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Bush highlights successes, but not crises, in Africa

Times Staff Writer

President Bush on Saturday defended his decision to avoid Africa’s most troubled quarters on his trip across the continent’s midsection, saying the United States was ready to help countries that make the “right choices.”

For Bush, the trip underscores an effort over seven years to shift the way the United States does business with the developing world, tying government aid to anti-corruption campaigns and commercial ventures to free- trade commitments.

He said he wanted to say to future U.S. presidents and members of Congress that it was in America’s national interest to provide foreign aid, but that instead of “making ourselves feel better . . . our money ought to make the people of a particular country feel better about their government.”

Bush stopped in Benin, in West Africa, on his way across the continent to Tanzania, on the Indian Ocean.

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Each stop on the six-day trip, the president’s second to sub-Saharan Africa, is intended to demonstrate the success of his administration’s programs in fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria and encouraging clean government.

But critics have said the president is sidestepping such trouble spots as Chad, Sudan and Tanzania’s neighbor Kenya, where more than 1,000 people have died in postelection violence in the last seven weeks.

The U.S. assistant secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi E. Frazer, said the administration had “a very robust strategy of conflict resolution” that had succeeded in Congo and Liberia, and that “there is a misperception about Africa in flames.”

She said Bush’s agenda here today with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete probably would include the turmoil in Kenya; the crisis in Chad, where rebels attempted a coup early this month; and economically ravaged Zimbabwe and other trouble points.

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Bush announced just before he left Washington that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would fly to Kenya to encourage negotiations to end the crisis there between the government and opposition over the election results.

When he arrived in Benin on Saturday, he said Rice would deliver to the two sides “a clear message that there be no violence” and that he favored a power-sharing agreement.

A senior administration official said Rice, who will visit Kenya on Monday, would seek to drive home to President Mwai Kibaki that he would not have unqualified U.S. support until he makes a deal with the opposition.

Benin, where Bush spent three hours, provides the examples of success that he is seeking to highlight: Under the Millennium Challenge Compact program, the centerpiece of his efforts to reward anti-corruption efforts and provide development assistance linked to democracy, Benin had signed an agreement with the U.S. and is receiving $307 million over five years. That’s the equivalent of about $40 per Beninese and a sizable sum in a nation where the per capita income is barely $2 a day.

Benin is committed to providing a mosquito bed net to every child younger than 5 to curb malaria, and its leadership is “pretty democratic,” said Stephen J. Hadley, the White House national security advisor.

“They’re all works in progress,” Hadley said of the five countries on Bush’s itinerary: Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia, in addition to Benin and Tanzania.

Bush noted that under his emergency program for AIDS relief, 1.3 million people in Africa were receiving antiretroviral drugs to counter HIV/AIDS, and that one of the reasons for the trip was “to say, ‘Look at the successes we’ve had,’ ” as well as to draw attention to other needs.

Critics have said the AIDS program, which began five years ago with $15 billion, needs a $50-billion, five-year commitment. Bush is seeking to renew it at $30 billion.

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Each of the five nations was chosen to spotlight significant progress in promoting democracy and stable politics -- overcoming genocide in the case of Rwanda, and years of corruption and violence in Liberia.

The president said he was seeking “to send a clear signal to others that we want to help you, but you’ve got to have good leadership, you’ve got to make right choices, and you’ve got to set a strategy in place, in order to benefit your people.”

When Bush arrived here Saturday evening, tens of thousands of people lined his motorcade route, and billboards splashed across downtown featured Bush’s picture in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, far to the north. Some billboards saluted the AIDS and malaria programs. One, across the seaside boulevard from his hotel, declared under his photo, “Feel at Home.”

Bush and President Kikwete are expected to sign an agreement under which the Millennium Challenge program will provide Tanzania with nearly $700 million, its single largest grant.

Although Bush’s visit has generated excitement, the Reuters news agency reported Friday that 2,000 people protested his trip, calling him an “oil thief” and chanting, “Who is a terrorist? Bush.”

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james.gerstenzang @latimes.com


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