During her seven-country Africa tour, Hillary Clinton has denounced corruption in Kenya, sought to bolster ties with oil-rich Angola, and hailed a return to warm relations with South Africa.
On Tuesday, in a sign of US concern about the risks of violence in Congo, she flew to the city of Goma, where thousands of displaced people and many rape victims have found shelter.
Yet in spite of the US secretary of state’s activity and discipline, in what is now the second week of her trip, her carefully crafted diplomatic message has been partly overshadowed by a very human moment.
At a town hall meeting in Kinshasa on Monday, she was clearly irritated by what appeared to be a question about former US president Bill Clinton’s views on an international loan.
“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?” she said, responding to the student who asked her. “My husband is not secretary of state – I am.
“You ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion; I will not be channelling my husband.”
The exchange was all the more notable because Mr Clinton’s success last week in returning from North Korea with two US former detainees eclipsed the start of his wife’s trip, and also she is not the sort of person who sees herself as a mere adjunct to their spouse.
Since assuming public office, she has insisted that her conversations with the former president are a purely private matter.
“An abiding theme that she has in her trip to Africa is empowering women,” the state department said on Tuesday. “As the question was posed to her, it was posed in a way that said: I want to get the views of two men, but not you, the secretary of state. And obviously, she reacted to that.”
All the same, confusion swirled around what exactly had been asked. “It is our understanding that the student, perhaps, was nervous in talking to the secretary of state,” the state department said.
“He meant to ask a question about, you know, the views of [US] president [Barack] Obama. By mistake, he said the views of president Clinton.”
In any case, Mrs Clinton is on Wednesday due in Nigeria. And much of the tour has been good natured.
Indeed, in Angola, one minister hailed “the most sublime, the most magnanimous moment” of her visit – not a moment easily confused with the exchange in Kinshasa.
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