Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Abidjan/Lome, Jan 17

Togo. All we saw was this presidential "palace", but it was a sight worth seeing.

We spent the morning in Abidjan where Clinton met with Ouattara, who is trying to stabilize things after their recent civil war. They were nice enough to drop all of the Internet security firewalls for the presidential palace so we could hook up to the web, but it was still an awfully slow connection and I wasn't able to get much out. The comms have been pretty bad throughout the trip -- in most places the blackberry didn't work, longdistance calls drop, etc. I was filing stuff through by text message for most of the day in Liberia.

Anyway after her meeting with Ouattara Clinton made a speedy stop at an NGO, where she watched kids put on a skit about political reconciliation, and then we headed back out to the airport.

Clinton was the first ever U.S. secretary of state to visit Togo, a former French colony without a lot of economic or strategic least until they were elected to the U.N. Security Council last year.

U.S. officials say they believe the young president, took over on the death of his father one of Africa's "presidents for life", was actually a budding democrat, and Clinton was here to check him out and talk Security Council.

The guy may be a closet George Washington but his palace was 100 percent dictator. Its a huge, newly built colossus, topped by a dome and all done in what looked like red granite. As we pulled up, rows of women cheered and ululated while a little military band piped up.

Inside, weirdly, they still had some Christmas lights up -- all somberly surveyed by what I took to be special presidential guards equipped with red capes and ceremonial swords. They refused to smile.

Clinton went into her meeting and we went to a hold room equipped with blazing fast Internet, cookies, and Guinness. The palace is so new that they hadn't even hung up the artwork was all sitting in the floor, waiting to go up.

After about an hour Clinton emerged and the president walked her back down the red carpeted hallways, past the guards, and out to the entryway where the women, joined by drummers and dancers, yelled and screamed. You could tell Clinton REALLY wanted to go over to say hello to them, but the whole thing looked a little complicated what with both U.S. security and Togolese security milling around so she decided just to wave.

We got back in the van and back out to the airport -- Lome doesn't seem to have much going on, but they made sure by keeping the roads clear with roadblocks manned by soldiers in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns.

Clinton seemed impressed by the president, tho, so I guess he said the right things. A George Washington University graduate, apparently.

Fourteen hours home, with a refueling stop in Cape Verde.