Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US stance on Africa questioned

NO SOLID EVIDENCE While President Bush was pledging to supply aid, the House of Representatives decided not to fully finance a US$15 billion anti-Aids program


President George W. Bush was back in Washington Saturday after a lightning trip to five African nations, but questions abounded about the depth and staying power of the US commitment to Africa.

In what he called a "wonderful week," Bush dashed across the continent, hugging AIDS victims, recalling the cruelty of the slave trade and highlighting the economic potential of what he called "a continent of possibilities."

"You are not alone. America has decided to act," the US leader told Africans as he stood in an AIDS treatment center in Uganda.

"I believe God has called us into action ... we have a responsibility to help a neighbor in need, a brother and sister in crisis."

But Africa's long-suffering people may be forgiven for waiting for solid evidence of an enduring US involvement before they run cheering into the streets.

Bush's trip to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria was dominated by two countries he did not visit.

On Liberia, he stalled on defining a US contribution to a peacekeeping force for the tottering west African state, and signs are that it will be a support role rather than US boots on the ground that emerges.

Niger also thrust its way onto the agenda, as Bush was pursued by questions over the use of now discredited intelligence claims in his State of the Union speech that Saddam Hussein sought uranium yellowcake there.

Initial signs for sustained US engagement for Africa were not promising, as a House of Representatives panel decided not to fully finance the first year of a US$15 billion anti-AIDS plan even as Bush touted it around Africa.

Cynics have argued that Bush's tour amounts to little more than a high-speed PR junket, high on rhetoric but low in substance.

Among the unimpressed was Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who charged that the White House had repeatedly turned down requests to meet with NAACP leaders.

"I think it's a little ironic that the president would go to Africa to meet with black leaders but he won't meet with black leaders here in the US," Mfume said at an NAACP convention yesterday in Miami, Florida.

Bush's travels did "very little to boost confidence on the continent that Africans would be able to engage the administration on the need for the US to change its policies and practices toward Africa," said a letter to Bush this week released by a coalition of Africa trade union groups.

Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected criticism of Bush's motives.

"The president did not come to Africa on this trip for the purpose of taking anyone's oil or imposing our will on anybody.

"The purpose of the trip was not a political exercise and was not designed to influence the election of next year.

"It was designed to deal with real problems facing people in need in Africa."

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