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Empty Promises To Africa As Other Nations Dig In To Help

by Jim Lobe

on Bush's trip to Africa
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- On his first week back from a quick trip across Africa, President George W. Bush will have a lot of explaining to do -- and not just why a controversial allegation about Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium yellowcake from Niger made it into his State of the Union address.

Visiting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who meets with Bush Monday, will want to know what the president is prepared to do in war-racked Liberia, where all factions have been calling on Washington to lead a peacekeeping mission designed to ensure the removal of President Charles Taylor and restore stability to the West African state that was settled by freed slaves from the United States under a charter from the U.S. Congress 180 years ago.

Annan and many in the U.S. Congress, as well as AIDS activists both here and in Africa, also want to know whether Bush is prepared to push Congress to approve the full $3 billion for fiscal year 2004 as the first installment of his $15 billion emergency programme to fight AIDS in Africa -- or whether he will settle for the roughly $2 billion approved by the House Appropriations Committee last week.

As pointed out by the Global AIDS Alliance, an advocacy group here, Bush, who had embarked on his Africa swing to demonstrate his administration's "compassion," appeared to face a growing "credibility gap" as he made his way from Senegal last Wednesday to South Africa and on to Botswana, Uganda, and finally Nigeria which he left for home on Saturday.

To many observers, Bush has been more committed to Africa than had been expected before he became president. He has proposed doubling development aid for Africa and other poor regions over the next five years through his proposed Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), and his AIDS programme, which is to focus primarily on 12 African and two Caribbean nations, has been widely praised as a major advance in the fight against a disease that is killing about 7,000 Africans every day.

The problem, however, is Congress has not yet appropriated the money for either program, and, despite his trip to Africa, Bush did not make clear whether he is willing to put real pressure on lawmakers to fully fund them.

Similarly, Africans have been disappointed that Washington has not yet been willing to commit troops to peacekeeping duties in Africa, where fighting in West Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Burundi has taken an incomparably greater toll in human life than Afghanistan, Iraq, or any of the other crises where Bush has sent troops over the same period.

It also has not helped the U.S. image in West Africa, in particular, that Britain sent troops to stop a civil war in Sierra Leone and that France sent its troops to police a cease-fire in Cote d'Ivoire and is leading a UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. In addition, Liberia's Taylor, who was indicted last month for crimes against humanity by an international court for his role in the violence in Sierra Leone and who is also implicated in the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire, has allegedly protected and dealt with diamond buyers acting on behalf of al Qaeda, which has been a special target of the Bush administration since 9/11.

On the eve of Bush's first trip as president to Africa, the world's poorest region, senior administration officials strongly suggested that Bush was indeed prepared to commit as many as 2,000 U.S. troops to lead a peacekeeping force in Liberia. Many analysts consider such a move to be a potential breakthrough in Washington's engagement with Africa after 10 years of providing only logistical or other technical support for other peacekeeping operations there.

Since the Somalia debacle in the mid-1990s, when the U.S. hastily withdrew after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in a firefight in Mogadishu in which hundreds of Somalis died-- the basis for the book and movie 'Blackhawk Down' -- Washington has steadfastly refused to put U.S. "boots on the ground" in Africa.

Partly in response to the White House's apparent new receptiveness to African peacekeeping, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has organized peacekeeping operations in the region over the past decade, said it will send at least 1,000 peacekeepers to Monrovia within two weeks to encourage Washington to contribute as well.

But as Bush crisscrossed the continent he and his aides appeared to retreat from their earlier suggestions that they would be willing to commit ground troops, particularly after a number of U.S. lawmakers, unhappy with rising casualties in unpacified Iraq, insisted Thursday that there should be a vote on any deployment.

In addition, a statement by one rebel force, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Friday that it might engage peacekeepers if they arrived before Taylor was removed from power apparently added to the administration's concerns. Bush stated repeatedly on the trip that Taylor's departure -- presumably to Nigeria where President Olusegun Obasanjo has offered him safe haven -- is a precondition for any U.S. deployment.

Despite meeting with Obasanjo Saturday, Bush was determinedly noncommittal by the end of the trip, pledging only to consult with an advance team which flew to Monrovia to assess the situation late last week and with Annan before making any decision about whether and how the United States might contribute. While Secretary of State Colin Powell, who traveled with Bush, said Friday he expected the president to make a decision within a few days, Bush, asked the same question Saturday, said, "I'm not sure yet when."

Bush has similarly not decided whether to push Congress for the full $3 billion in 2004 for his anti-AIDS initiative. By large margins, Congress approved the full amount in authorization bills earlier this spring, but the actual funds depend on approval of appropriations bills which have not yet been voted on by either house, and, in an initial indication, the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to approve only $2 billion, the amount Bush himself had originally requested for next year.

Joseph O'Neill, the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, confirmed Friday that the administration would be satisfied with that amount in the first year of the programme's operation. "In the first year, it's going to take less money to get the job done," he was quoted as saying in a statement that infuriated anti-AIDS activists like Paul Zeitz of the Global AIDS Alliance.

"The full $3 billion -- and even more -- could be used right now to save lives and meet the needs of orphans," Zeitz said.

"This shows tremendous cynicism," said Salih Booker of Africa Action, who has criticized Bush's repeated declarations to African audiences last week about the programme as a "cruel hoax." "They have called this an 'emergency program,' yet they think they need 'less money to get the job done' in the first year. The situation is more than an emergency; it's a catastrophe, and the administration thinks it can 'get the job done' with 2 billion dollars next year."

Bush himself said in a speech in Abuja Saturday that Congress "must fully fund this initiative for the good of the people on this continent of Africa," but he left unclear whether he was referring to the $2 billion he had originally requested or the $3 billion authorized, but not yet appropriated, by Congress.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, complained Friday that Bush "continues to compound the problem" during his trip in Africa by talking about a $15 billion programme without explaining that each year's appropriation is addressed separately.

At the same time, 116 House members sent a letter to Bush Friday urging him to support the full $3 billion for 2004, including $1 billion for the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

Although Bush's Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, chairs the Global Fund, Bush has said he wants to contribute only $200 million a year to it. The Global Fund, which most activists and public-health specialists consider to be the most effective mechanism for getting aid to the intended recipients, may run out of money by the end of this year, according to current estimates.

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Albion Monitor July 14, 2003 (

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