Bill Clinton Trades Presidential Trail for Annual African Tour

Leaving the presidential race behind, Clinton makes annual trek to Africa.

Aug. 1, 2008
DEBRA ZEIT, ETHIOPIA— -- Bill Clinton is back in his element.

Nearly eight weeks after his wife dropped out of the presidential race, the former president has returned to Africa on what has become an annual pilgrimage to check in on the work of his Clinton Foundation.

"Oh yeah, I love this stuff," he told ABC News with a grin, as he visited a new health clinic in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.

Leaving Presidential Politics Behind

Ethiopia is a long way from New York or South Carolina. People here might know his wife ran for president, but few know much about the controversies and criticisms that haunted the former president during the primary season back home.

Here in Africa, they tend to focus less on Bill Clinton's politics, and more on things like money and much-needed AIDS medicines and health clinics. They know the Clinton name because his foundation has invested in things that help people.

And so it was no surprise that Clinton's visit to see the new clinic Friday drew a crowd.

AIDS Devastates Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, health care clinics are few and far between.

There is one clinic for every 120,000 people. The roads are so bad and transportation so limited, that many people who are HIV-positive simply can't access life-saving antiretroviral drugs.

The clinic the former president visited Friday has just nine workers on staff, and sees 60 patients a day, many of whom walk several hours to get there.

To improve the situation in this region, Clinton announced that the Clinton Foundation would spend $5 million over three years to refurbish 50 new clinics.

"You deserve to have a healthy life," Clinton told a crowd of hundreds.

"It's a big deal. It's a big deal," said Kassahun Mogus, one of the nurses at the Debre Zeit clinic. "He was the leader of the world. Then he comes here, in a small village, poor and uncomfortable place to visit, to see us, to help us our problems. I don't know how I can tell you (how I feel). I have no words."

The Future of Solar Power in the Third World

In the tiny village of Rema on Thursday, Clinton and daughter Chelsea sipped Ethiopian coffee in a small hut.

The village runs entirely on solar power -- a project funded under the auspices of Clinton's Global Initiative. For about $10 a house, families who live way off the electric grid have power.

The local school teacher told Clinton that before solar power her students couldn't study at night. Now she's opened up a night school for children and adults.

"This is the real future of solar energy," Clinton said.

Bill Clinton: First Tourist

It hasn't been all work. As one aide reminded us, some of the former president's trip is like a vacation.

Clinton and his delegation spent Wednesday touring one of the world's most famous Christian landmarks. For years, he said, he wanted to see the carved stone churches of Lalibela. With time on his hands, he finally had his chance.

Removing his shoes -- in keeping with Orthodox Christian tradition -- Clinton and his daughter admired frescos and ancient symbols carved into the rock. Some of the churches date back 900 years.

"All these churches are still in use," Clinton said in awe.

He apologized that he couldn't stay longer.

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