Washington, DC — President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit three African nations in early July, White House officials report.
No formal announcement has been made, but the dates set aside for the trip on the president's schedule are July 7 to 15. Plans are being made for stops in Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa. Some officials still hope to add a stop in east Africa, where Bush could take part in a signing ceremony for a possible Sudan peace agreement.
Although the trip coincides with the annual summit of African heads-of-state from July 10 to 12, the president is not expected to stop in Maputo, Mozambique, where this year's gathering takes place.
In December, the White House announced that the president would visit Africa in early 2003, before announcing a day later that the trip would be postponed "due to a combination of domestic and international considerations."
While the itinerary for this voyage is similar that planned for January, two countries on the earlier agenda have been dropped -- Kenya, due to security considerations, and Mauritius, because Bush was going there to speak to a forum on the African Growth and Opportunity Act that drew participants from three-dozen African countries.
The administration in recent months has placed increased emphasis on its Africa policy. A $15-billion commitment for fighting HIV/Aids in African and the Caribbean over five years, which Bush announced in his State of the Union address in January, was approved by Congress last month and signed by the president on May 27. During the summit of industrialized nations in France this month, Bush urged other G8 members to join the effort. Both Britain and France have announced increased contributions, and French President Jacques Chirac has said he will ask the European Union summit later this month to approve an additional one million euros for the Global Fund to combat aids and other diseases.
Prior to the G8 summit, the White House released new figures showing that the United States is the only major world trading nation "whose share of exports from Sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 1996 to 2001." Exports of manufactured goods from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States increased 8 percent, while exports to the European Union dropped about 1.5 percent. Much of the growth was in apparel imports, the statement noted, which is largely attributable to the trade provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.
A section of the White House web site that focuses on relations with Africa says Bush has met 25 African heads of state, "more than any previous president." Next week, he is scheduled to receive President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, one of the nations that backed the United States on Iraq and joined the "coalition of the willing" that the administration cited as a reflection of international support.
Leaders of the three countries slated for the July presidential visit opposed the U.S. Iraqi intervention without United Nations endorsement, as did most other African governments. However, their positions differ somewhat. Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has been a leading voice in condemning terrorism, and immediately after September 11, 2001 he hosted a conference of African leaders to discuss anti-terrorism actions.
Like Wade, President Olusegan Obasanjo of Nigeria spoke out for an international approach on Iraq, a position also taken by South African President Thabo Mbeki. But South Africa was more outspoken and proactive on the issue, dispatching a diplomatic mission to Baghdad and lobbying the United Nations Security Council to hear the views of non-Council member states as the war approached.
"We understand when governments disagree with us," one White House official said recently, contrasting Mbeki's role with that of Obasanjo and other leaders. "But when you mobilize against us, we don't like that."
However, on other issues, Washington and Pretoria have cordial ties. Wade, Obasanjo and Mbeki were all invited to Evian, France by Chirac to meet with G8 leaders, and Mbeki returned home with praises for the summit outcome. The leaders agreed to all the requests presented to them by the African presidents, he said, and there was no evident tension over Iraq. Bush invited Mbeki and the others to take part in next year's summit in the United States, the South African president told a press briefing in Pretoria.
The precise length of Bush's Africa trip has yet to be determined, officials said. If it extends to the full eight days now on the schedule, the president might be positioned to address a conference of African and African American leaders that opens in the Nigerian capital Abuja on July 14. The five-day event, which was founded in 1991 by the late Reverend Leon Sullivan to promote dialogue and cooperation on humanitarian issues and economic development, is chaired by the former United Nations ambassador and Atlanta mayor, Andrew Young.
As the current chairman of the African Union, Mbeki will be presiding at the Maputo summit before handing over to President Joaquim Chissano, who will occupy the rotating post for the next year.
It is also not clear how the trip might impact the Maputo summit. As the current chairman of the African Union, Mbeki will be presiding at the Maputo summit before handing over to Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, who will occupy the rotating post for the next year. As one African diplomat noted: "Whatever country Bush decides to visit during the summit, that president will have to be there, not Maputo."
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