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Africa crowds greet Bush with hugs, chants of thanks

Aid programs garner affection

Email|Print| Text size + By Jennifer Loven
Associated Press / February 19, 2008

ARUSHA, Tanzania - President Bush was swept up in an outpouring of affection yesterday in Tanzania's rural north, where tens of thousands lined the road to see him, one woman burst into a dance of joy just from a hug and Maasai warriors leapt and chanted in his honor.

Midway through a trek through five African nations that have benefited from US largesse, Bush spent the day in Mount Kilamanjaro's massive shadow to reinforce the strides being made with his malaria program. During stops at both a rural health complex and on a gleaming factory floor, Bush showcased real-life benefits of the US-led fight against the mosquito-borne disease that kills a million young children each year in impoverished tropical countries.

The president launched a five-year, $1.2 billion plan in 2005 to cut malaria deaths in half in the hardest-hit countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. It leverages private-sector support to provide indoor spraying, cutting-edge drugs and vouchers for a 75 percent discount off the purchase of insecticide-treated bed nets. Congress so far has put $425 million into the plan and Bush says it has reached 25 million people in two years.

Vouchers for 2 million nets have been handed out in Tanzania alone. And Bush announced yesterday that the United States - in partnership with the country's government, the World Bank, and the UN-sponsored Global Fund - will start within six months distributing another 5.2 million nets in Arusha for free. That's enough, he said, to cover every Tanzanian child between ages 1and 5.

"The power to save lives comes with the moral obligation to use it," he said in an open-air pavilion at the Meru District Hospital. "This is a practical way to help save lives."

The visit to this striking region near the Kenyan border took Bush from scrubby plains into lush foothills covered with banana trees and coffee farms and back to wide-open spaces dotted with cactus. Over all loomed Kilamanjaro, the tip of its dramatic snow-capped peak shrouded in clouds for all but the start of the day. Though the area is extremely poor, it also - with its proximity to the mountain's climbing trails and famed game parks - is a cradle of African tourism.

The region's effusive demonstration of thanks for the US drive to improve African lives dominated the day.

As Bush's motorcade sped back and forth across the region, people lined almost the entire route several deep just to watch him pass. On one stretch, locals had even strewn flowers in the road.

The president landed at the airport to a performance of Maasai women dancers. An even more flamboyant scene greeted him later at the Emusoi Center, a school for Maasai girls.

First, a group of young students in brilliant pink and blue sarongs chanted about US scholarships that - as they sang in unison - give them "the power to choose instead of being forced to marry." Many of the girls live at the school because their deeply rooted pastoral culture generally shuns modernity and integration. "Look at us, listen to our voices," they sang. "We are the Maasai girls with a chance for education."

Bush also sat down among older women, in traditional Maasai dress of colorful wraps, close-cropped hair, large white disks around their necks, white headbands, and large dangly earrings - people who were learning to read on wooden benches under a tent.

Capping his visit was a gravity-defying performance of Maasai morani, or warriors, many nearing 7 feet tall and two wearing feathered headdresses that signify the tribe's rite of passage of lion-hunting. Clad in red blankets, brandishing thin spears, and wearing red ochre face paint, the men chanted, sprang in the air, and slammed their feet back into the dust.

Bush briefly attempted to bounce and sway and mimic their undulations. He quickly gave up, laughing and embracing the smiling men.

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