Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dubai June 14

An unexpected 10 hour layover. What can I say -- the hotel is next to the gigantic Dubai Mall, where people wander around aimlessly just like in American malls. It is funny to see Arab families in full regalia eating cheese pizza next to an ice rink.

I got up and had a swim in the hotel pool, which has a view of the Burj Dubai..the world's tallest building, and the the world's largest "dancing waters" fountain, complete with heavenly chorus soundtrack

Here's a picture from the mall -- their main "waterfall" water feature

Addis Ababa June 13

Hectic!...It as a very long day yesterday, that ended with an unexpected diversion due to a volcanic explosion.

We woke up in Dar es Salaam, and Clinton had some final meetings including with the President Kikwete. They did a press conference at the presidential palace (see the boxed lions above)...It was kind of funny -- they had set up a normal press conference room, but reserved the front five rows for officials so the reporters were all jammed into the back. We had to shout our questions over all the official heads...silly.

Then we left for Addis. Along the way the pilots took a little diversion to give us a good view of Kilimanjaro -- snowy peak (although the snow is receding) agove a sea of clouds, with some breaks where you can see the Serengeti plan. It really was beautiful.

We arrived in Addis after a very choppy ride, and went to the hotel where Clinton changed her clothes. Then off to the AU headquarters in a huge rainstorm..everyone got "USAID" umbrellas and most of them blew out in the wind and rain, so we arrived soaking.

The AU headquarters is now an old, sort of tired building -- but next door is a brand new gleaming headquarters being built by the Chinese, topped with a huge glass dome. Hard to argue with that.

Clinton gave her speech at the AU, urging them to drop Gaddafi and promote democracy on the continent. It was a good speech, but the power cut out in the middle..leaving the hall in semi-darkness and Clinton spotlit by the small light on the podium..

Then we rushed back to the PM's office where Clinton was due to meet Meles. We were waiting around for the press conference when Philippe, Clinton's media guru, came out and told us there had been a change of plan": because of a volcanic eruption in Eritrea, we had to leave NOW to get out ahead of the volcanic ash cloud. There was a mad scramble back to the hotel, where Clinton had some rushed meetings with the Sudanese, and then back to the airport.

Weirdly, we headed for Dubai -- the plane needed to refuel, and apparently couldn't do that anywhere else. No one really understood why, but the detour took us five ours in the wrong direction. Along the way, we were told that we were then going to head to Rammstein Air Base -- and might have to hang out there for 15-24 hours because of the crew's need to get required rest. This went over like a lead balloon..we were all so tired, and the prospect of another 8 hours to Germany and then 15 hours at an air base before we could even head home was pretty grim.

We arrived in Dubai at about 3 a.m. their time, and after some persuading we got them to let us out onto the tarmac. It was hot and sweaty, but at least we could stretch our legs....but after a while we were told that, in fact, the plane had a flat tire and the spare was deep in the hold..behind all the bags. The crew would have to unpack the entire plane to get at the tire, which would take hours.

After a bit of back and forth, it was decided that we would stay in Dubai. The U.S. consulate scrambled people and they managed to book us rooms (amazing, given the hour)...and we finally checked in at around 5 a.m. I took a shower and was in bed and asleep within five minutes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dar es Salaam June 12-13

We flew from Lusaka to Dar on Saturday, and arrived back into sticky weather. The hotel gardens were full of cycads and my favorite Bismark Palm -- a wonderful, bluish palm tree that actually gives shade, and which we first saw on Zanzibar a few years ago. I'd love to get one for Palm Springs, but I think the climate there is too dry...too bad, because it is a lovely tree.

Anyway we had the evening off, which was welcome -- ate at the hotel restaurant (not bad) and had a beer at the rooftop bar, which has a view out over the harbor.

Sunday was a busy day, highlighting the various U.S. development projects for Africa. We got in the motorcade and set out for a drive of about an hour to a women-owned farming cooperative outside of Dar es Salaam. It always feels a little funny to be whizzing past in the tail end of Clinton's motorcade while local cops keep the regular traffic bottled up. Huge lines of trucks, busses and taxis were idling by the side of the road as we went by, people clambering out to look at the parade. If it were me I'd be irritated at such a long wait just so a VIP can get to where she wants to go ... but the government is eager to promote this kind of aid, so off we went.

To reach the farm the motorcade eventually ended up crawling over potholed dirt roads, the vans wobbling and bobing as the drivers tried to slalom around the biggest craters. When we got there, Clinton got out and took a tour with some of the women who farm there -- producing vegetables to sell at the markets in Dar, as well as some for export.

There is something hilarious and incongruous about this kind of event: Clinton, in a bright orange pant suit, chatting with women African farmers while the whole official U.S. retinue swarms around. Tanzanian military in full SWAT gear were deployed around the edges of the fields, and all of the State Dept types were in full suit-and-tie under the broiling sun, punching away at their blackberries. The cavalcade moved slowly as Clinton picked her way down a dirt path, photographers running ahead (and trampling some of the seed beds) to get the picture.

The Prime Minister introduced her to another group of women as "Mama Clinton" which seemed about right for the circumstances -- she tried to engage them in a broader conversation but there wasn't much traction, although they did repeatedly break out in high pitched ululations to show their welcome.

She gave a speech under a giant shade tree, and then the motorcade was off again..back to a suburb of the city, where she wanted to highlight a U.S.-funded energy project which involved a power plant powered by jet engines. From there it was on to a clinic, where she took in a bit of amateur theatrics illustrating the threat of "gender based violence" and encouraged more work to improve maternal health.

She is clearly in her element with these stops (which makes you wonder why, as she says, she is NOT interested in the World Bank job) and you can tell her determination to highlight the the problems and challenges faced by women and girls at every stop.

For the journalists, tho, it was a little hard to find a lead for a story. The newly announced U.S. funding was not particularly big, and we didn't really have time to explore any one of the various projects...so we were left with a lot of comments about how the U.S. is committed to doing good in Africa, but no way to assess if it is really what is needed or wanted here...You can't do a "development" story in two hours, which is frustrating both for journalists and for the officials who want to promote this stuff. But I'm trying to keep my notes in order so that I can write a broader piece about the development side of the trip...maybe on the long flight on on Tuesday.

I'm writing this fast as I've got to pack to get my luggage to the "bag drag" in 20 minutes for this morning's flight to Addis. I'll update it if I can later..

Added the picture at the the top at the last minute..our last stop in Dar was at the Presidential Palace, where they had two of these "lions in a box" at the front entrance....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lusaka, June 10-11

I am still having trouble adding pictures, which isn't surprising since I've been having a lot of technical problems on this trip: blackberry doesn't work, or works intermittently, computer won't hook up to wifi, etc etc. It makes for a frustrating time...

Anyway I've got a decent picture of Zambian dancers welcoming Clinton in Lusaka on arrival. It was great to be back in Southern Africa -- sharp, clear blue sky, warm sun but cooling off quickly at sunset, just a faint hint of smoke in the air. Felt like home.

But along with the technical issues I've also had to deal with another bump: my colleague Lesley Wroughton broke the story that Clinton was interested in moving to the World Bank. This is VERY sensitive...they don't want to be seen losing a secretary of state at this juncture, and it wouldn't be for months anyway as the job doesn't become vacant until mid-2012.

They denied it on the record, and then Clinton herself denied it in a press conference here in Lusaka. We had their denials in the original story, but the drumbeat of "no!" makes for some rough going. Still, I tend to believe Lesley before I believe the Clinton crowd. It would be a perfect job for her (everything we are doing on this Africa trip centers on development/health and women, which are her obsessions). But the politics are such that it will never be formally acknowledged until the official announcement.

But that makes me the "guy from Reuters" on the trip. It is fine -- I am sure we will be shown right in the end. And people are not being nasty, just a little jumpy. But that, added too the regular exhaustion of these trips, has made this feel like a long one.

I'm going to sign off now but will try to fill this out (and add the picture!) later

(Next Day) -- up early in Dar es Salaam, and somehow the picture uploads seem to work now. The dancers really were fantastic, and Clinton clearly loves being in Africa.

At the trade conference she was attending in Lusaka she was serenaded by a chorus of African businesswomen (!) -- lovely harmonies, and she got in there to sway and clap (a little off beat) with them. Makes you think the World Bank would be such a good fit!

Lusaka looked very tidy -- they spruced up a lot for the trade meeting and for Clinton, with clean streets, and all the trees freshly painted with their white "skirts" to keep the bugs off, making it all seem very tidy. We did one stop at a new pediatric hospital which the U.S. built and has donated to Zambia as a center to combat mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The speeches went on for ever ("all protocol observed" being a favorite phrase...even Clinton used it). I was nodding off but then this lady sat down in front of me with a terrific hair-do....makes me miss Africa.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Abu Dhabi, June 8-9

We are back at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi. I've got a picture of the infamous gold-nugget dispensing ATM ("Gold to GO") on my cellphone, but for some reason the file is corrupted and I'm too tired to try to figure out how to upload it now. If you see it I've figured it out at a later date!

Clinton is back in the Emirates for another "contact group" meeting on Libya. We flew in all night/day from DC, and arrived to the usual ferocious summer heat -- must have been close to 95 degrees at midnight, and the air thick with humidity.

When you arrive in Abu Dhabi they put all your baggage thru a special scanner on arrival..not for weapons, particularly, but more for any booze or porn you might have on you! I guess they are also looking for weapons, but the warnings were all about booze (people had to leave their duty free from Shannon aboard Clinton's plane).

Then the bus ride back to this ridiculous hotel, described in earlier posts. Not much to add except that, for a "$3 billion" hotel it is absolutely the most visitor unfriendly place I have ever seen...The staff is very attentive, but the place is just too damn big and all of the marble/chandeliered hallways look exactly the same. It is easy to get mesmerized walking around..and it always feels as though you are walking down the same endless hallway. The "public spaces" are equally gaudy and equally indistinguishable..which vast cavernous lobby? All very hard to tell.

The contact group meeting was in the hotel so I can say I did not go outside ONCE today..except to look out from my balcony this morning on the very elaborate pool outside. Even then it was ferociously hot...but they still seem to get tourists, from Europe or Russia or wherever. I guess it is sort of like staying at Disney World.

Not much to say about the conference (all behind closed doors) except that they came out determined to call it a success: more support for the rebel Transitional National Council, more vows of taking it to Gaddafi. We waited and wandered, found a few Libyan exiles, watched people waiting and wandering. Then, finally, a few back to back press conferences with the hosts, Clinton and others -- and the expected vows of support/aggression for the rebels and for Gaddafi. It feels like a play (and a not very interesting one)..everything scripted, and ultimately inconsequential...I guess until Gaddafi finally DOES go.

The big quote coming into the conference was that the conflict is in "end game" and time to plan for the future. But there were very few words on what the actual plan for Libya is. You have to think they'd be on this from the minute Obama made the decision to intervene..but there's not much public sign of it. Worrying.

The subtext to the trip has been the Internet scandal involving Rep. Anthony Wiener, whose wife is one of Clinton's closest aides. Everyone felt sorry for her and..when the news came from New York, quoting "family friends", that she is pregnant, we all refused to ask about it. Maybe that's cowardly, but somehow it didn't seem appropriate or important at 2 a.m. in Abu Dhabi where the poor woman is just trying to do her job. Let Wiener talk about it.

That's it -- am tired. Will try to figure out the picture tomorrow..maybe in Zambia, which is our next stop!