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A bout of Africa

india Updated: Feb 24, 2008 20:49 IST

Hindustan Times
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This is one African safari that US President George W Bush will probably remember for a long time. His five-nation tour of Africa that ended last week seems to have gone off so well, highlighting the Bush administration’s remarkable legacy on the continent. The trip took Mr Bush to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia, as he pow-wowed with heads of State and visited schools and community projects. Accompanied by first lady Laura Bush — a dedicated Africa hand if ever there was one, having visited the continent several times before — the trip clearly provided an excellent opportunity for Mr Bush to showcase his major foreign aid and health initiatives in Africa.

Never mind if there were also strategic considerations (such as proving that China is not the only power that can sign investment deals with oil-rich African countries). Health programmes have been key to Mr Bush’s Africa policy, especially in his second term as President, with the US spending over $ 15 billion to fight HIV-Aids in the last five years alone. The President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) secured anti-retroviral drugs for millions. Pepfar’s malaria initiative, worth some $ 2 billion, has evidently helped many millions more. In fact, if the next administration in Washington sustains this effort, malaria can conceivably be eradicated from Africa in the near future. Mr Bush’s Africa Education Initiative is another ambitious attempt to provide basic education to millions. But having said that, it is unfortunate that Mr Bush skipped conflict-ridden States on the continent like Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in his itinerary. Or, for that matter, Kenya, which is sliding inexorably into political turmoil following the disputed December 2007 elections.

The US President inarguably enjoys more power than anyone else to take initiatives in conflict resolution, which is what the troubled continent really needs now. This raises doubts whether the planned US military command for Africa, or Africom, is actually just another means to further militarise the continent. Sadly, the marked absence of any serious discussion on Africa in the current US presidential election hardly helps to dispel such concerns.