- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ACCRA, GHANA — The idea that the U.S. wants to expand its military presence into Africa and build permanent bases is baloney, President Bush said today. We do not contemplate any new bases, Mr. Bush said at a press conference with Ghanian President John Kufour. “I know there’s rumors in Ghana, ‘All Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here,’ Mr. Bush said. Thats baloney. Or as we say in Texas, thats bull. Mr. Bush clarified that that doesnt mean we wont develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa. The president said that Africom is a unique command structure for America aiming to help provide military assistance to African nations so [they] are more capable of dealing with African conflicts, like peacekeeping. Mr. Bush also praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for holding free elections, and defended his administrations policy of promoting abstinence as part of HIV/AIDS prevention. But before he was even asked a question at the press conference, Mr. Bush brought up the U.S. African Command, or Africom. There has been some concern among African political and military leaders, according to news reports, about U.S. intent in establishing Africom, which Mr. Bush announced one year ago this month. Liberia, which Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush will visit tomorrow, has expressed interest in having Africom headquartered there. But following concerns raised by African nations, the U.S. has indicated the headquarters will likely be in Germany. And Africom was the first issue raised with Mr. Bush by celebrity advocate Bob Geldof in an hour-long interview on board Air Force One yesterday. Mr. Geldof told reporters today that he was concerned that the U.S. was responding to Chinas economic expansion into Africa with militarization. Mr. Kufour, asked about Chinese development on the continent, said, How can we stop China? We cant stop China. We are related and we have common values, Mr. Kufour said. Mr. Bush said he did not view Chinese expansion as a threat. Do I view China as a fierce competitor on the continent of Africa? No I dont, Mr. Bush said, articulating that he views trade and development as a positive development for Africans. Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush are spending the day in Ghana today and will leave for Liberia tomorrow, before flying home in the evening. The president congratulated Mr. Musharraf for holding elections on Monday that resulted in parliamentary losses for the Pakistani presidents political party. I appreciate the fact that president Musharraf has done exactly what he has said he was going to do. He said he was going to have free elections. He said he was going to get rid of military law, Mr. Bush said. The people have spoken. I view that as a victory in the war on terror. Mr. Bush was also asked today about the emphasis on abstinence that is part of U.S. aid to Africa for anti-HIV/AIDS programs. The Bush administration has given $15 billion over the last five years to prevent AIDS in Africa, and Mr. Bush is asking Congress for $30 billion more over the next five years. Mr. and Mrs. Bush watched a group of young Rwandans yesterday perform a skit in which a teenage girl was propositioned by two young men, but turned them both down because her father had told her to abstain. But an African reporter told Mr. Bush today that the abstinence message doesnt really strike a chord in Ghana because the practice of multiple sexual partners is common, though its not spoken of in public. Some Democrats in the U.S. have also opposed the abstinence message on ideological grounds. Mr. Bush said that he understood customs and norms but said that obviously the status quo is not acceptable. He said that the threefold emphasis on abstinence before marriage, faithfulness to one sexual partner, and using condoms is needed if we really want to solve the problem, and said he would change the strategy if it wasnt working. So far its been unbelievably effective, Mr. Bush said. The president also announced $350 million in aid over the next five years for countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to treat and prevent seven neglected tropical diseases: elephantiasis, snail fever, eye infections, river blindness, hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm. Asked if the U.S. should be spending billions of dollars in Africa on aid to fight disease, poverty and corruption, while there are still many needs at home, Mr. Bush said that America is wealthy enough to do both.

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