(CBS/AP) DAKAR, Senegal - In a veiled swipe at China's investments in Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday urged African leaders to embrace democracy and partnerships with responsible foreign powers if they want to improve the living standards of their people and address the root causes of extremism that threaten security on the continent.
In a speech in Senegal's capital, Clinton challenged Africa's elite to fully respect human rights and she warned of the consequences of rampant abuses, corruption and intolerance that breed contempt and contribute to instability.
She said America would stand by African reformers and she indirectly took on China. Beijing has been criticized for ignoring human rights concerns, local laws and environmental regulations as it boosts investment in Africa in search of energy and resources to fuel its exploding economy.
"There are still too many places in the region and across the continent where democracy is threatened, where human rights are abused, and the rule of law is undermined," Clinton said. "Too many Africans still live under autocratic rulers who care more about preserving their grip on power than promoting the welfare of their citizens. Violent extremism, transnational crime and rampant corruption all threaten democracy."
Clinton's comments came on the same day that security forcestrying to infiltrate a meeting of 825 Somali elders debating the country's new constitution, setting off their explosives in two thundering blasts, officials said.
The attempted attack highlights the persistent threat posed by extremists in Somalia as Clinton holds meetings in at least six other African nations expected to focus heavily on the surge of Islamist groups in many countries - including al-Shabab in Somalia, which has links to al Qaeda.
She will highlight the fact that Uganda is a "key U.S. partner" in regional security efforts and note that American troops are also training Ugandan soldiers, who make up the biggest contingent of an African Union force operating in Somalia to help defend the largely powerless government there from Islamic militants.
The U.S. military is also helping to train and equip troops from other African nations to join the fight against militants in Somalia, including in Sierra Leone, where a senior U.S. Army commander visited recently to give a pep-talk to soldiers about to be deployed. (Click here to see video from the U.S. Army)
America's involvement in Somalia prompted a headline earlier this week from the Los Angeles Times suggesting the U.S. had become the "driving force behind the fighting in Somalia."
In Senegal, Clinton said the United States is committed to "a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it" from Africa. "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 said.
Without mentioning China by name, she maintained that unlike other countries, "America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier or more profitable to look the other way, to keep the resources flowing."
"Not every partner makes that choice, but we do and we will," she said, calling support for democracy and human rights the "heart of the American model of partnership."
Clinton was in Dakar on the first leg of an 11-day African tour that will take her to South Sudan, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana. In Ghana, she will attend the state funeral for the late president, John Atta Mills, who died last week.
Her speech coincided with the first major storm of the rainy season, a positive sign in a place where drought is responsible for a food crisis.
Clinton praised Senegal, the only mainland West African country never to have experienced a coup, for its democratic history and recent elections in which a longtime incumbent lost and handed over power to the victor, Macky Sall, whom she met before the delivering the speech.
But she noted that such trends were not necessarily the norm in the region, such as in Mali or Guinea-Bissau where militaries ousted an elected president.
"Leaders who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves, their families and their supporters at the expense of their own people who define democracy as one election, one time are on the wrong side of history," Clinton said.
In Mali, long considered a model of West African democracy until the coup, Clinton said the military and members of the ousted government must reach consensus to restore civilian leadership and blunt the threat posed by radical Islamists who are taking advantage of a power vacuum in the north.
"We encourage all parties to set aside their differences and work to restore democracy, preserve the territorial integrity of the country, and reject the appeals of violent extremism," she said. She added that the U.S. would continue to withhold full development assistance, including security aid, until a democratically elected government is in place.