Homage to Hillary Clinton’s Message to Dictators By Eskinder Nega

June 17th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

The list of distinguished American Secretaries of State is a long one. James Madison acceded to the Presidency after serving as the nation’s fifth Secretary of State in the early years of the nineteenth century. (more…)

The list of distinguished American Secretaries of State is a long one. James Madison acceded to the Presidency after serving as the nation’s fifth Secretary of State in the early years of the nineteenth century.

His track records on both counts were remarkable. Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, was the lonely visionary who saw wisdom in the acquisition of Alaska from Russia. America’s longest serving Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, received a Nobel Peace Prize for his eleven grueling years in Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration. George Marshall, who only served between 1947 and 1949, was critical in mobilizing support for Second World War devastated Europe. His were the most consequential two years of any Secretary of State (Foreign Minister) anywhere in the world.

But still, their many merits notwithstanding, latent Presidential potential was obvious in only a handful of them. Had he been born in the US instead of Germany, Henry Kissinger could conceivably have risen to the Presidency. Colin Powel had both the personal standing and political momentum in 2000 but fatefully pulled back from his rendezvous with history.

Hillary Clinton is also incontrovertibly Presidential material. And unlike Powell she had sought her moment in history with passion. Unfortunately, though, perhaps more because of the disastrous legacy of her husband’s second term in office, it was not meant to be.

Desalegn, Ethiopia’s nominal Foreign Minister, with picture-perfect
Nevertheless, her presidential-level charisma, so to speak, endures undiminished as ever. It was discernible as she greeted Haile-Mariam blend of personal courtesy and the stately poise of an emissary of a superpower when she arrived in Addis. It was no less evident as she calmly walked past a roomful of senior diplomats from 53 African countries to take a seat next Jean Ping, Chairperson of the African Union. And it was manifest when she confidently assumed center stage as America’s first Secretary of State to address the AU, which turned out to be one of her best speeches ever.

Inspirational speeches are supposed to be the preserves of activists and politicians. Foreign policy professionals have always instinctively stirred clear from them. Granted the rare one or two good speeches once in a while, bland but reassuringly safe messages are the preferred trademark of State Department speech writers. These words could not have been theirs entirely. What appear to be Clinton’s lengthy insertions are almost patently decipherable.

“I am pleased to come to the African Union today as the first United States Secretary of State to address you,” she said. But the timing could have been better. This was in fact the speech that needed to be—but was not—delivered at the last summit of AU Heads of States, held in the immediate aftermath of popular uprisings in the Middle East.

“Today, I would like to briefly discuss three areas,” she began almost immediately. “They are democracy, economic growth, and peace and security.” But had it not been for the death of Bin Laden, security would have come first not last. After a decade in the wilderness, American foreign policy is finally limping back into the traditional mainstream where the link between US interests and the promotion of democratic values is duly acknowledged. There is no more rational for the singular dominance of the war on terror.

Thus: “First, democracy,” proclaimed a proud Hillary to Africa.

And she went on to articulate what is probably the world’s most understated fact of the last two decades: “More than half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have embraced democratic, constitutional, multi-party rule,” she said. The widely touted cases were then cited: Botswana, Ghana, and Tanzania. But for those cognizant of Africa’s many trails and tribulations, it was the inclusion of Niger, Guinea, Nigeria and Kenya in the list that brought tears of joy. The tide has finally turned against despots in Africa, as it had already done so in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.
Only the horn of Africa remains a regional holdout in the continent.

Hillary had a message for the diehards, in her own words, “the leaders in Africa and elsewhere who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people.” What thoughts were racing in the mind of her host, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who has been in power for twenty years absent a single free election, as she uttered those words is best left for imagination. But to the discrete delight of conspiracy theorists, the lights had gone out on her just as she began to speak of democracy.

Freedom is a universal value, she asserted. There is no room for imaginary national exceptionalism for her. “If you believe that the freedoms and opportunities that we speak about as universal should not be shared by your own people, men and women equally, or if you do not desire to help your own people work and live with dignity,” she said with visible passion, “you are on the wrong side of history, and time will prove that.”

These are actually words of wisdom from recent experience in Egypt. She knows what it means to be on the wrong side of history. Not even the might of a superpower was enough to avert an idea whose time had come. And democracy is the idea whose time has come all over Africa.

It’s time for liberty, fraternity and equality. It’s time to stop the killings. It’s time to free political prisoners. It’s time to really ban torture. It’s time for free elections, freedom of expression and association. It’s time for political pluralism, tolerance of religious and cultural diversity. It’s time to end hate. It’s time to break free from the cycle of violence. It’s time to end rampant, semi-official corruption. It’s time for transparency. It’s time to be part of the international mainstream. It’s time to believe even in the impossible.

In other words, it’s time to hope in Africa. Freedom is no more a possibility but an imperative. The time has indeed come.

We shall be free!


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The writer could be reached at serk27@gmail.com

  1. Gash Polisu
    | #1

    Eskinder Nega,

    I am one of those individuals who really appreciate your determination and intrepid resolve in the struggle for democracy in Ethiopia. You are absolutely right that this time is for Africa to hurl away its old baggages and put fresh thoughts and ideas in place. EPRDF is a failed experiment and there is no doubt that it must be dissolved with all its destructive policies and ideologies.

    Call me cynical, an infiltrator or a doomster or whatever you like. But is the opposition ready and capable to take over power and assume responsibility for the country’s multifarious social, cultural and economic problems? Unless one chooses to pretend otherwise, the rug tag opposition in its present form and shape will simply plunge the nation into a quagmire that we will never be able to pull ourselves from. If you are sober about genuine,lasting democratic transformation in Ethiopia, devote half of your time and writing to bring the shambolic opposition together. Otherwise believe me five years is just like a week. We will suddenly find ourselves in 2015 without doing any meaningful work to organize our people.

  2. Abesh
    | #2

    It is sad to hear an Ethiopian, an African praising someone who is the lifeline of dictators. You need to look at the kind of freedom she has in mind for Africans. To come to the heart of AU and lecture about freedom,while at the same time doing everything to protect her puppets, is an insult to Africans. Have you wondered why she came at this time? Are you sure she had no secret meeting with the Bandas? Do you really believe that she or any other foreigner will have our interest in their hearts? Our history proves not. Remember Chalabi much?

  3. Meku
    | #3

    Her message is for those African dictators who are oppressing their people and accumulating billions of dollars in foreign banks. This is a clear warning to the despotic Zenawi who has been on power for 20 years and stashed billions of dollars in Switz and US banks.
    Zenawi has to go!

  4. Oda Tulu
    | #4

    Yes Zenawi must go and it us Ethiopians to make his departure happen without delay.

    I wonder why Eskider pilled so much praise on Secy Clinton;he should have blamed her for saying so little so late inspite of Zenawi’s his atrocious crimes committed over 20 years of his dictatorship.

  5. Abesh
  6. sam
    | #6

    Hillary will never afraid any damn dictator. She is the best voice of Democracy in the world. No matter the dictator of Ethiopia try to cloud the issue of her speech by light blackout, her message is said long time ago. She is the star of Obama administration. She even talk about China internet blockage is considered as African new colonialist.

  7. Balcha Aba Nefso
    | #7

    Indeed, time is running out for despots. A word to the wise is enough!
    I hope Hillary’s message will ring a bell in the ever deaf ears of all African despots including the killer prime sinister of our beloved mother land. Power to the People

  8. maffi
    | #8

    Her speech was unusual in its own temperament. Gathering African dictators, she told them they are brutal, tyrant and oppressor. She also told them that one day, within a very near day, all African nations will be free. Free to elect, free to speak and prosper economically. Soon intimidation, suppression, harassment, absolutism, authoritarianism and despotism will be no more in Africa. The world has kept an eye on them so long and hence being two-faced is no longer a good strategy. Mrs. Clinton mentioned some 7 countries which have brought democracy to their people. Obviously Ethiopia was not one of them. “Wake up!” was her cute message to African thugs. Otherwise as they have made their own bed; the whole world will let them lie in it.

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