23 Feb 2008
The US president swings through Africa preaching mercy and waging war against mosquitoes, AIDS and bad governance.
On the eve of his visit to five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the U.S president George W Bush spoke in a pious and humane tone about his mission to Africa. In sharp contrast to what most of the world perceives him to be, the U.S president projected himself as a dove and tried to sell the image of his compatriots as compassionate people. Certain points stood out during the president’s interview with Matt Frei of the BBC prior to his departure to Africa.
“We have people who are suffering from disease and hunger and hopelessness… mine is a mission of mercy and a mission of the cold realism of the world in which we live. When I first went to Sub-Saharan Africa, 50,000 were receiving antiretrovirals. Today, there are 1.3 million. And that's a lot in a very quick period of time. This is not a George Bush effort. I just happened to be the leader of a nation that's willing to fund this kind of money. And so, I praised Congress in my speech. I praised the American [people] in my speech. After all, they're the ones who funded the effort. I believe to whom much is given, much is required. It happens to be a religious notion. But, it should be a universal notion as well. I believe America's soul is enriched, our spirit is enhanced when we help people who suffer”. He however did not conceal the link between his country’s “war against terror” and this outpouring of compassion towards Africa. “The only way a radical can recruit is to find somebody who's hopeless”. Bush said on the eve of his African trip.
From Benin through Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia enthusiastic crowds gave George Walker Bush the type of reception reserved for Rock Stars. In all, only a handful of people in Tanzania demonstrated against his visit.
George Bush was comfortable because he was traveling in friendly territory. This seems to be the only part of the world where he still enjoys considerable popularity. There could be a debate on the motives of the Bush administration’s aid largesse to black Africa but there is no question that under his presidency, Africa has benefited enormously (with concrete results to prove) from US foreign aid.
Throughout his African trip, George Bush spoke more like a gospel preacher than the “war president” that most of the world has come to know him.
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In Benin where he promised US aid in funding the purchase of mosquito nets for all children below 5, Bush told that country’s president Thomas Boni Yayi that; “We care when we see suffering. We believe we are all children of God. ... The American people send their blessings."
In Tanzania, the U.S president signed a five year $ 698 million grant to help that country improve roads, energy and water supply. This grant falls under his administration’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, which ties assistance to good governance, rule of law, and free-market economics. "I will just put it bluntly. You know, America does not want to spend money on people who steal the money from the people. We like dealing with honest people and compassionate people. We want our money to go to help the human condition and to lift human lives." He said during the signing ceremony with Tanzania’s president Kikwete in Dar es Salaam on the 17th February. He also used that platform to call again on the American Congress to approve his $30 billion (up from $15 billion in previous budget) request to fund HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa over the next five years. The following day at an Arusha hospital, President Bush unveiled his anti-malaria package for Tanzania. Describing the scourge of malaria on the continent as “unacceptable”, George Bush said; “Today, I'm pleased to announce new steps in the bed net campaign. Within the next six months, the United States and Tanzania, in partnership with the World Bank and the Global Fund, will begin distributing 5.2 million free bed nets. This ambitious nationwide program will provide enough nets to protect every child between the ages of one and five in Tanzania”. He concluded his speech at the Arusha hospital characteristically like this; “And so on behalf of the United States of America we say, God bless you”.
During his next stop in Rwanda, the president and wife Laura visited the memorial to commemorate the 1994 genocide and received praises from their host president Paul Kagame. “Malaria has almost been eliminated in our country – due in large part to the President’s Malaria Initiative”. Kagame said while welcoming Bush. In reply the US president praised the Rwandan government for creating favorable investment conditions in his country and for her leading role in providing peace keeping forces in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur. Said Bush “The United States is making $100 million available to assist African nations willing to step forward for the cause of peace in Darfur, and up to $12 million of those will help you, Mr. President, do the job that you want to do in Darfur… You know, people say, why would you want to come to Africa at this point in your presidency? Because I’m on a mission of mercy, that’s why.”
Rulers who "steal money from the people" contribute to African misery (photo : Njei M.T)
President Bush returned to West Africa to complete his African tour in Ghana and Liberia. During a toast in Accra Ghana, Bush and host president John Kufuor showered praises on each other. Kufuor praised Bush for helping (through the G8) to cancel “a large part of Ghana’s external debt”. He also mentioned that under the Bush administration Ghana has benefited from a grant of $547 million to modernize her agriculture and also from $101 million assistance from the Millennium Challenge account to construct the six- lane 14 km dual carriage Mallam-Tetteh Quarhie road. “Mr President, in appreciation of your many kind gestures towards Ghana and other parts of Africa, and to immortalize your goodwill to us, my government has decided to name this very strategic road after you. Henceforth, it will be called the George Bush Motorway”. In reply, George Bush said this of Kufuor, “President Kufuor is a close friend. He has earned my respect, and he's earned the respect of leaders all across the world. He is an accomplished man with a good mind and a good heart”. And on Ghana the US president said, “I don't think I have been to a country where the people have been more friendly, more open…” Judging by the warmth and admiration shown towards Bush, it was not surprising when I came across this comment on the president posted on a blog by an ordinary Ghanaian, “The man is such a nice man and I don’t know why people paint him black”.
In Liberia president Bush promised one million books, desks and seating to accommodate 10,000 students next academic year. He also awarded the National Medal of Freedom to host president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf saying; “it's the highest civilian award a President can give, and I did so because of your courage and your leadership”. In a speech at Barclay Training Center, Monrovia, George Bush laid emphasis on his fight against poverty, ignorance and disease. Said he; “It is irresponsible for comfortable nations to stand by knowing that young babies are dying from mosquito bites”.
Looking at the president’s itinerary, it was obvious that the countries he was visiting did not necessarily have bloated natural resources. He says that his trip is to highlight those countries that are succeeding in good governance. Incidentally, it is mostly those countries that have fewer resources in Sub Saharan Africa that that appear to forge ahead. The resource-rich countries tend to be plagued by corruption and instability as rival local interests backed by foreign powers engage in a do or die struggle to control those resources. In these countries, good governance is just a slogan that takes the back seat as the war for the control of resources rages on mercilessly. Our friend George Bush knows it because his country and China are the major players in the new scramble for Africa. Read my earlier article on China and the new scramble for Africa at this link. http://www.njeitimah-outlook.com/articles/article/2076046/69512.htm
Throughout his stay in Africa, the president downplayed the controversy surrounding his administration’s stated intention to locate the headquarters of a US military command in the Sub-region. He certainly realized that it was a topic that could perturb his week-long communion with the African people.
Bush’s trip has largely been successful. Though many African analysts clearly see oil and American security interests as primary motivations of this trip, the president has successfully masked this by projecting it as a mission of mercy. And he succeeded to convince many Africans to see it that way. That is a measure of the sophistication of American diplomacy.
Njei Moses Timah