On trip to Africa, Bush touts aid
Asks US Congress to continue funding
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania - President Bush is betting Congress will hear him better from the heart of Africa than it does from down the street in Washington.
Foreign aid programs that Bush sees as crowning achievements - and which he holds dear - are having their spending levels questioned on Capitol Hill. By visiting Africa for six days to showcase their results, Bush aims to change that in the short term and secure the programs' future beyond his presidency.
His first stop yesterday was Benin, a tiny sliver on West Africa's coast. Hundreds of millions of US dollars are helping to pay for an aggressive antimalaria campaign, the training of tens of thousands of teachers, and reforms to Benin's judiciary, port, and financial systems.
"My trip here is a way to remind future presidents and future Congresses that it is in the national interest and in the moral interests of the United States of America to help people," Bush said.
The first American president to visit Benin, Bush spent three hours at the airport in Cotonou. He promoted progress in the country and then flew across the continent to Tanzania after his plane refueled.
Today and tomorrow, Bush plans to highlight a new aid pact with Tanzania as well as US-funded efforts on AIDS, malaria, and education.
Bush will also travel to Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia. Like Benin and Tanzania, they are desperately poor but making strides, with US help, on economic growth, the rule of law, and better living conditions.
The president is visiting Africa at a time when several conflicts are raging on the continent. An electoral dispute in Kenya turned into a wave of ethnic violence in that once-model country; atrocities in Sudan's western Darfur region are continuing and causing tension with neighboring Chad; places such as the Horn of Africa, Congo, and Zimbabwe are seeing an escalation of long-running troubles.
After arriving in Benin, Bush threw his support behind a proposed power-sharing deal to end a bloody political crisis in Kenya that has killed about 1,000 people. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is leaving his entourage tomorrow to make a quick mediating trip to Nairobi.
Rice's top Africa deputy said anyone on either side who obstructs the political process will face US penalties. "There will not be business as usual," said Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Bush also said he hopes to use his Rwanda visit to press for a speedier deployment of a joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force to Darfur. He intends to thank Rwandans for contributing the largest contingent of troops to that mission, a gentle nudge to the nations he believes are not doing enough.
The president's African aid programs are a shift from the past and generally have drawn bipartisan support in Washington.
His five-year, $15 billion AIDS relief plan is the largest-ever international health initiative devoted to one disease, raising the number of people on antiretroviral treatments from 50,000 to 1.3 million.
A five-year, $1.2 billion antimalaria initiative has reached 25 million Africans with insecticide-treated bed nets, a simple but effective solution to a deadly problem.
One foreign aid program started under Bush, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, limits US development assistance only to nations that embrace democracy and free markets, fight corruption, and invest in education and health. It has approved $5.5 billion in compacts with 16 countries, nine in Africa.
Programs such as these have kept the United States relatively popular in Africa.