President Bush in Africa
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RAY SUAREZ: While these are the images of Africa often seen in the West, this week President Bush’s administration hopes to accentuate the positive during his five day tour of the continent. The president’s five- nation trip is aimed at showcasing his administration’s Africa agenda. That includes a $15 billion program to fight the spread of AIDS, and a trade initiative.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It is a positive agenda. It deals not only with the humanitarian issues like AIDS and famine relief, but it deals with trying to bring the potential out in Africa, something like AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is doing amazing things for African products, so that markets are available for those products, and, therefore, supporting poverty alleviation in small villages in Africa.
RAY SUAREZ: The president’s trip takes him to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. The Bush administration’s focus on Africa marks a turnabout from the comments he made about the continent while on the campaign trail. Candidate Bush had this to say on the NewsHour in February 2000.
GEORGE W. BUSH: At some point in time the president’s got to clearly define what the national strategic interests are, and while Africa may be important, it doesn’t fit into the national strategic interests, as far as I can see them.
RAY SUAREZ: But in a recent speech the president reassessed Africa’s strategic importance.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States believes in the great potential of Africa. We also understand the problems of Africa. And this nation is fully engaged in a broad concerted effort to help Africans find peace, to fight disease, to build prosperity, and to improve their own lives.
RAY SUAREZ: There are some common themes among the country’s President Bush is visiting: development of democratic institutions, combating the scourge of HIV AIDS. On Tuesday, the president will be in Senegal, one of Africa’s oldest and most stable democracies, also with one of the lowest AIDS rates.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bush will be in South Africa, which has one of the continent’s most developed economies, but some 5 million of South Africa’s more than 43 million people are living with HIV AIDS.
The AIDS crisis and the political and economic turmoil in neighboring Zimbabwe are expected to figure prominently in President Bush’s talks with South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Next it’s South Africa’s neighbor Botswana. While an economic success, four of every ten adults in diamond-rich Botswana are infected with the AIDS virus.
In Uganda, where President Bush will be on Friday, the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has won acclaim for the great strides its made in reducing the spread of AIDS beginning in the 1980′s while other African leaders ignored the problem.
The president’s final stop will be Nigeria, a close U.S. ally, with a democratically-elected government, Africa’s largest population, with some 120 million inhabitants and it’s the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter. On this trip, President Bush will highlight Africa’s role in the war on terrorism and anti-corruption initiatives.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the president’s trip and what this administration hopes to accomplish in Africa, we get three views. Chester Crocker was assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Reagan administration. He is now a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University’s school of Foreign Service. Salih Booker is the director of Africa Action, an organization that works for political, economic, and social justice in Africa. And Chris Fomunyoh is senior associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute. He is a citizen of Cameroon. Chester Crocker, why go now and why these countries?
CHESTER CROCKER: Well, these countries offer a lot of positive messages, which give the president a chance to showcase some of the initiatives that were cited a few moments ago in your show. They also indicate a kind of outreach to the regions and sub-regions of Africa where we want partnerships and we want to work closely with Africa and friends.
So I think it makes a lot of sense; two of the countries I point out are very substantially Islamic countries, so it’s an outreach to moderate Islam. Several of the countries are engaged in the war on terrorism in one way or another, and we intend, I think, to go forward with some more counterterrorism programs. So there’s a range of messages here. Nigeria of course a major oil producer, southern Africa a place we hope to do a major trade expansion, so that’s part of the message as well. I think this is kind of a standard itinerary, but it’s also, I think, pretty well-crafted itinerary.
RAY SUAREZ: Chris Fomunyoh?
CHRIS FORMUNYOH: Well, Ray, I’m hoping that this action provides an opportunity for the president not only to speak to Africans and get to know the continent and get to know the people and get a feel not just for the leadership, but for Africans as well, but also an opportunity for him to listen to Africans and to have them raise some of the concern is that have on issues of trade and security and conflict, but also in terms of democratization, which is an issue that most African countries have embraced in the last decade.
RAY SUAREZ: And Salih Booker?
SALIH BOOKER: Well, I think the trip is five days, five countries; it is a very small trip. It’s a very small slice of Africa. It’s an insufficient, inadequate trip, but it is still good news because it focuses attention on African issues for a week.
It encourages debate and discussion and education here in this country, and hopefully that will have an influence on policies. But the president is also taking a bit of a risk. He’s made several big promises that are yet unfunded. And if he doesn’t expend the political capital necessary to make sure Congress funds these initiatives on HIV/AIDS and on increasing development assistance, then this trip is going to be viewed as a rather callous manipulation of Africa’s suffering to present the president as a compassionate conservative, and to present the United States as far more generous than it is in fact is.
RAY SUAREZ: What about that idea that it’s a risk, Chester Crocker?
CHESTER CROCKER: Well, there’s a risk that cuts both ways. I think when a president takes a major trip like this, he’s also nailing himself to a platform of his own making, giving himself a bully pulpit and saying when I come home I spend to fight for these initiatives. My personal sense is that he’s very committed to the millennium challenge account initiative and to his HIV and AIDS…
RAY SUAREZ: Explain what that –
CHESTER CROCKER: Well the millennium challenge account is a multi-year program starting at the request level of $1.3 billion and ramping up to a $5 billion level of requested support to expand our aid to the poorest countries that meet very, very stringent criteria for good governance, transparency, anti-corruption and these kinds of things.
And some of these countries, hopefully a lot of them, will be African, so it’s a major boost potentially for foreign assistance going into the African region. Obviously Congress has to agree to fund this initiative, and that’s where the rubber hits the road. How much will they fund, in what sequence, over what period of time? But I can’t imagine this president having laid out this program then sort of letting it die after a trip like this.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, we heard two very different views of the president’s obligations, and the fact that these initiatives are still as yet unfunded.
CHRIS FORMUNYOH: I think that that’s part of the problem, because a number of people in Africa must be asking themselves what do these initiatives mean. The millennium challenge account has been talked about for over a year now, and people on the ground have still to see the benefits of that initiative.
The global fund has just been put in place. There’s an expectation that benefits will flow from that initiative directly to people on the ground. And I think the president is going out at a time when many Africans are asking which Africa, what relationship should exist between Africa and the United States.
Should they take people such as Secretary Colin Powell, who has been very adamant on the fact Africa matters, quoting the president, or should they listen to some of the other folks within the administration who seem to take a more strategic view of U.S. Relationships with other parts of the word, and will therefore say that Africa doesn’t really count. So this is a unique opportunity for Africans to here directly from President Bush why he thinks Africa should be in the global framework of U.S. relations.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, just a moment ago, Salih Booker almost sounded like he minimized the impact of the trip: Five countries in five days. Indeed he’ll be in Uganda for only a matter of hours. How does this look in Africa? When the President of the United States comes to the continent, is it significant, no matter how long he stays in one country?
CHRIS FORMUNYOH: I think it’s very significant because we have to remember historically in post independence Africa President Carter was the first to go to Africa, Africans remember that and then it took another 20 years for President Clinton to go on a trip that was ten days, five or six countries in ten days.
And so President Bush will be the first Republican president to go to the African continent in modern times. And I think that’s something that’s also significant, irrespective of the amount of time that he ends up spending in one country. Obviously he’s going to be talking to issues that are burning issues of the day, and I think the message will get across no matter how much time he spends in each one of those countries.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, noticeably absent from this itinerary, Salih Booker, are places where government has either ceased to exist or the idea of a state has ceased to exist, but will this trip create an opportunity to talk about those places, like Congo, like Somalia?
SALIH BOOKER: Well, it certainly will. President Bush is going to be in Senegal tomorrow meeting with a range of West African heads of state, and obviously on their priority list is going to be Liberia, because the instability and conflict in Liberia is infectious and having a very negative impact on neighboring countries, and there’s a real concern there about whether the United States will contribute to international efforts the way the French and British and indeed the Nigerians and other West Africans have, to multinational peacekeeping efforts.
Indeed in Africa as elsewhere, the question is, is the United States pursuing unilateralist policies that are at odds with Africa’s desire to see more international cooperation, more multilateralism, more sharing of the burdens? And Liberia, indeed, will be the priority. But I suspect strongly that the White House strategy is simply to delay on Liberia until they get through this trip. I don’t think the Pentagon in any way wants to commit U.S. troops to that multinational effort in Liberia, and I think that’s tragic.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Chester Crocker, there have been some fairly forthright statements from the Bush administration about the need to restore order in Liberia. Has the administration created expectations about that place that might be tough to meet now?
CHESTER CROCKER: I think the president knows in his heart what he wants to do, he wants to see Americans participate in an effort to help Liberia get back on its feet, but the precise definition of what that means in terms of numbers and in terms of rules of engagement probably haven’t yet been fully worked out.
I also think he’s intentionally waiting until he gets there to make whatever decisions that he is making public, so that he’s making those decisions visibly in concert with African leaders and perhaps even with allied leaders.
I see several things coming together here that are actually rather hopeful. Salih mentioned the issue of working with partners and with allies, and I think the administration is beginning to recognize that when we have the Brits and the French and the U.N. pushing us and our African friends pushing us to get involved in Liberia and we want others to get involved with us in Iraq and Afghanistan, then maybe there’s the basis for some, if you want to call it that, some horse-trading here, that we’ll go in if they’ll help us in some other places, and that’s all to the good.
I also think failed states are becoming part of the administration’s agenda. I wish they had talked about it earlier, but that’s the core of the problem we face around the world not just Africa. It’s state collapse, state failure. So you go to successful countries and you talk about those that are not so successful. I think it’s not a bad message.
RAY SUAREZ: A big part of this administration’s posture toward Africa has involved emphasizing trade rather than aid. Has that worked so far?
CHRIS FORMUNYOH: I think it’s worked in some regards, because if you look at the statistics on AGOA, which is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, that a lot of African countries have increased the substantially the amount of trade between those countries and the United States, and the feeling that the administration is going to expand, AGOA is definitely well received.
At the same time beneath the surface, I think there’s some fundamental issues that will still need to be addressed. For example, the whole question of agricultural subsidies in the United States that make it difficult for African agricultural products to be competitive on the U.S. market, and we know that most of Africa is based, the economies African countries are based on agriculture. That also needs to addressed, the whole question of textiles, take a country such as Mali, the largest cotton producing country on the African continent, but how much of Mali’s cotton is going to be able to get access to U.S. markets?
So I think that while the main themes, while there’s consensus around the big themes, once you’ve scratched beneath the surface there are differences that we’ll need hopefully to be ironed out, and I really hope leaders in African will put this on the table in a very forthright manner.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Africa has had a hard time keeping America’s attention in a sustained way long enough for some of these things to happen. Isn’t that the way the last twenty, thirty years looks?
SALIH BOOKER: Well, it certainly is true. And this particular emphasis on trade is perhaps a bit misplaced. In fact, trade between Africa and the United States decreased by 15 percent last year, and the trade profile with Africa is largely about oil. And oil is very important to the United States and increasingly West African oil is important to the United States, not just for its energy consumption, but its geo-strategic vision of the world, its desire to reduce dependency on Middle Eastern oil. Some nearly 18 percent of our oil imports come from West Africa, that’s projected to increase to maybe 25 percent in the coming decade.
Now, with that, however, unfortunately comes a sort of geo-strategic vision of after that that looks at it as a piece of real estate. We want what’s under the ground, oil, and we want to use its turf to project force into other parts of the world like the Persian Gulf or to protect our oil interests. So there’s a growing U.S. military footprint in Africa, discussions of bases, the military camp in Jabouti, and again that’s reminiscent of the cold war where the United States is not engaged with Africans based on their interest.
RAY SUAREZ: Very, very quickly, Chester Crocker, how do you change that picture?
CHESTER CROCKER: I think you do go aggressively forward on trade expansion on a regional and sub-regional basis, and that that is very much the part, the commitment of this administration, but I’d say also of this Congress.
This is a bipartisan issue, there’s no partisanship really about trade expansion with Africa. The problem is how far do you go in opening up market access and what do you say to your agricultural constituents, both here and in Europe and that’s where the rub is. We are actually ahead of the Europeans in many of these areas where we’re trying to shame them into lowering some barriers too.
On the issue of expanding our influence and our power and using it in the war on terrorism, I think African friends understand perfectly well they don’t want to see terrorism spread across their region, they’re willing to work with us as long as we listen to their concerns. And I think the president needs to listen on this trip, as was said by Chris, as well as talk.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you very much.