Clinton Re-Affirms US Commitment to Africa Partnership 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of African and American delegates Wednesday that the United States will partner with Africa to help the continent meet its full potential. Her speech opened up the day's African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Secretary Clinton re-affirmed the new U.S. administration's commitment towards expanding its partnership with African countries, expressing optimism in the continent's long-term potential for growth and development.

"We believe in Africa's promise. We are committed to Africa's future. And, we will be partners with Africa's people," she said.

The secretary stressed the importance of trade for a region that is a perennial recipient of significant foreign assistance.

"Today, Africa counts for two percent of global trade," she said. "If Sub-Saharan Africa were to increase that share by only one percent, it would generate additional export revenues each year greater than the total amount of annual assistance that Africa currently receives."

But the secretary also stressed to the delegates that economic progress is tied directly to good governance.

"Many people believe that democracy is alive and well because an election has taken place. But, as important as elections are, democracy is not just about the ballot box. Citizens and governments need to work together to build and sustain strong democratic institutions," she said.

Her sentiments echoed remarks made by U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Ghana, last month, where he stated that African leaders have to take ultimate responsibility for their nations' futures.

The secretary was warmly greeted at the forum, with African singing and dancing.

Security was tight. Only those with a specially issued security badge could get within the vicinity of the venue.

The AGOA forum is an annual event, which brings together leaders in the public and private sectors of the United States and Africa to facilitate greater trade relations.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act gives eligible countries the benefit of reduced trade barriers for certain African-produced goods. Currently, 41 African countries are offered the trade preferences under the act.

The act is touted mostly for helping develop the African apparel and textile industry. But both the U.S. and African leaders admit that the continent has yet to take full advantage of the benefits offered under the act.

Kenya is the ancestral homeland of President Obama's father, but the American president has criticized the nation's leaders and skipped the country in his first official trip to the continent.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga yesterday pushed back against Western criticisms of the Kenya government, which is struggling to implement key reforms agreed to after the country fell into violent turmoil following a disputed December 2007 election. The prime minister says that Africa does not need lectures, but assistance.

Secretary Clinton's remarks were followed with a video message from President Obama, in which he reiterated his message that only Africans can raise up Africa, but that he was personally committed to a full, mutual partnership with the continent.

Mrs. Clinton was joined by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk.