Chris Blattman

Bill Clinton picks his world leaders to watch

Foreign Policy interviews Bill Clinton.

The question I liked the most: “Top three leaders that people should pay attention to, other than Obama.” Clinton responds:

The prime minister of Australia, Kevin Michael Rudd — he is really smart. He has a thirst to know and figure out how to do things.

I think people should study what Paul Kagame did in Rwanda. It is the only country in the world that has more women than men in Parliament (obviously part of the demographic is from the genocide). It may not be perfect, but Rwanda has the greatest capacity of any developing country I have seen to accept outside help and make use of it. It’s hard to accept help. They’ve done that. And how in God’s name does he get every adult in the country to spend one Saturday every month cleaning the streets? And what has the psychological impact of that been? The identity impact? The president says it’s not embarrassing, it’s not menial work, it’s a way of expressing your loyalty to and your pride in your country. How do you change your attitudes about something that you think you know what it means? How did he pull that off?

There are lots of fascinating leaders in Latin America worth studying. But I think it’s worth looking at Colombia. How has Medellín been given back to the people of Colombia? We all know President Uribe has faced criticism in the U.S., but how did Medellín go from being the drug capital of the world, one of the most dangerous places on Earth, to the host city of the 50th anniversary of the Inter-American Development Bank? I would look at that.

I would look at another guy, José Ramos-Horta, the president of the first country in the 21st century, East Timor. Is it too small to be a nation? Can you get too small? Can your courageous fight for independence and freedom lead you to an economic unit that is not going to have a population or a geographic base big enough to take care of your folks? How are the Kosovars going to avoid that?

To me, this was an unexpectedly global answer.

I was less impressed with his response to the “greatest thinkers” question. The majority are NY Times columnists. Frightening.

7 Responses

  1. Agree with the comments above. I found the interview to be pretty underwhelming. Although I respect Clinton and his knowledge base, he seems ever eager to make the public aware of that knowledge by moving from one big ticket issue to the next. I also found it interesting that he, albeit somewhat indirectly, ruminates over the poverty/terrorism link, which is timely due to the recent blog post that discussed a lack of causal evidence regarding the issue.

  2. Regarding Uribe and Medellin, Clinton missed the latest news on which killings have gone up again, escalating to previous years of high violence.

  3. In East Timor, Mr Clinton’s other “man to watch” Ramos-Horta forces citizens to clean the streets by public decree on Friday morning (which just about reduces national productivity by 20%). Interesting similarity between Mr Clinton’s “men to watch”. Wondering if Uribe forces people to clean the streets?!

    Finally, from Timor-watcher perspective, Mr Clinton and Mr Ramos-Horta have quite a lot in common.

  4. I have some thoughts on how Kagame got people to clean the streets…

    One thing that should be noted, however, is that this is a regional norm, as Blaise points out. In DRC, it’s called the solange (I think). It was instituted by Mobutu as a sort of public goods provision/nationalistic pride-generating event. Reinstituted in Goma in July 2007, which means that every Saturday morning, the air is full of smoke from people burning trash in the gutters.

  5. Hmm… Rudd does seem to be spending a lot of time wooing the international community at the moment. Although I voted for him I’m not sure that I would put him in the ‘world leader to watch’ basket, but he definitely is driven and intelligent.

  6. Paul Kagame!? There are more and more concers about his involvement in the shooting of the president plane in 1994 leading to the genocide. Moreover, Rwanda is involved in the DRC war.
    Burundi does the same as Rwanda and every citizen has to clean the streets on saturday morning. I was very impressed to see it. Nevertheless, it’s a bit disturbing to see the streets blocked by soldiers to prevent people from escaping the tasks. I don’t know if it makes anything for the identity. For me it’s more the reflect of dictatorial regime.

    1. Respectfully, Blaise is not current with his international news, and is quite misguided. The accusation that President Kagame had anything to do with the 1994 downing of the President’s plane has been totally discredited. We all know that Rwanda’s involvement in DRC is extremely complicated, but Rwanda’s conduct throughout 2009 to date has been exemplary and generally applauded by the DRC and the international community. Umuganda (public service, one half Saturday per month) is a wonderful community activity that must be experienced to fully understand and appreciate. Indeed, Paul Kagame as a strong leader, but he is not an “African strong man”. Without such strong leadership, Rwanda’s spectacular recovery and development since the 1994 genocide could not have been possible. Consider Somalia and Rwanda in 1994, then both “failed states”, and consider them both now. One remains a failed state, and the other is the rising star, pride, and hope of all Africa. Ask yourself “Why?”.

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