- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

President Bush feted Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his wife, Lucy, last night at the White House and used the forum — the fourth official state dinner of his administration — to highlight the ongoing war on terrorism and to tout his African AIDS initiative.

“Our two nations are old friends and natural partners,” said Mr. Bush, pointing to the common history both countries share as former colonial territories.

He gravely reminded his guests of the 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania. Terrorism “has brought damage to both our economies and grief to both our nations,” he said.

“Kenya and its leader have been an example for all of Africa,” Mr. Bush said, citing “a Swahili proverb that says, ‘Forever persist, a rope can cut stone.’”

He raised a glass to “the enduring friendship between Kenya and the United States of America.”

Mr. Kibaki took the opportunity to appeal for further U.S. investment in his nation and called on the United States to lift the travel ban imposed due to terrorism fears.

“A democratic culture has taken root in Kenya,” Mr. Kibaki assured his fellow dinner guests. Mr. Kibaki, 71, was elected last December.

The Kenyan leader also praised the president personally for his “commitment to addressing the various challenges of the African continent,” especially the AIDS epidemic.

“Future generations will judge us by the way we deal with a disease that strikes at the heart of the family unit,” he said.

Mr. Bush skipped the East African country on his trip to the continent this year, citing security concerns. Among the guests last night were Susan Hirsch and Sue Bartley, both of whose husbands were killed in the Nairobi bombing, which killed 219 persons.

Last night’s state dinner was the first in Kenya’s honor since February 1980.

As is traditional, the dinner was held in the State Dining Room of the White House, an intimate gathering of 130 guests, including such elected officials as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Also attending were conservative writers and intellectuals such as Armstrong Williams and Thomas Sowell, and such figures from the world of sports and entertainment as former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye, and Judith Jamison, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Before entering the dining room, several of the guests praised Mr. Bush’s initiatives on development and AIDS.

“He’s not only spoken about [AIDS in Africa], but he’s the first president to put his money where his mouth is,” said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Maryland Republican.

Mr. Steele is leading a trade mission to Ghana and South Africa Nov. 30-Dec. 12, on hopes it will boost Maryland business connections in Africa.

“We were pleased that the president spent a lot of time in his State of the Union Address on the issue of Africa,” added Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, one of several black elected officials on hand last night. “We certainly support that wholeheartedly.”

First lady Laura Bush, who wore a coral-colored evening gown designed by Arnold Scaasi, requested that White House chef Walter Scheib arrange a menu that took advantage of the last crop of fall fruits and vegetables: caramelized banana and pineapple for the “Best of Kenya” dessert, wild mushrooms and sweet potato flan during the main course of roasted rack of lamb. The lamb, Mr. Scheib said, was smothered in an African-style cured-lemon spread.

The meal, served on the gold-rimmed Clinton China — Mrs. Bush’s favorite, according to her press secretary, Noelia Rodriguez — began with a grilled halibut appetizer served with bay scallop risotto and lobster sauce. A variety of wines were served — chardonnay to begin, pinot noir during the main course and sauvignon blanc with dessert.

For each of the 13 tables, Roland Mesnier, the White House pastry chef, prepared hand-blown giraffes made of spun sugar and milk chocolate coffee grinders — dessert centerpieces he began preparing several days ago.

Adding to the autumnal motif, White House florist Nancy Clarke chose melon- and rust-colored flowers (peach and coral roses and coral vallota lilies) and tablecloths.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater entertained guests in the East Room. Three of the company’s dancers, who flew in from Geneva, performed four pieces before Mr. Bush bid farewell to the guests at 10:45 — a late night for the famously early-to-bed president.

“Enjoy the dancing, if you’re young enough to stay up,” he said.

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