DAKAR - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Africa on Wednesday to recommit to democracy, declaring the "old ways of governing" can no longer work on a continent boasting healthy economic growth and an increasingly empowered citizenry.
Clinton, launching a seven-nation Africa tour, praised her hosts in Senegal for overcoming tensions to hold elections in March that saw President Macky Sall defeat long-time incumbent Abdoulaye Wade, reinforcing the country's credentials as one of the most stable democracies in the continent.
But she said democracy was too often on the back foot in Africa despite decades of economic progress.
"There are still too many Africans living under autocratic rulers who care more about preserving their grip on power than promoting the welfare of their citizens," Clinton said in a speech at Dakar's University of Cheikh Anta Diop, noting that coups and power grabs had reduced the count of full electoral democracies on the continent to 19 in 2012 from 24 in 2005.
"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. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go," she said.
Constitutional order has been restored in Niger and Guinea following recent coups, while Benin, Cape Verde, Liberia, Nigeria, Zambia and Togo have all held credible elections over the past year.
But Clinton warned that sobering alternative paths were being taken by Mali and Guinea-Bissau, saying the latter risked becoming "dependent" on Latin American drug traffickers.
Promoting the US, with an eye on China
Clinton's Africa trip, her fourth as the top US diplomat, is aimed at reinforcing Washington's message that open markets and constitutional democracies provide the firmest foundation for Africa's future, US officials said.
She also hopes to promote the United States as an alternative to China's economic and political influence, which has been growing fast as Beijing aggressively courts African nations to win access to the continent's rich cache of mineral, timber and oil resources.
Last month, in the latest in a string of aid and credit deals Beijing has extended to Africa, Chinese President Hu Jintao offered $20 billion in loans for the continent over the next three years, double the amount it pledged in 2009..
Clinton did not mention China by name, but noted that US President Barack Obama, in his landmark speech on Africa in Ghana in 2009, had pledged that the United States would offer "partnership, not patronage".
"Throughout my trip across Africa this week, I will be talking about what that means - about a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it," she said.
"The days of having outsiders come and extract the wealth of Africa for themselves, leaving nothing or very little behind, should be over in the 21st century," she added.
Clinton said sustainable development was dependent on democratic progress, and in absolute terms Africa's progress toward that goal was clear.
Regional bodies like the African Union and the ECOWAS community of West African states have sought to take a firmer stance, suspending Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau and Mali after coups. After initial divisions over a post-election dispute in Ivory Coast they backed Alassane Ouattara after incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power after losing a 2010 vote.
Mali's once stable democracy collapsed in a March coup that paved the way for a military advance by northern separatists and al Qaeda-linked Islamists.
"By some estimates, this could set back Mali's economic progress by nearly a decade," Clinton said, confirming that urgent humanitarian aid would continue but full ties, including a security partnership, remained on hold until a democratically-elected government was in place.
Guinea-Bissau, which underwent a coup in April, is now suffering near economic collapse and drug traffickers are filling the void, she said.
"Guinea-Bissau ... could become a totally dependent state on drug traffickers from Latin America. What a terrible development," Clinton said, saying the United States hoped to work with the country's West African neighbours to set it back on the correct course.