Friday, July 4, 2003

President Bush on Monday travels to Africa, a continent wracked by HIV AIDS, bloody conflicts and many ambiguous democracies. He will arrive there with a number of ambitious initiatives, including a $15 billion global AIDS-fighting plan and a proposal that a country’s health crises become a consideration for debt forgiveness at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. U.S. officials have also played a critical role attempting to end the fighting in Sudan and Liberia.

Mr. Bush’s conviction that Africa is important to U.S. interests will likely be reinforced during his trip. Upon his return, he must make the case clear to Congress as well, where lawmakers have cut Mr. Bush’s proposed budget for foreign operations in the House and Senate. With these cuts, some of Mr. Bush’s pledges may not get financial backing.

This would be regrettable. Mr. Bush’s proposals are focused on rewarding democracy, economic success and good governance in other areas. And Mr. Bush will visit Africa’s relative bright spots during his tour of South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, Botswana and Nigeria. The countries Washington helps will be better equipped to aid other struggling nations in the region.

And that, to a large degree, is the will of Africa, as outlined in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a peer-review mechanism conceived by African states themselves in October 2001 in an effort to achieve economic development and government reform. Africans have become involved in numerous peacekeeping operations on the continent, and governments have helped broker agreements between warring parties, such as Ghana’s role with the Liberian government and rebel groups. In other cases, such as South Africa’s muted engagement in Zimbabwe’s crisis, the African response has been disappointing. Still, the momentum seems to be going in the right direction.

Which is why the United States and other rich countries should be measured in their efforts to help Africa, giving regional players a chance to resolve problems. In the case of Liberia, ruled by a leader convicted by a special U.N. court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the United States should continue efforts to broker a peace agreement, resorting to armed intervention only as a last resort. If such intervention becomes necessary, the U.S. should take a leadership role, but ensure that African peacekeepers are heavily involved.

The administration’s efforts in Africa will surely pay off. Nigeria alone provides close to 15 percent of U.S. oil imports. In slightly over a decade, this figure could climb to as much as 25 percent. Given its ties to the United States, Nigeria may become an al Qaeda target. The United States is also expected to significantly bolster its base presence in Africa, increasing its troop deployment from the current 1,500 to 6,500. Many of the continent’s governments, including some that are Moslem, have taken important counter-terror measures. For these and other reasons, Mr. Bush is wise to make Africa a priority. He must soon make efforts to ensure that Congress agrees.

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