Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently concluded her maiden trip to sub-Saharan Africa carrying in her words "a tough message lovingly delivered." Simultaneously, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk visited Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal also touting, in his words, "a tough love" message for Africans.

But U.S. policy in Africa is not about love. It's about advancing America's core interests: promoting economic growth and development, combating terrorism, and fostering well-governed, stable countries. Did Mrs. Clinton's trip advance those interests? The record is mixed.

The secretary of state did well to show the American flag in the region's most strategic countries. Kenya is the regional hub for commerce in East Africa, and it plays a key role in combating terrorism in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. South Africa and Nigeria together constitute more than 50% of sub-Saharan Africa's economic output, and both countries are major providers of peacekeeping forces throughout Africa. Mrs. Clinton got it right that we must engage these countries to help shape the continent's future in a fashion that advances our mutual interests.

She was also right to speak about women's empowerment. Her stops in the Democratic Republic of Congo—especially the conflict zone of Goma where women are frequent victims of war-related rape—and Liberia, home of Africa's first elected woman president, demonstrate her commitment to highlight and advance women's issues globally.

Not so welcome is the false billing that Mrs. Clinton's trip was the earliest by an American secretary of state. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice traveled there earlier in their terms—Mr. Powell in May 2001 and Ms. Rice in July 2005. Even more unwelcome is the Obama administration's penchant for lecturing Africans rather than listening.

Here are four quick steps the administration can take to translate the rhetoric of love into policies that advance mutual U.S. and African interests:

• Place Eritrea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This will follow through on Mrs. Clinton's statements that Eritrea must end its assistance to al Shabaab, a designated Somali terrorist group.

Al Shabaab recruits young Americans to become suicide bombers. It also has turned Somalia into a haven for mujahedeen fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The al Qaeda East Africa cell is based in Somalia and was responsible for the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Mrs. Clinton laid a wreath in Kenya to commemorate the embassy bombing. She can help prevent a future attack on our diplomatic missions and citizens in the Horn and East Africa by taking direct action against Eritrea today.

• Oppose congressional legislation to extend the trade preferences in the African Growth and Opportunity Act to all developing countries. Thanks to this legislation 40,000 jobs were created in Lesotho alone, mostly for women in the textile sector. The trade-preference program was adopted during the Clinton administration, and it was extended and strengthened under the Bush administration to increase Africa's competitiveness and market access. But extending the same trade preferences to hypercompetitive Cambodia and Bangladesh—each of which individually exports more apparel to the U.S. than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined—will undermine the program's success in Africa.

• Hold a summit at the White House with the presidents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Mr. Obama needs to spend more time meeting and engaging African leaders to address the continent's challenges.

President George W. Bush helped to end the interstate wars among Rwanda, Congo and Uganda by holding individual and trilateral meetings with these leaders. Now Mr. Obama needs to galvanize U.S. efforts to end the militia violence of Rwandan and Ugandan rebel groups still operating in the Congo. The Department of Defense in particular must move from assessing to actually training disciplined Congolese soldiers capable of protecting Congolese citizens and defending their territory.

• Move the headquarters of the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) from Germany to Liberia. This needs to be done to promote U.S. strategic interests in the region, which include maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, countering terrorism and drug trafficking, and promoting regional development and stability.

The Liberian government has repeatedly offered to host a headquarters for AFRICOM understanding the U.S. presence will create jobs and help stabilize the country and region. The command needs to be in the region its operations are charged with shaping.

These four steps, more than any love messages, will signal a real commitment that the mutual interests of the U.S. and Africa will remain strong and secure under the Obama administration.

Ms. Frazer, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2005-2009.