In Ghana, construction will soon begin on a six-lane highway, funded by the United States, that will bear a distinctive moniker: The George Bush Motorway. For a president with few foreign policy achievements to boast about, this will be one of the more positive legacies of his tenure.
Bush's six-day trip to Ghana and four other African countries, which ended Thursday, was a poignant reminder that Africa might be the only foreign continent that will be sorry to see him leave office. He has arguably done more for that part of the world than any other U.S. president, though his critics seldom give him credit for it.
His reception was a sharp contrast to that of President Clinton in 1998, who was met by an adoring crowd of hundreds of thousands in the Ghanaian capital of Accra. Clinton had done remarkably little to deserve the accolades; his administration looked the other way during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Bush also attracted cheering crowds, but smaller ones, and newspapers warned ominously that his charm offensive was part of a disguised attempt to "militarize" Africa.
Still, polls show that in many African countries, Bush is more popular than he is at home, and for good reason. His $15-billion AIDS program has provided antiretroviral treatment to more than 1.33 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, and he has committed unprecedented sums to fight malaria and other diseases on the continent. On Wednesday, he added to the list by announcing a $350-million plan to fight such ignored scourges as elephantiasis and river blindness. His Millennium Challenge Corp. was justifiably criticized in the early going for being slow to release money, but has now announced 16 grants, including nine worth a total of $3.8 billion to African countries (the George Bush Motorway is a product of one such grant). Bush also has done more to speak out against the genocide in Darfur than any other world leader.
"I would say this is one of the most exciting trips of my presidency," Bush told the press corps aboard Air Force One on the way home. He had good reason to enjoy himself. Bush, unlike his predecessors, has long recognized that failed, impoverished states are incubators for terrorism and that foreign aid should be considered a national security priority for the United States. His successor would do well to scrap most of this president's foreign policy strategies, but Africa is one that he got right.