- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

President Bush leaves today for a 121-hour, 17,000-mile blitz through Africa to highlight his willingness to provide money to the world’s most troubled continent, but the issue of providing U.S. peacekeeping troops to Liberia threatens to dominate the trip.

While the president hopes to spotlight his commitment to combat AIDS, poverty, famine, war and terrorism — along with a call for African governments to open trade markets, renounce despotic leaders and embrace democracy — his pending decision on whether to send as many as 2,000 U.S. troops to Liberia will overshadow the tightly choreographed trip that begins in Dakar, Senegal, just 500 miles north of the war-torn nation.

“I’ll be carrying a message to the African people that, first, America cares about the future of Africa; it’s in our national interests that Africa become a prosperous place; it’s in our interest that people will continue to fight terror together; it’s in our interest that when we find suffering, we deal with it,” Mr. Bush told African journalists last week.

“We care deeply about the plight of the African citizen. When this nation sees suffering, we will not turn away,” he said.

The president has made Africa a priority since he took office in 2001. Like many of his domestic proposals, Mr. Bush has made his initiatives on Africa dependent upon results. One initiative he will tout throughout Africa is his Millennium Challenge Account, which provides aid to countries that demonstrate a willingness to govern justly, invest in their people and open their economies to growth and entrepreneurship.

Mr. Bush is seeking an increase of $5 billion a year over the next three years for the program.

His trip begins — after an eight-hour overnight flight tonight across the Atlantic Ocean — in Dakar, a sprawling city of 2 million. After meeting with Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, Mr. Bush will meet with leaders of West African democracies.

There, he is likely to get an earful on the situation in Liberia, because West African defense chiefs Friday approved the establishment of a 3,000-strong “interpositional force” of African troops to restore peace in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. West African leaders want the United States to head up the operation.

To set out his hopes and dreams about Africa, the president will deliver a speech from Goree Island, a former embarkation point for slaves shipped to the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.

“I’ll be giving a speech about race, race in the world, race as it relates to Africa and America,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s an important speech for me to give and it’s one I’m looking forward to giving.”

The White House said the speech would not include an apology for the practice of slavery.

Along for the trip will be the nation’s top-ranking black officials, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell — the administration’s strongest advocate for intervening in Liberia — and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“This president takes seriously Africa, African leaders and the potential of this continent to be a fully contributing continent to world growth and prosperity,” Miss Rice said.

The president will spend just five hours in Senegal before flying eight hours to South Africa. In Pretoria, just outside the capital city of Johannesburg, Mr. Bush will meet briefly with South African President Thabo Mbeki in what some White House officials acknowledged could be a slightly strained meeting.

Mr. Mbeki was critical of Mr. Bush’s Iraq war policy, and even sent a delegation to Baghdad to demonstrate his opposition.

Nearly 13 percent of South Africa’s 43 million people have HIV/AIDS, but Mr. Mbeki got into hot water in 2000 when he stated that HIV did not conclusively cause AIDS. He later refused to provide anti-retroviral drugs to AIDS victims.

The South African press has portrayed Mr. Mbeki as a man in deep denial about the breadth and scope of the AIDS pandemic.

Mr. Bush, by contrast, views HIV/AIDS as Africa’s deepest problem and wants to spend $15 billion over the next five years to stabilize — then reduce — the continent’s skyrocketing infection rate.

Mr. Bush will make a six-hour stop in Gaborone, Botswana, a day trip including a business event to tout the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives African nations increased export opportunities by reducing U.S. import barriers to a wide range of goods and a spin through Mokolodi Nature Reserve. Mr. Bush will then spend the night in Pretoria, before traveling to Entebbe, Uganda.

In a three-hour visit, Mr. Bush will highlight Uganda’s successful battle against AIDS. Unlike Botswana’s 40 percent HIV/AIDS infection rate, Uganda’s is estimated at 7 percent to 15 percent, down from 30 percent of the population in 1992.

“One reason why one would go to Uganda is to make sure that people around the world, and particularly on the continent of Africa, understand that dealing with HIV/AIDS is possible,” Mr. Bush said.

From Uganda, the president flies to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, where he will hold talks with that nation’s president, who has granted asylum to Liberia’s president, Charles Taylor.

Mr. Bush will deliver a wrapup speech to the Leon H. Sullivan Summit, which focuses on African issues, and then tour a hospital that has a successful program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, visiting with some children and mothers there.

In Nigeria — a sprawling West African land of 124 million, rich with oil resources but also one of Africa’s most corrupt nations — Mr. Bush will call for transparent democracies and tout his initiative to reward governments that help their own people.

“We’re not going to give money to non-transparent societies,” he said. “In return for aid — and we’ve got a generous amount of aid available — we expect people to take care of their people, by educating them and creating good health care; we expect there to be market-oriented economies growing; and we expect the rulers to be thoughtful and mindful of who they represent, and that is the people of their country, not themselves or their ruling elite.”

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