As I read about U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s multi-country trip through Africa this month, I couldn’t help but wonder how the diligent Clinton would prepare. Would she (or her aides), for example, read Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai’s latest book, The Challenge for Africa, published earlier this year? In it, Maathai, a Brighter Green colleague, examines a series of bottlenecks that have hampered Africa’s development for decades and how Africa can overcome them. Well, we still don’t know for sure what was on the Secretary’s summer reading list, but in much of what she’s been saying to African leaders, civil society groups and the media, the main themes of Challenge are there: good governance, leadership, the importance of gender equality, the role of resources in fueling conflict, the need to address climate change and deforestation, and the scourge of violence against women.
Wangari herself has been a feature of Clinton’s Africa tour, too. She appeared with Hillary at a civil society “townterview” (a blend of town hall and interview) in Nairobi hosted by CNN and Kenya Television News. “What can a strong, powerful country like the United States of America do,” Wangari asked Clinton, “to persuade other strong countries like China to do business in Africa, with a consciousness that we must also demand from our leaders good governance?” “That’s a great question, Wangari,” Hillary replied. (Indeed it is–and one that’s explored in Challenge.) In a speech in South Africa, Clinton’s second stop on her Africa tour, she referred to the forum in Nairobi, including the participation of “a longtime friend of mine,” Wangari Maathai. And in an opinion piece Clinton wrote on women’s rights and gender equality for South Africa’s City Press, she highlighted Wangari’s unleashing of a national, grassroots environmental movement principally led by women through the Green Belt Movement. Good work, Madame Secretary. (And pardon me, pace the student who asked about “Mr. Clinton” in Kinshasa, DRC, eliciting some ire, for wondering if you’ve shared Challenge, with Bill? After all, I’ve heard that both Clintons found Maathai’s autobiography, Unbowed, a great read…Bill read it first and then passed it along to Hillary.)