COTONOU, Benin — On an epic journey through Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton braved an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda, escaped a swarm of angry bees in Malawi and witnessed a rare snow in South Africa. She even shimmied on a dance floor, gaining the nickname “Secretary of Shake.”
As she wrapped up her nine-nation African tour Friday in Benin, Clinton shattered her own travel record, logging 865,000 miles and stops in 108 countries — 10 more countries than her nearest competitor, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
On Tuesday in Pretoria, as South Africans reveled in the unusual winter snowfall, Clinton hosts dubbed her “Nimkita,” or “the one who brought the snow,” at a gala dinner that would provide perhaps the most-viewed television footage of the trip.
“’Nimkita’ will be a name that I will proudly bear,” Clinton told the crowd before the evening entertainment, South African jazz and pop singer Judith Sephuma, cajoled the clearly delighted former first lady to cut a rug with her and other guests at the Presidential Guest House.
Video of the secretary, clad in a shimmering blue jacket, boogieing down amid a cluster of dignitaries with decidedly mixed dancing skills quickly went viral on the Web, drawing hundreds of thousands of online views from around the world.
Clinton — once nicknamed “secretary of quake” by her traveling press corps for an uncanny knack of being in countries when temblors or other natural disasters hit (at least four times and counting now) — had a new nickname.
She had arrived in South Africa from making the first trip ever by a secretary of state to Malawi where she had also danced on camera — with rural women after donating a bull to an agricultural collective — but had not created the same stir.
In Africa, the Internet buzzed with exaggerated reports that Clinton and her entourage had been attacked and chased out of the country by a swarm of angry bees. A local newspaper report said the insects had descended on the tarmac at the airport in Lilongwe and caused chaos as she boarded her plane.
In fact, the bees swirled around her motorcade as it arrived but dissipated as it approached the plane where she was serenaded by a troupe of traditional dancers. Later, Clinton did not recall even seeing the bees, and no one in her party was stung.
By far the more dangerous health risk Clinton faced on the trip was flying into Uganda in the midst of an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which, by the time it was contained on the day she left, killed at least 16 people.
The specter of the killer disease in the western part of the country was present as she reiterated U.S. offers to help stop the spread at an event at an AIDS clinic in Kampala.
In addition to setting a new record for countries visited by a secretary of state, Clinton also notched several personal bests on the 12-day jaunt. By the time she finally ends the trip Saturday in Istanbul, she will have visited 10 countries, the most on any overseas tour, and made 13 stops, twice traveling among three nations on a single day.
She lodged in hotels ranging from the stately Cape Grace in Cape Town to the Holiday Inn Airport in Accra, Ghana, where she attended the state funeral of the late President John Atta Mills.