US President George W. Bush arrived in South Africa yesterday, the second stop on a five-nation African tour designed to promote economic development, initiatives to battle AIDS and to increase cooperation in stopping the spread of terrorism.
A day earlier, Bush visited Senegal's notorious Goree Island, for several centuries a processing station for African slaves bound in chains for the Western Hemisphere.
He declared American slavery one of history's greatest crimes: "At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold."
"Human beings were delivered and sorted, and weighed, and branded with the marks of commercial enterprises, and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return," he said. "One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of history."
Bush also edged toward sending US troops to help end a three-year civil war in Liberia, a western African nation founded by freed American slaves.
The president, traveling with his wife Laura and their daughter Barbara, will make stops later in Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria -- all important US allies in the war on terrorism.
His first visit as president was vying for attention with continued tensions in violence-scarred Liberia.
After meeting with eight west African leaders, Bush told reporters on Tuesday that he had promised US participation to help enforce a temporary ceasefire and to allow for a peaceful transition in power in that country.
"We're now in the process of determining what that means," he said when asked if such participation meant US troops.
Bush reiterated an insistence that the current Liberian president must step down. "Charles Taylor must leave," Bush said. And he said the UN would play a role in any peacekeeping effort.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday to discuss Liberia and also spoke to French President Jacques Chirac, UN deputy spokeswoman Hua Jiang said Tuesday.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade accompanied Bush on a visit to the cramped cells at a former slave house on Goree Island built by the Dutch in 1776.
Goree is a 18-hectare island in the Atlantic Ocean several miles off the harbor of Dakar. Overall, as many as 20 million Africans were enslaved, and up to an estimated one-tenth of them passed through this one-time slave station.
In his eight-minute speech, Bush stopped short of issuing the blanket apology for slavery that some US advocates had sought. Still, he called it a "sin" and one of the US' "past wrongs."
``A republic founded on equality for all became a prison for millions,'' Bush said.
He also acknowledged that scars from slavery still ripple through American society.
``Many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times,'' Bush said. ``But however long the journey, our destination is set: liberty and justice for all.''
He noted that it was those who fought slavery -- black and white alike -- who left behind a better nation.
"The stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America," he said. "The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free. My nation's journey toward justice has not been easy and it is not over."
Despite painful shared history, Bush said the US and Africa must work together to eradicate disease and war. Efforts to forge closer ties with the continent have been complicated by the US-led war in Iraq, which was unpopular with Muslims across much of Africa.