15 February 2008

Africa: Bush Visit to Focus on Health, Education

Washington, DC — United States President George W. Bush was scheduled Friday to begin a five-nation African tour designed to highlight his legacy on the continent.

Bush is expected to visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia, where he will meet with each country's head of state and visit schools and community projects. He will be accompanied by first lady Laura Bush, making her fifth visit to the continent.

In an interview with AllAfrica, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said that Bush's trip is an opportunity "to look at his major initiatives." Jennifer Cooke, the co-director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank in Washington, called the trip "something of a victory lap."

Bush is expected to focus during his trip on his administration's effort to fight HIV/Aids and malaria and to improve education in Africa. But many analysts contend the trip lacks any initiatives directed at conflict resolution, just when the continent really needs it.

"At a time when we are seeing a spike in very dangerous conflicts in Africa, it is striking that none of those sites are on the itinerary," said Gayle Smith, a former adviser on Africa for the Clinton administration and a fellow at the Center for American Progress. Smith, speaking at a press briefing this week, was referring to countries such as Somalia, Chad, and Sudan.

Bush Initiatives

Health initiatives have been the cornerstone of Bush's Africa policy. Over the past five years, the United States has given U.S. $15 billion to fight HIV/Aids. According to government statistics, the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) has secured anti-retroviral drugs for 1.4 million people. In a speech on Thursday, Bush called the results of Pepfar "striking" and said the program has "benefited tens of millions of Africans". He is calling for the U.S. Congress to approve an additional $30 billion for Pepfar.

Bush has said his $1.2 billion malaria initiative has helped 25 million people. "If we stay on this path," he said on Thursday, "an extraordinary achievement is within reach - Africa can turn a disease that has taken its children for centuries into a thing of the past. And wouldn't that be fantastic!"

The Bush administration's Africa Education Initiative is providing $600 million over eight years for basic education. Bush said in this week's speech that by 2010, the initiative will have distributed 15 million textbooks, trained about one million teachers, and provided scholarships to more than 500,000 young women.

Of the countries Bush is visiting, Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana are participants in the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an administration initiative that seeks to provide additional funding for countries which are performing strongly.

In Tanzania, Bush will sign a $698 million dollar compact on behalf of the MCC, the largest project in the corporation's history. It will fund transportation, energy and water infrastructure. Benin and Ghana are both in the first year of agreements, and Rwanda recently met eligibility requirements for a threshold agreement – the first step toward longer-term funding.

Earlier this month, the MCC board examined the possible inclusion of Liberia in the initiative and cited President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her government for progress made towards satisfying policy performance indicators.

'Not a Conflict Resolution Trip'

While Bush is expected to focus on health and education, many emerging and long-simmering conflicts on the continent figure to stay on the periphery of the trip's agenda. "This is not a conflict resolution trip," said CSIS Africa director Stephen Morrison.

On Sudan, Smith said that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 – a peace deal between rebels in South Sudan and the government in Khartoum in which the U.S. played a prominent role – "seems to be abandoned on the legacy list." Many observers are worried about the strength of the North/South agreement and also the recent upsurge in violence in Darfur.

Analysts are also concerned that Chad might not get the attention it needs. In early February, rebels advanced all the way to the capital, N'Djamena, and Smith described the country as "imploding." Colin Thomas-Jensen, a policy adviser for the Enough Project, said bluntly that "there is no Chad policy."

In her interview with AllAfrica, Frazer objected to this position, calling it "an uninformed comment." She said the U.S. was one of the first countries to condemn the role of the Sudanese government in supporting the Chadian rebels' attack on the capital.

However, conflict resolution may emerge on the agenda in Rwanda, where Bush is scheduled to review peacekeepers. The United States has played an increasingly important role in diplomacy in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which borders Rwanda. "There is an opportunity... to really cement the U.S. role in a long-term solution," said Thomas-Jensen.

The crisis in Kenya

Kenya is not on the trip's itinerary, although the CSIS's Morrison says a visit there was originally scheduled. Morrison believes it is "inevitable" that Bush will hear about the Kenyan crisis in neighboring Tanzania, as well as on other stops such as those in Ghana and Rwanda.

Bush announced Thursday that he is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to support negotiations in Kenya, which are being mediated by a team led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy," Bush said of Kenya.

Frazer said the purpose of Rice's visit is "to urge both principals to be flexible in their negotiations, to find a way to return Kenya to a country of the rule of law and a country where there's some form of power sharing so that there can be legitimacy in the governing institutions."

Morrison, however, warned that the Kenya crisis "is not going to resolved anytime soon and could worsen."


The United States' controversial new Africa Command (Africom) is also expected to be discussed during Bush's trip.

Formally launched in 2007, Africom has generated controversy across the continent, where many governments have rejected the idea of a United States military presence on their soil. However, Colonel Pat Mackin, a spokesman for Africom, says the command "will be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for the foreseeable future."

Others, including Gayle Smith, worry that the U.S. is moving toward organizing development through the Department of Defense. "If you look at increases in foreign assistance over the last several years under the administration, the lion's share in the last couple of years has been to the Department of Defense, as it increasingly gets into the work of development," Smith said.

However, Mackin says the command is working under the same authority granted to other regional Defense commands and that it is "merely a management reorganization" of humanitarian aid work. And Bush National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley says "the concept [of Africom] is still being worked out."


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