/ 17 February 2008

Bush discusses African crises, aid in Tanzania

United States President George Bush on Sunday met Tanzania’s leader to discuss Africa’s political crises before signing a nearly $700-million grant to help stimulate economic growth in the East African nation.

On the second stop of a five-nation trip where he has received a warm welcome in one of the few regions he can claim foreign policy success, Bush will spend the day discussing projects to fight HIV/Aids and malaria but will also address the growing terrorist threat in the region.

Bush, on his second Africa trip since he became president in 2001, was greeted at the State House with ceremonial drums and shook hands with Jakaya Kikwete before starting formal meetings.

The East African country, considered a model for progressive development, is the centrepiece of a tour intended to highlight Bush’s successful and compassionate policies on the continent in contrast to his controversial handling of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

To highlight the successes of Tanzania, Bush and Kikwete signed a $698-million Millennium Challenge Corp Compact, which provides funding to countries that adhere to democratic principles and sound economic policies.

The grant will help Tanzania improve infrastructure like roads, electricity and water supplies. ”My hope is that such an initiative will be part of a effort to transform parts of this country to become more hopeful places,” Bush said afterwards.

In his meetings with Kikwete, who is also the new chairperson of the African Union, Bush was expected to have discussed the bloody post-election crisis in neighbouring Kenya, Chad — which repelled a rebel assault two weeks ago — and Zimbabwe.

During a three-hour stop on Saturday in Benin, Bush threw his weight behind a power-sharing deal in Kenya to end violence since the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki in December that has killed 1 000 people.

He will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya on Monday to add momentum to mediation by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.

Although Bush will not visit Kenya himself, he tried on Saturday to ratchet up the pressure on government and opposition to reach a deal to end the worst crisis since independence.

Power sharing

Rice’s mission was ”aimed at having a clear message that there be no violence and that there ought to be a power-sharing agreement,” Bush told reporters in Benin.

US officials said Washington, which earlier this month threatened to withdraw visas from eight business and political figures suspected of fomenting the violence, was ready to step up sanctions.

Kenyans and Western powers are growing increasingly impatient at the lack of an agreement to end the bloodshed but analysts say Kibaki’s government believes it has all the cards to sit tight and consolidate its hold on power, with limited leverage available from outside the country.

While in Dar es Salaam on Sunday Bush will also focus attention on what is seen as a growing radical Islamist threat in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region by meeting families of victims of an al-Qaeda attack on the US embassy here in 1998.

”We’re continuing to try to work with African countries to build their capacity and to build their partnership in responding to these terrorist threats,” Jendayi Frazer, the top US diplomat for Africa, told reporters on Saturday.

”So it’s not only civil conflict, but also the global war on terror that is in our vital national interest to engage African countries robustly.”

That embassy bombing coincided with a more devastating assault which destroyed the US embassy in Nairobi. About 240 people died in the two attacks.

Bush is avoiding Africa’s conflict zones on his tour and instead visiting five states chosen to show a different face from cliched images of a desperately poor, war-stricken region.

The United States sees the presidents of Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia as a new generation of democratic African leaders and is backing them with health and education support and also some military cooperation.

As part of his effort to showcase his own praised projects to combat HIV/Aids and malaria, Bush will visit a Dar es Salaam hospital on Sunday. – Reuters