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by Abid Aslam

Bush Ignoring Africa At U.S. Peril, Says Major Think Tank

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- In an attempt to polish his image and advance U.S. interests in the twilight of his presidency, George W. Bush is visiting Africa.

Bush's second visit to the continent takes him to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia. Officials and commentators say the U.S. enjoys high regard in these countries -- assuring Bush a warm welcome.

While there, Bush will tout the reasons for this goodwill.

"The trip will highlight how the United States has partnered closely with the people of Africa to address the challenges of disease, poverty and security," said Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser.

"There's more hope in Africa and the American people can be proud that many of our innovative programs are making a real difference," Hadley told reporters.

Africa has received the lion's share of the nearly $19 billion in goods, services, and cash that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) -- launched by Bush -- will have provided by September, when it is due to lapse on its fifth anniversary.

Bush has said he wants the program extended and increased to $30 billion. The initiative is popular even among opposition Democrats on Capitol Hill, where analysts say lawmakers could end up giving PEPFAR even more money than Bush has sought.

Africa is also home to more than half of the countries receiving grants from Bush's Millennium Challenge Corporation, which rewards governments for reducing corruption and promoting market economies, among other things.

Additionally, preferential trade deals have resulted in a sevenfold increase in African clothing exports to the U.S., according to official figures here.

Bush has also upgraded Africa's strategic ranking by creating AFRICOM -- the U.S. Africa Command -- to oversee military relations and coordinate aid and diplomatic missions across the continent.

"Its concept, really, is a different command, in some ways," Hadley told reporters Wednesday. "It would be a partnership, really, between military and civilians."

To some, these developments demonstrate the compassion in Bush's politics: More than a million Africans have received life-prolonging AIDS drugs.

To others, the moves reflect strategic machinations. China has emerged as Africa's third largest trading partner and its African commerce and investments are growing exponentially. Furthermore, China and others have secured supplies of African oil, natural gas and minerals, intensifying competition with the United States, which expects to draw one-fourth of its oil from West Africa by 2015.

In any case, Bush appears to have presided over a significant departure from the U.S. neglect of Africa in the years since the Cold War ended.

But, not all the attention has been welcome.

Talk of basing AFRICOM on African soil hit opposition from a number of governments -- including that of regional military power South Africa. The new command began what it terms "initial operations" last October from headquarters in Germany.

Hadley said the new command would build on U.S. efforts to train and transport African peacekeepers. Critics, however, highlighted Washington's unpaid bills for UN peacekeeping missions.

"The United States is already more than one billion dollars behind in honoring its commitments to UN peacekeeping, and the administration's budget request would add at least another $600 million to our growing and worrisome unpaid peacekeeping assessments," said Deborah Derrick, executive director of the internationalist lobby Better World Campaign.

Bush's 2009 budget will not provide sufficient financing for peacekeeping missions in hot spots from Sudan and Chad to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, and Liberia, Derrick added.

African media and academic commentators, meanwhile, have assailed Washington for backing the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia a year ago to restore a locally discredited but pro-Western transitional government. They chided Washington for turning a deaf ear to subsequent allegations of atrocities and international warnings that a humanitarian catastrophe to eclipse Sudan's was unfolding.

Even PEPFAR has its detractors. Health experts in Africa and other regions covered by the initiative have complained that its impact has been blunted by ideological constraints. One-third of the initiative's money has been reserved to promote abstinence from sex before marriage, and all applicants for financing are required to sign a pledge opposing prostitution.

The federal Government Accountability Office said in 2006 that the abstinence provision was proving counter-productive. In other studies and documentaries aired here, health care providers said the program's anti- prostitution bias was preventing them from helping the very people most in need of AIDS education and prevention services.

With the initiative up for renewal in September, campaigners here are urging lawmakers to dump these constraints.

"PEPFAR could be a positive legacy of the Bush administration, but only if the new legislation does not repeat the mistakes and limitations of the current program," said Joe Amon, AIDS director at Human Rights Watch.

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Albion Monitor   February 15, 2008   (

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