Clinton Plays Down Outburst, Says She Has Had ‘Great Time' in Africa

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her 11-day tour of Africa with a brief stop in Cape Verde. The seven-nation trip was aimed at emphasizing the Obama administration's interest in Africa, and Clinton pressed for good government and democratic reforms.
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009

MONROVIA, Liberia, Aug. 13 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that she has had an "absolutely wonderful trip" through Africa, despite a flap over her angry retort to a student's question about her husband's political opinions.

"I've had a great time on this trip," Clinton said, batting away a reporter's question about whether the incident had overshadowed her visit.

Clinton spoke after arriving in Liberia, the sixth of seven countries she is visiting over 11 days. As her motorcade rolled through Monrovia, the capital, knots of people standing in a driving rain waved tiny American flags and held banners that read: "Welcome Hillary Clinton, a Woman of Substance" and "Pres. Barack Obama, We Are Proud of You."

Clinton later gave a speech on democracy to a joint session of the Liberian congress that brought legislators to their feet cheering, one of the warmest receptions she has received on her Africa visit.

The trip, which ends Friday, is aimed at improving relations with Africa and urging countries here to fight corruption and improve democratic processes. But televised images of Clinton lashing out at a student during a town-hall-style meeting in Kinshasa, Congo, dominated much of the coverage in recent days.

The Congolese student had asked for the opinion of former president Bill Clinton on controversial Chinese investments in Congo -- "through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton."

Hillary Clinton, who had become increasingly exasperated over a series of tough questions on U.S. policy from the students in the auditorium, responded: "My husband is not the secretary of state; I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband."

Clinton said the most important part of her trip had been "the relationships we have built, the commitments we have discussed, the problems we have honestly explored."

Clinton's stop in Liberia was a show of support for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state, who is trying to rebuild this country after 14 years of civil war that ended in 2003.

Since taking office three years ago, Johnson Sirleaf has won high marks internationally for fighting corruption and trying to develop her country. But the Harvard-educated economist is struggling to rebuild a nation that still suffers from a widespread lack of running water and electricity. About eight in 10 Liberians are unemployed.

The country, on West Africa's coast, historically has had deep ties to the United States. In the 1820s, Congress provided money to send freed slaves to Liberia, where they became the dominant economic and political class. The U.S. government has a large aid program in the impoverished country and is helping to rebuild Liberia's tiny armed forces.

But last month, Johnson Sirleaf appeared on a list of people the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission described as financiers or leaders of wartime factions. The commission recommended that those on the list be barred from running in elections.

Johnson Sirleaf has apologized for her support for a 1989 coup led by Charles Taylor, which was initially backed by many Liberians but touched off years of warfare. About 300,000 people, almost 10 percent of the population, died in the violence.

Many Liberians say the inclusion of Johnson Sirleaf on the list was politically motivated.

Asked about the issue, Clinton said: "We have looked at the entire record that President Sirleaf brings to office, her performance in office. We are supportive and will continue to be so, because we think Liberia is on the right track."

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