Hillary Clinton goes to Africa

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MARCO WERMAN: Bill Clinton's wife is on the road too. This is day one of Hilary Clinton's eleven-day trip to Africa. The secretary of state arrived today in Kenya. Ms. Clinton is expected to focus on the state of Kenya's democracy and lieu of last year's post-election violence. In a moment we'll hear about one Kenyan's efforts to promote peace in his country through art. But first another issue on Clinton's Kenya agenda � the turmoil in neighboring Somalia. The BBC's East Africa correspondent Peter Greste is in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Peter Washington has largely ignored Somalia since it pulled out American combat troops. That was back in 1993. Why is Secretary Clinton focusing on Somalia now? What is she hoping to accomplish?

PETER GRESTE: The problem for the United States and indeed Britain and much of the West is that Somalia is fast moving along the path that Afghanistan moved the last time the United States abandoned that country. And the problem is that we're seeing resurgence in extremism. We're seeing a movement called al-Shabaab which loosely translates as the youth and which has been accused of having links to al-Qaeda. And Somalia is essentially the world's worst failed state. There is no effective government to speak of. Al-Shabaab is laying siege to the capital city and we're seeing alarming rising reports of terrorism and extremism across that country. Now Somalia is right on Kenya's border. Islamic extremists were implicated on the bomb blasts against the US Embassy here in Nairobi more than 10 years ago and also in Dar El Salam. So it is a pressing problem and Hilary Clinton will be meeting the Somali president, Sheik Sharif Ahmed, in her visit here to try and figure out a way of helping ease the problem in Somalia and perhaps bring about some stability.

WERMAN: Now as you say Peter Secretary Clinton will meet with Sheik Sharif Ahmed the Somalian president later this week in Kenya. He's something of a figure head in Somalia. He doesn't even live in the capital Mogadishu. What kind of clout does Mr. Ahmed have at this point and is he an ally Washington should be counting on?

GRESTE: He's an interesting character because he was actually a man that Washington dismissed as an Islamic extremist not so long ago. He led a movement called the Islamic Court's Union. As such the US felt that he was a threat to the regional stability. Now he's a man who heads the transitional federal government and he has the endorsement of the United Nations. He has enormous amounts of international recognition including the United States. But his problem is that he has very little military clout. The al-Shabaab movement has the military initiative in Somalia at the moment. They have pushed the government into a very tiny corner to the point where as you say it's not even safe for the president. The government controls Mogadishu and one other small district in central Somalia. So in practical terms and domestically he doesn't have anywhere near the amount of authority and power that he needs to really bring stability to the country. And I think this is really one of the major dilemmas facing the international community when it comes to dealing with that country.

WERMAN: In the meantime hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have fled across the border to Kenya and they keep on coming. The UNHCR, the UN refugee agency said that it was actually failing to provide even the most basic amenities for these refugees in one camp, very sprawling, Dadaab Camp. Now you went to that camp today. What did you see Peter?

GRESTE: That's right it is an absolutely desperate situation. As you're saying almost 300,000 people in a camp that was designed for just 90,000. The congestion is so extreme out there that there's simply no more space to put new arrivals. And the effect of this is really quite staggering. The problem is that the infrastructure simply cannot cope with those numbers. The authorities don't know where everybody is now because of the way that they're filtering into the camp. And new arrivals are coming in at a rate of more than 6000 a month. So clearly something has to be done and very urgently.

WERMAN: the BBC's East Africa correspondent Peter Greste in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Thanks for the update Peter.

GRESTE: Pleasure.