Bush Begins Tour of Africa’s Famine Region

Times Staff Writer

Vice President George Bush, opening a 3,000-mile trip to publicize the growing famine in northern Africa, arrived in this cool, dusty capital Monday night to a scene that seemed to belie the stories of hunger and drought.

Sudanese officials say their country’s level of hunger could rise to Ethiopian proportions by autumn. But few signs of famine were visible along the bumpy road from Khartoum airport, where Bush got a colorful military welcome from Sudanese officials shortly after sundown.

American officials said it is typical of Sudan--as well as of Niger and Mali, which the Vice President will also visit during the next week--that city residents are relatively well fed while people of the countryside starve.

Low Food Prices


The African drought and famine are most severe in rural areas that have shipped much of their dwindling farm production to the cities, often under government economic policies that pay farmers below-market prices to keep urban food prices low.

In the next week, Bush is expected to lavish praise on the American relief effort, which this year is expected to supply more than half of Africa’s emergency food needs. But the vice president is also warning that aid alone is useless unless it is matched by economic changes to give the region’s farmers an incentive to produce and sell more food.

“All across Africa, a consensus is growing that the key to long-term prosperity is in free and open markets, particularly free and open agricultural markets,” Bush said in a brief statement at the airport.

Gains Imperilled


Without broad economic shifts, American experts traveling with Bush said, African nations could soon lose most of the gains they have made in 30 years of independence from colonial rule. “There is simply no other way to get Africa back on its feet,” said Chester A. Crocker, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

The situation is reported to be especially critical in Sudan, where about 600,000 refugees have fled famine and civil war in Ethiopia to relief camps just over the Sudan border. Well over a million Ethiopians, Chadians, Sudanese and others are receiving food and medical aid in camps in Sudan.

Sudan’s woes have been complicated by the efforts of President Jaafar Numeiri to remodel the nation’s civil and economic order along fundamentalist Islamic lines. The state-run economy is running a massive debt, and there is a growing insurgency among the 5 million Christian and animist residents of southern provinces.

3-Day Schedule

Bush’s three-day schedule in Sudan is a curious mixture of trips to refugee and relief camps, state dinners and photo opportunities with private American relief agencies. Today, he will visit the Wad Sheriffe refugee camp near Kassala, on the Ethiopian border, where thousands of Ethiopian Jews and refugees from Ethiopia’s strife-torn Eritrea province have been housed. There, he will view the unloading of an American C-141 transport plane bringing food, medical and other relief supplies from private organizations.

On Wednesday, Bush will travel to a camp for drought victims in El Obied, about 250 miles west of Khartoum, then return to the capital for meetings with Numeiri and other state officials and for a state dinner. He also is expected to meet briefly with Rev. Jerry Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, who is in Khartoum to witness relief efforts begun by his television ministry.