheridan, “Clinton's Africa Trip Ends With a Promise,” Washington Post, 15 August 2009, accessed 18 August, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/08/14/AR2009081400927_2.html?sid=ST2009081403320>.