Yesterday, July 18, was Nelson Mandela Day in nearly every country in the world – a day that asks us to spend time serving others, in the spirit of Mandela himself. Yet for President Clinton, who has been so inspired by Mandela’s life and work, every day is Mandela Day – and this week is a great example.
President Clinton made his first trip to Africa in 1998 – the longest trip to Africa by any U.S. president. This week – his 8th trip to the continent since he left office – he is visiting Clinton Foundation projects in South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda, in a trip that is every bit as ambitious as his first.
Though he’s making many stops in many places, in communities that vary in population, resources, and culture, the common thread through all of these visits is President Clinton’s unique form of public service – his longstanding commitment to giving people a hand-up rather than a handout, and to listening to what people want rather than prescribing solutions for them.
We can see how this commitment is changing lives and improving communities particularly in Rwanda, where we traveled yesterday. President Clinton toured a new cancer center in Butaro that was established via the Clinton Global Initiative, with support from Jeff Gordon and Partners In Health. It is the best cancer center in rural Africa, and that’s important because chronic diseases like cancer are afflicting more and more people in Africa, as lifespans increase and lifestyles become more Western.
The Butaro hospital has brought critical services to a remote region that, until four years ago, did not have a functioning hospital to serve a population of over 320,000 people. The Cancer Center also benefits from a unique partnership with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, which are training and mentoring Rwandan staff. The goal is to provide a sustainable system of education for the next generation of Rwandan health care leaders – who ultimately will own and maintain their own systems of care, without reliance on foreign assistance.
Today in Rwanda, he’ll visit a factory being built outside of Kigali with support from the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative. When complete next year, the factory will employ 200 people and help uplift the incomes of about 30,000 farmers in eastern Rwanda by producing cooking oil for an enormous local and regional market; the factory ultimately will impact an estimated 165,000 lives. And the aim of this factory project is to create a business that is locally owned, locally operated, and profitable – so that it can be sustained by Rwandans, for Rwandans, without future dependence on President Clinton or any other foreigner.
In the afternoon, he’ll join the Government of Rwanda to celebrate their pioneering new program to reduce reliance on foreign aid by better training more local staff, reducing costs and waste, and taking on more local responsibility for programs that traditionally would have involved foreign consultants. The Clinton Health Access Initiative is assisting these efforts by convening a group of international universities to build-up the expertise of Rwandan health officials.
Accompanying him on this trip is an honor and privilege, and more inspiring than I ever could imagine: not just because it’s an opportunity to learn and see public service in action, but also because of the way in which President Clinton’s public service is so unique – bringing together communities, the government, the foreign donors, the businesspeople, all to empower local people to shape and continue this work long into the future, so they can achieve their dreams without depending on others.
Much has been written recently about the future and great hopes of Africa, with its abundant natural resources and even more plentiful human resources – but few people are showing the world how that bright future can be achieved in ways that genuinely reflect the desires of Africans themselves. President Mandela, President Clinton, and undoubtedly the people being impacted by their shared legacies, are showing us all the way.