Bill Clinton Is Said to Be "Mad about Her", but the Head of UNICEF Is Strapped for Cash in Her Global Fight against Child Poverty

By Riddell, Mary | New Statesman (1996), February 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Bill Clinton Is Said to Be "Mad about Her", but the Head of UNICEF Is Strapped for Cash in Her Global Fight against Child Poverty


Riddell, Mary, New Statesman (1996)


Carol Bellamy made a mint out of Bill Clinton's sex scandal. Not, naturally, to line the pockets of her Jaeger-style suit, but on behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund, the agency she heads and a martyr to the strong dollar. "We get most of our contributions in other currencies, and we send out a large amount in dollars: 80 per cent of my budget gap is because of the value of the dollar."

Thus, on the one day when the dollar followed the trajectory (alleged) of the presidential trousers, Bellamy - a Wall Street veteran - converted her recent receipts and made a packet. How much? "A lot more than I thought we would," she says:

While it is reasonable that the world's poorest children should benefit from Clinton's discomfiture, it seems odd that Bellamy should mention this transaction with quite such relish; particularly since she is (in purely professional terms) very much the president's woman. As her friend Donna Shalala, the US Health Secretary, claimed in an accolade that admittedly had a little more cachet in pre-Lewinsky times: "Bill is mad about her."

Having made her head of the US Peace Corps, he chose her two years ago as his candidate for the executive directorship of Unicef. Though Europe fielded three runners, including the British development economist Richard Jolly and Elisabeth Rehn, a former Finnish defence minister backed by ten EU countries, Bellamy was duly appointed by the then UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

There were mutterings about her arrival being a blow for Europe and a sop to the US Congress, whose scepticism about the profligate ways of the UN would only be intensified by having chunks of it handed over to outsiders. "Every UN appointment is political, OK? I'm political, but even I didn't realise how political the UN was. And yeah, people were concerned because America held a number of senior posts. But I hope I'm not there as an American."

Though her accent (Brooklyn gumshoe) and her history (Wall Street lawyer and financier, five years in the New York State Senate, first woman president of the New York City Council and Peace Corps director) make it difficult to avoid this tag, it is true that she maintains an objective approach to her own government and to her mentor.

"I think Clinton is wonderfully intelligent, I think he cares enormously, but I wish the sex scandal had not come up and I wish we could get him more engaged internationally."

America's failure to sign the Ottawa treaty banning land mines was a particular blow. "I'm disappointed. I'm happy they're apparently willing to invest money [in de-mining]. I'm happier that they didn't water down the treaty in order to sign something. But the US and Russia and China are the world's arms dealers. They owe responsibility to the world as well, so I would urge them to lend weight in terms of leadership."

Bellamy's own brand of leadership spans two different functions. She was appointed to shake up and rebuild Unicef, an arm of a UN mired - at least in the public mind - in bureaucracy and graft. Despite the agency's popularity, it was also tainted. Less than a month into the job it emerged that rogue staff at the Kenyan office had held lavish parties while squandering $10 million intended for Somali war victims. At the same time a management review revealed that the agency as a whole was riven by poor morale and mistrust.

Successful reconstruction was essential to sustain the second element of Bellamy's job. As one of the world's most powerful can-rattlers, it is her task to prise out of donor governments sufficient money for her organisation to offer redemption from death and poverty.

We meet in London. In Afghanistan freezing refugees from the recent earthquake rely on help from Tajikistan (itself $10 million short of the UN target for pledged aid). In Bangladesh 700 children die each day of malnutrition. In Iraq the threat of war imperils children whose lives are already monstrous. …

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