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 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....