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Keith B. Richburg: Playing the long game in Africa

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping shakes hands with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe while South African President Jacob Zuma looks on during the China-Africa cooperation forum in Johannesburg on Dec. 4.   © Reuters

Compare the state visits to Africa this year by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as the two superpowers vie for clout on the world's fastest-growing continent. Then ask: Which leader is playing the long game?

     Start with Obama, who visited Africa in July. At a session of the African Union, held in Ethiopia, Obama warned African leaders that the tradition of "big man" rule was undermining the continent's gradual path to greater democracy. "Nobody should be president for life," he intoned, adding: "When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs or activists are threatened as governments crack down on civil society, then you may have democracy in name but not in substance."

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