Africa: A bright spot in Bush's foreign policy

United States President George Bush travels this week to Africa, one of the few regions where he can claim globally recognised successes for efforts on Aids and development in a foreign-policy legacy dominated by the Iraq war.

But conflicts in Kenya and Darfur will intrude on a trip intended to show the positive impact from US investment in health and development programmes in the largely stable countries of Benin, Tanzania, and Ghana, as well as Rwanda and Liberia, once ravaged by civil war.

“The trip will be an opportunity to demonstrate America’s commitment to the people of these countries and to Africa as a whole,” Stephen Hadley, White House national security adviser, said. “There’s more hope in Africa and the American people can be proud that many of our innovative programmes are making a real difference.”

The February 15 to 21 trip will be the second for Bush to Africa, and the fifth for his wife, Laura, as they promote aid programmes by visiting hospitals, schools and businesses, and it will also offer Bush a chance to highlight his “compassionate conservative” credentials.

The trip will take Bush away from issues like the Iraq war and a troubled US economy that are weighing on his popularity at home, where the November election has shifted the political focus to the race to choose his successor.

Bush will discuss with African leaders the turmoil in Kenya, where post-election clashes have killed 1 000 people, and the need to deploy more African Union/UN peacekeepers into Darfur where he has labelled the violence genocide.

The United States has been pressing the international community to get about 25 000 peacekeepers on the ground in Darfur and Bush has complained progress has been too slow.

Those issues are likely to be raised with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the new chairperson of the African Union, and whose country has been affected by spill-overs from neighbouring Kenya’s violence.

“There is a broadening arc of crisis in East Africa in the Horn. It’s very much on Tanzania’s door.
It is very much on the African Union’s door,” said Stephen Morrison, co-director of the Africa Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Focus on aid

But the focus of the trip will be aid programmes started by Bush that are popular in Africa.

A Pew Global Attitudes Project report released last July, found that the “US image is much stronger in Africa than in other regions of the world”.

“Generally Bush is viewed positively in Africa, as is the US,” said J Anthony Holmes, director of the Africa programme at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In his recent budget, Bush requested $30-billion over five years to fund the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or Pepfar. Aids groups say more is needed to make progress against the disease, but Pepfar is generally considered a success for its role in getting drugs, condoms and treatment programmes to places hit hardest by the virus.

Another Bush initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which provides funding to countries that adhere to democratic principles and sound economic policies, has approved $698-million for Tanzania and Bush will sign the pact there.

US plans to establish a military Africa Command, or Africom, has raised some concerns on the continent, and will likely be discussed during Bush’s trip, but no announcements were expected. The US currently has about 1 700 troops in Djibouti.

Liberia has offered to host Africom, while regional powers like South Africa and Nigeria have been wary, and activists like rock singer Bono have expressed concern it could put a military face on US foreign policy toward Africa.

The US is also facing competition in Africa from China, which is investing heavily in the continent.

“In Africa, China’s influence is now seen as rivalling American influence,” a Pew report in December said.

“We think countries need to be responsible in their activities, in terms of investing and acquiring the resources in Africa,” Hadley said.—Reuters

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