On the Plane

Straight Talk in Nairobi

By Mary Beth Sheridan
NAIROBI, Aug. 6 -- At a town hall meeting on Thursday, an interviewer remarked on the "surprisingly frank" language that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had used in addressing Kenya's democratic failings.

Clinton acknowledged her blunt style -- and went on to display it anew.

Problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo are so acute because "much of the country is ungoverned," she said.

She noted that Nigeria imports petroleum products, even though it's the fifth largest oil producer in the world. "That's bad governance!" she exclaimed.

In Nairobi, she said, she had heard a common refrain: "If you have a problem in Kenya, why hire a lawyer if you can buy a judge?"

The crowd at the University of Nairobi laughed and applauded her comments.

For her part, Clinton said her language in Kenya was well-intentioned.

"It's tough, but it's also lovingly presented," she said.

By Liz Ward |  August 6, 2009; 4:33 PM ET
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Yes, she is 100% right.

Posted by: Charles | August 6, 2009 9:59 PM

Her comments are undoubtedly true, but whether they are helpful or not is less clear.

Most citizens feel a certain resentment when their nation, whatever it is and whatever its problems, is criticized by foreigners. Sometimes such criticism can help, when it reveals that what the citizens thought was purely an internal matter has become part of the world perception, with negative effects on the nation's ability to achieve its goals.

But very often, the result may be a certain defensiveness. "Don't tell us about our problems, Ms. Secretary. Solve your own first." And this is far more likely if the criticism is both open and blunt, however helpful the intent may be.

Posted by: radan2 | August 6, 2009 10:23 PM

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