Hillary Clinton Gets Her Message Out, the Hard Way
Despite distractions, and outbursts, Clinton's trip is viewed as a success.
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug. 14, 2009— -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apparently accomplished what she set out to do on her trip to Africa. She pressed governments from Kenya to Nigeria to Libera for reform.
She highlighted the plight of women in Congo, meeting with rape victims and hearing their stories.
But the trip did not go entirely as planned.
Media headlines instead focused on Clinton's more controversial remarks on tangential issues, and America's top diplomat found herself commenting more on someone who was not even there: her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
As Secretary Clinton embarked on the 11-day, seven-country swing through the continent, President Clinton departed for North Korea on what was described by officials as a "humanitarian" mission to retrieve two American journalists being held there.
President Clinton's successful trip was a media coup, one that overshadowed his wife's arrival in Africa. In interviews and press conferences soon after her arrival, reporters peppered her for information about her husband's trip as the rescue dominated headlines around the world.
"I've spoken to my husband," she told reporters. "I am very pleased."
But Clinton wasn't so pleased days later, when in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a question invoking her husband was asked from a Congolese student. The student asked, through a translator, what "Mr. Clinton" thought about a trade deal between China and the DRC.
"You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" Clinton said sharply.
"My husband is not secretary of state, I am," she replied, more than a little annoyed. "If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband."
The comments, and video, ricocheted around the world, prompting commentators and analysts to wonder if the secretary was withering under her husband's shadow. She had just spent the past month fighting rumors of her marginalization in the Obama administration while nursing a broken elbow.
Headlines questioning whether the secretary of state was bitter were not what the administration had envisioned when choosing Congo for a visit. The country has been called the most dangerous in the world for women, because of massive and brutal sexual violence committed against civilian women and girls -- something Clinton had hoped to highlight.
More than 500,000 women have been raped during Congo's 15-year conflict, and the problem shows no sign of slowing. Clinton specifically visited Goma, the capital of Eastern Congo -- where most of the violence occurs -- to draw focus to the issue. The top diplomat pledged the United States would give $17 million toward sexual violence programs in the DRC.