Costa Kiggundu came to mind when I read the Star Tribune’s Aug. 28 editorial (“Shut down the Clinton Foundation”).
She is a woman I interviewed in 2008 in a gritty slum of Kampala, Uganda. As I always do when people in other countries grant interviews, I began our meeting by saying: “I plan to ask you many questions, so it’s only fair for you to do the same. Is there anything you would like to ask me?”
Over the years, no interviewee has turned down that offer. Do I have children? Do I like their country? What is my favorite food? How old am I?
Kiggundu sat silent, then posed a more serious question, one that was urgent for her and millions of others around the world: “What will happen if you stop sending the drugs?”
By “you,” she meant Americans operating through government programs and private charities and foundations.
By “the drugs,” she meant the HIV treatments that were keeping her alive — as well as the malaria treatments that were helping a little girl down the rutted dirt road from Kiggundu’s home. By inference, she also meant therapies that were protecting others in Uganda and beyond from the ravages of various diseases.
I had no ready answer for Kiggundu, because I knew her fears were justified. So very much of the humanitarian work Americans do around the world depends on dubious political realities back home, shifting foundation priorities and cycles of trendy causes.
Yet so many millions of people around the world are staking their lives on that shaky ground.
The responsibilities we Americans collectively assume when we set out to do good work around the world are deadly serious and directly personal for the recipients of the aid.
The Clintons should have weighed those responsibilities more carefully when they created their foundation, knowing full well that Hillary’s political career was far from finished and that Bill would continue to play a prominent role in partisan politics. It doesn’t get them off the hook to say there is no firm evidence they were running the pay-to-play deals that Donald Trump alleges. Of course many donors sought Clinton favor at some level. It is naive to think otherwise.
At this point, though, it is breathtakingly reckless to argue that the foundation with nearly $200 million in annual program initiatives should abruptly shut down — reckless in terms of the potential impact on the recipients of that aid.
Further, it is unrealistic to assume, as the editorial suggests, that Donna Shalala, the former U.S. Health Secretary and current Clinton Foundation president, could flex the same global fundraising muscle as the celebrated Clinton family.
Surely, there is some middle ground between shutting down the foundation and leaving it as is. Surely, legal steps can be taken to insulate the foundation from the Clintons while preserving its resources, fulfilling its responsibilities and securing its future.
As we debate the best path out of this political and ethical mess, let’s not lose sight of the millions of vulnerable people the Clinton charities serve — patients who depend on Clinton initiatives for HIV therapy and other lifesaving medicine, the women and girls who are empowered to go to school and start small businesses, the smallholder African farmers who have dared to hope for agronomic and marketing strategies that could improve life in their villages and their countries.
Sharon Schmickle is a freelance journalist and a former Star Tribune reporter.