Funmi: Right madam secretary, it’s absolutely brilliant to be here with you, I was wondering what pin you were going to wear today. What does this mean, the pin on you?
Madeleine: Well first of all Funmi, it’s great to be with you and have a chance to see you again. So I decided it was a good day for hope and flowers, this is the dandelion and then when it becomes… you know, puffs, so its just a dandelions in two different stages basically, I love flowers and its seems like a good day to do that.
Funmi: The entirety of your story is the ultimate dream. I read your book and didn’t know the part I love most, looking at where you came from, which is why am going to ask that from you to Colin Powell and then to Condoleezza Rice, America has taken such huge steps from appointing a woman to appointing an African American and then an African American woman, so which is America ready for now, a female president or an African American president?
Madeleine: Well you know I’m supporting Hillary Clinton, so I do think a female president is what we need. Barack Obama is a remarkable person, I’ve met him and I like him very much but I really think at this moment America needs a very experienced president and I think it will be great to have Hillary, I really believe that.
Madeleine: Well I think we don’t know, I think Oprah is also a remarkable person, who is kind of a force of nature in the United State; I have appeared on her show, we did a really interesting show together about trafficking in women. She gets very interested in an issue and her support for issues and books has been very important. We don’t know what her effect on politics is. So it’s a question, it is really a question…but I don’t expect all women to vote for Hillary nor do I expect all African Americans to vote for Obama, so I think people will make up their minds according to what they see and want. I know for instance that Senator Clinton has remarkable support among African Americans and they actually call President Clinton the first black president.
Madeleine: So I think there will be a number of places where people will look at the issues, they will look at experience and we’ll have to see.
Funmi: Whoever becomes the next American president is going to be a very important person because the world and to a large extent America is at a very important place, Going forward, America needs to make the right decisions in foreign policy, for her economy, in Iraq, on terrorism and so on. Isn’t that a bit much?
Madeleine: Absolutely! Well, it is an incredibly difficult job period, whenever you take it, but I think that it is especially important now just because of the points you outlined. You know the United State is basically involved in two hot wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the issues around those wars. In Afghanistan, Pakistan is an additional aspect of that and in Iraq the issue is what is the role of Iran, how do the Middle East peace talks move forward, and then I don’t think people have paid enough attention to the rest of the world. I have criticized president Bush for been unilateral but he also unidimensional, not a lot attention has being paid to Africa or Latin America and so the next president, I think is going to have a huge job.
Funmi: It did seem America threw away the opportunity of 9/11, the sympathy, in fact America seem at an all time low in terms of international perception, her economy and so on. What would you do if you were advising the next president, about those issues, in particular, the wars, terrorism and American’s economy?
Madeleine: Funny you should ask. I have just completed a book, which is called “A Memo to the President Elect” and I have thought a lot about how I will advise the president. The reason that I wrote it now so it will come out so early was that I’d hoped it would help the public. It’s not really a memo to the president, it’s really a memo to the American public to understand how difficult it is and what the president has to consider. I think from a national security perspective, I would first advise the president that we have to end the war in Iraq. It is sapping our energy and it has actually shown that our military strength is not as much as we think even though our military is truly remarkable, it has not done what president Bush thought it would, in terms of ending terrorism in fact, secretary Rumsfeld said “there were more terrorists created than had been killed” it has not done a lot for democracy because you can’t impose democracy. It has to come…
Funmi: It’s an oxymoron
Madeleine: Yes totally, absolutely, so I think first we have to deal with Iraq but I also think the next president has to really take a different approach, one which understands that the issues of the 21st century are the kind that can only be solved by cooperation with others. If you take it as fighting terrorism, dealing with environmental issues, dealing with the positive and negative aspect of globalization, looking at how to help with democratic movements in other countries, dealing with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, dealing with drugs and pandemic diseases, just by nature of what they are…you’d have to work in partnerships and so I will really advise, very quickly: showing some humility, going around and looking for rebuilding international institutions and partnerships.
Funmi: Talking about international institutions, you were the US’s ambassador to the UN for four years and those were incredible years reading about your numerous battles. There was a point where you mentioned political will as well as the capacity and funding to do some of the things you felt the UN should be better positioned to do. Has anything changed since that time?
Madeleine: Well a lot actually, I loved my time at the UN; it was a time when there was a lot of hope about how the UN could function because it had basically been paralyzed by the cold war. The Soviets had a veto, we had a veto and that really was the prism for everything. And when we were in office in 1990 all of a sudden all the possibilities for how the UN could work, opened up and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the peace making and the peace keeping operations, how you put together peace keeping forces, what the possibilities were for deciding what were really threats to national security…what’s so interesting, Vice President Gore actually came up – this was when I was secretary already to the UN and said HIV/AIDS was a national security issue. That what happens in terms of destabilization that came from the large numbers of people who were dying was a national security issue. So we began to look at how to really use the UN and I think a lot of that has gone backward because the Bush administration named somebody John Bolton up there who hated the United Nations and therefore not enough support has been given. The UN needs to be reformed. There is no question…but it can only be reformed by the goodwill and political will of the nation states that are still the major portions.
Funmi: All we have said earlier is about choosing the right person into the presidency at any country, in 1999 you were in Nigeria, in Abuja and you gave a beautifully evocative speech about Nigerian’s potentials, the hopes, you read the hopes of Nigerians accurately. Eight years down the line you were also back in Nigeria and you saw the elections…
Madeleine: Well its interesting, we were talking about the UN earlier for so much of the time that in the 90s Nigeria was missing from the picture under military dictatorship and it was not possible to really… this incredible country with huge and wonderful people that are very dynamic and obviously a potentially rich country was missing. And then I came back with president Obasanjo that we thought was really going to be a truly remarkable leader and as you said, I went there, I went a number of times, I think that well, he was a remarkable leader he in fact had the issues that happens to a lot of leaders, he didn’t want to give up power. But what has been interesting when I just went there for the elections is there is a vibrant civil society in Nigeria. I met with a number of groups that were election observers or people who cared about human rights, environmental issues, the judges, the whole judicial system really was very independent and working, I went and I met with the leaders of the senate and so it was very interesting because there was a vibrant society. The bad thing that happened frankly is that the electoral commission was not able to do its job. I think that what happened was that the Nigerian people who I think want to participate in the workings of their country were denied that right in that election and I went around, I observed the elections. I think they were flawed, they were seriously flawed and yet the Nigerian people came through, I mean I was stunned, Funmi. When you are going out and it was a hot day and people stood in line and waited for the ballots to arrive and the ballots came very late. I was in the suburb of Abuja and there was no electricity all of a sudden, to count the vote, somebody brought their generator and there is something…
Funmi: The spirit of Nigeria!
Madeleine: Really moving and so I think the sad part of it is though I believe that the new president Yar’Adua is somebody of goodwill and he could have come to power, I think he would have won, that is what I think.
Funmi: I think so too, yes.
Madeleine: And I think he has promised a lot of reforms, I don’t think a lot of them have happened yet but I hope it does, the Nigerian people deserve a president who allows their spirit to blossom.
Funmi: Interesting dynamics there, that there is a man who has been elected now. By and large that Nigerians do not mind but Nigerians mind very much so the election process, in fact a number of those who have gotten into the office have been thrown out…
Madeleine: By the judges I know
Funmi: By the judges…and so do you think going forward, balancing idealism and practicality which you have spoken about, should the people insist that the law be followed to the letter, as against accepting for example the presidency of president Yar’Adua, should he found to have gotten there by less than fair methods?
Madeleine: Well I am not for revolution, you know I think there is the chaos that can be created, I am for civil society and public pressure and I think they have tried, I have been so impressed with what the Nigerian people have been pushing for – the civil society and I think it’s very hard to have violent protest, I think they don’t always bring what they need to, but I do think that pressure needs to continue, that Nigerian people through various voices, that can be through political parties or civil society or supporting am…unfortunately some of the new parliament members were so elected, unfortunately…and a vibrant press can keep putting pressure and I hope that the president now will realized that he could be very popular and that the reforms are needed, I don’t want to…you know, when l was there as an observer we made…we had a very interesting delegation. It was an international delegation, we had a number of former African leaders on our delegation with us, and I think that obviously, the European Union observers also were critical of the election. But what is so interesting was how hard the Nigerian people tried to vote, how hard they tried and the effort they put into it, which I think is the hope and I would hope that the president Yar’Adua would recognize that and see the strength of his country by moving to reforms and conceivably considering early elections, not a redo but some elections might be earlier than was planned.
Funmi: Talking about Africa generally, I know recently there was a document I read “Cry Zimbabwe” which you did with Desmond Tutu talking about the Zimbabwean situation.
Funmi: I also know that you have spoken many times about your regret about what happened in Rwanda. Why does the world seems to miss the signals with Africa particularly when dictators are beginning to emerge or crisis are beginning to happen, how come the world never seems to read the temperature of Africa right?
Madeleine: Well first of all because it’s very complicated I think, I really do think that most outsiders do not see that maybe…you know the countries were drawn by colonial powers that people don’t understand the various tribal difference and the culture of Africa and not that they are not some Africa experts but I think partially there is a lack of understanding.
Funmi: Isn’t that partly because the African experts are usually non-Africans?
Madeleine: Well, yes although I think there are more and more. For instance some of it has to do with…to be frank, I think people don’t pay enough attention.
Funmi: Isn’t it also because the world insists on seeing Africa as this monolithic mass of dejection, as this basket case?
Madeleine: Well I mean it’s interesting you are saying ‘Africa’ and you’re an African but the bottom line is there is not just Africa; there are a lot of countries…
Funmi: I know that but…
Madeleine: You know I object to people saying the Muslim world, which is not monolithic, Africa is not monolithic. For me one of the saddest part that I came to and am not an African expert, Africa had been exploited by white people for hundreds of years and the saddest part is to now see Africa exploited by African leaders, so that you have somebody like Mugabe who you know is such a complicated character because Mugabe was a kind of ‘the hero’ of self determination and somebody that a lot of Americans admired and then all of a sudden as I said, you know giving up power is not easy but giving up power is essential part of it and when you watch Mobutu or various people in the past who had taken advantage of their own people and sold their country out, I think that it’s sad now. But the main problem is I think that most people don’t see enough of the quote “strategic interest of Africa” so they don’t pay enough attention
Funmi: What will make that change? How can we make them see it?
Madeleine: Well I think that people need to study more about it, I think that…
Funmi: Does the media help for example?
Madeleine: Not particularly.
Funmi: A lot of what is learnt about other parts of the world is from the media of that world, however…
Funmi: Africa doesn’t get that kind of coverage
Madeleine: It does not
Funmi: Even I keep saying ‘Africa’ because I know that is how we are referred to. And as you said it’s this complex, difficult, different, wonderful continent of nations. How is this ever going to be put forward and doesn’t that affect this issue of aid against trade in dealing with African issues?
Madeleine: You know what’s interesting about this discussion, first of all there needs to be a lot more attention paid to the developing world generally and a recognition that certain parts of the world has been pushed down as a result of colonialism and lack of attention but the distinction always about aiding trade is very interesting, we try to move…we try to give assistance but then decided that it is important to look at trade and it was during the Clinton administration that we had the Africa opportunity acts. And there were people who were critical of that who said that was exploitative and then that the problem was that we have to admit that we have some quotas on rice, on cotton, on textile also on various things and so all of a sudden there was a support for various changes in supporting manufacturing in Africa and then there were questions about what will take. But I do think that there has to be a mixture and one of the things that I’m working on now and at some point when its done, I really want to come back to you. I am co-chair of a commission with a Peruvian economist called, Hernando de Soto and it is based on the fact that the poor need to be legally empowered and that the people of Africa of various levels…but let’s say the poor actually own the land but they don’t have a piece of paper to prove it. So we went and did a number of fascinating consultations. As long as I live I will not forget this, we were in Nairobi and went to the slum there and to a place called the ‘toy market’, and it has nothing to do with toys, but it’s just called that. It was filled with people selling in stalls, selling…with mud up to my hips, basically, but stores where people where selling spark plugs to each other, t-shirts to each other and they came and we had a semi formal meeting and I was so impressed – poor people are not stupid, poor people are entrepreneurial and that is the part that was so good. You know what happened? And I will describe it to you…it was so incredible. First of all they did a performance about HIV/AIDS, but mostly what they were explaining to me was that they had set up their own credit system. And they had trust enough to put one Kenyan dollar a night into a pot, which is about 10 cents American money. And they then had system whereby they lent money to each other. They created a credit bank and were able to lift themselves up as a result of that. And for them if there were the legal empowerment they would own what they had and what was so interesting was, the smart young men who were doing this, because I was there all of a sudden there were some public officials and one of these young men stood up and said, “I’m very glad that sec Albright is here because this is the first time we have seen our member of parliament.” so they were entrepreneurial, but the thing for instance, when I was outside of Abuja there were Xs on the houses and these houses were to be demolished because they wanted to move the people to some area which they felt was not useful. These people said to me Funmi, “we are the slaves of the beaurocracy in Abuja” And so the whole question is whether people can own what they have, and feel that they are contributing members of their societies, not objects but subjects of their societies….
Funmi: What you are saying for me makes so much sense and it’s always been a problem for me that so many people don’t see this clearly. I read your book over and I love it. In many parts, its very self effacing, you keep putting yourself down when talking about your appearance but the first time I saw you on television you had on a bright suit and you had the pins and I said to myself “I like that woman”…
Funmi: …You know I like that woman, because you made it okay not only to be a female in a very powerful position, you made it okay to be ‘feminine’ in that position. You were not going be frumpy; you were not going to be dowdy so I just thought to mention that to you. However, some advice that you given over and again is that women must be strong enough to speak out and to speak up but they must not carry a chip on their shoulders.
Funmi: How does one do that? I mean often times once you speak up; it’s interpreted to mean you are disagreeable. How do you then manage that?
Madeleine: Well you know what I did first of all; everything was a learning experience for me. You are a generation of young women who have…I think much more a kind of open and assertive sort of way. I came from a generation of women that…I mean I got married three days after I graduated from college and I had children and…
Funmi: And somebody actually told you not to work because your husband was going to be working in the same office…
Funmi: And you accepted?
Madeleine: That was amazing now I know exactly what I’d say today, but I do think people would like to see women who know their mind and speak up but I don’t think people always want to feel guilty or feel that everybody is mad at them and that’s why am not for the chip in the shoulder. I do think there is a reality however; women do have to work at least twice as hard as men. There seems to be plenty of room for mediocre men but not a lot of room for mediocre women. The other part that I think is important is young women have to understand that where they are now, their positions now are actually based and built on what older women have done and it’s never over it can be pushed back very, very easily and so I mean going back to our election, as far as am concerned, there is no better candidate than Hillary Clinton in terms of her knowledge, experience, her desires to move forward and there should be no question whether she is being a woman a woman or not, it should be whether she is the most qualified.
Funmi: Would being a woman be an advantage to her in the decisions she has to take?
Madeleine: Well, you know everybody has a different style, but I think there is, I think there is…that we have as women, I think the capability for a greater range of emotions and also we are much better at multi-tasking. But you know am not one of these people who think the world would be totally better if it’s was only run by women, I like the mixture, I think women and men need to work together but I think that we…I tell you what I did, I must say I used everything that I had, I mean I was charming when I needed to, I love been a woman and so as you pointed out. I, didn’t wear men’s suits, you know I enjoy been a woman, the pin business started because I like jewelry, but Saddam Hussein called me a snake and I happened to have a snake pin, so I wore snake pin and CNN said, “why are you wearing snake pin”, I said, “because he called me snake”. And I thought, “this is kind of fun”, so I started wearing pins and people would say what kind of mood are you wearing and…
Funmi: I was looking out for it today
Madeleine: With my pin you can tell. I also switch signals a bit, I will be very charming and then I would say regularly, I have come a long way so I must be frank and then I would tell people what I thought, I was very straight forward and I think that’s something a woman does well.
Funmi: Right you keep talking about the things you are going to do when earlier this year you turned seventy-one. In the first instance how do you stay this way?
Funmi: I hear that you can actually bench press two hundred
Madeleine: It’s not bench, legs, legs, legs.
Funmi: You exercise
Madeleine: But make up is a wonderful thing
Funmi: Right so you are still planning is to do much?
Madeleine: Well, you read my books, so you know it took me a long time to have a voice, people now because I was Secretary of State listen sometime so am not going to shut up and I have a lot of things that need to be done. I think I have looked at the problems of the world and I have to say, there are a lot of them but for me probably the basic biggest problem is the gap between the rich and the poor, I know that according to statistic there are fewer poor people than there were but the gap is widening and if we are rich, well nice, if we are poor it would be too bad, but the poor know what the rich have as a result of technology and information and it’s unjust and it creates…you can believe that something has to be done about the gap because people shouldn’t suffer but you can also believe something has to be done about the gap because it creates instability, am not saying that there is a direct line between poverty and terrorism but I do think that when people are miserable they provide an environment for people to come and recruit them.
Funmi: Would you therefore say that’s the biggest challenge of our generation, bridging that gap?
Madeleine: I think so, I really do.
Funmi: Thank you; now, have got to this very quickly. I have seven dumb questions for smart people. Just seven quick questions and seven answers.
Funmi: First one, who are the three best people in the world to ask to dinner?
Madeleine: Well, I would ask you
Madeleine: I would ask you. That’s for sure. I would ask Vaclav Havel who was the president Czech Republic; I would ask Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.
Funmi: Isn’t she fantastic?
Madeleine: She is amazing. Have you met her?
Funmi: I haven’t, I would love to
Funmi: All right, second one, what is the most overrated virtue in a woman.
Madeleine: Most overrated virtue in a woman, ah…not eating…famine.
Funmi: We don’t understand that where l come from
Madeleine: Laughing…no, no, in the US you could not eat…you are much better.
Funmi: Alright, three, when do you know when a diplomat is telling the truth?
Madeleine: When…eh…it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is all perfectly practiced
Funmi: If you saw your dad today, what would you say to him?
Madeleine: You know, it’s interesting, I’m still the perfect daughter, I am seventy but I’m the perfect daughter and I would ask him, “are you happy with me?”
Funmi: Alright number five…
Madeleine: I would also ask what it was he taught Condoleezza Rice.
Funmi: He is responsible for her isn’t he? He actually made her switch courses.
Madeleine: But it’s interesting you know what was I say to her, how it could be this way, we have the same father. What is remarkable is that Czechoslovakian immigrant professor trained two secretaries of state.
Funmi: It’s incredible I wonder if the situation in your country had not occurred, what your father would have become in that country.
Madeleine: Well, I…it’s interesting you ask, he was one of this people who said that he would have continued being a diplomat, I think he would probably have been a foreign minister or something.
Funmi: What is a woman’s most important piece of underwear?
Madeleine: A bra
Funmi: Okay, if you had to be African, which Nationality would you most prefer
Madeleine: I would definitely be a Nigerian
Funmi: Are you telling me the truth now?
Madeleine: I am telling the truth, I am, yes because I think that it is just an interesting ethnically mixed country, the people are beautiful, the country is vibrant, I love the difference between the North and the South.
Funmi: And now the final question. Which is the nastiest country in world?
Madeleine: I think the nastiest country at the moment is Sudan, it’s a close call between North Korea and Sudan because if you consider how people die as result of the policies of the government but number of people that have died in Darfur or have been displaced, it’s terrible.
Funmi: I must thank…
Madeleine: I think I need to re-answer the diplomacy question?
Madeleine: So what was the question?
Funmi: How do you know when a diplomat is telling the truth?
Madeleine: I think when a diplomat is really comfortable saying it, but I would say that most diplomats tell the truth. I know the joke is that a diplomat is person who is out there lying for his country. I never believed that. What I said was that I was outside there eating for my country.
Funmi: Not that it shows
Madeleine: Well have lost weight since then but I really it was difficult because I would travel and I would always sit to the right of the leader of the country and that person would actually say why aren’t you eating our national food?
Funmi: All right madam secretary, thank you for a great conversation.
Madeleine: It is a pleasure, I’m so glad we are able to do this and I’m so glad that I got to meet you in aspen and that you are so much a part of this new young leaders concept.
Funmi: Thank you.
To Watch the videos of Funmi’s interview with Madeleine Albright, please log on to http://www.youtube.com/newdawnvideos