Bush Africa visit seen more about strategy than compassion
By Barry Moody, Reuters, Feb. 15, 2008
DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's coming African tour will emphasize the caring side of U.S. policy but it is widely seen as being more about military interests, oil supplies and combating Chinese influence.
Bush is scheduled to start a tour of five nations with a brief stop in Benin on Saturday, although he has threatened to delay the trip because of a legislative battle with Congress.
The five countries -- Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia and Rwanda, as well as Benin -- have been chosen for what are viewed as strong democratic credentials and successful U.S. aid projects.
The centerpiece and longest stop of the tour will be Tanzania, whose leader, President Jakaya Kikwete, is seen by Washington as a poster boy for progressive African government.
Bush, accompanied by his wife Laura, will visit hospitals, schools, AIDS and malaria projects. In Tanzania he will sign the biggest ever grant, of $698 million, under his Millennium Challenge Corp, to fund water, energy and infrastructure.
The MCC is intended to reward good governance and sound economic policies.
Kikwete named a new cabinet this week after the previous prime minister resigned over a corruption probe but Washington sees this as confirmation of the president's anti-graft credentials rather than an embarrassment.
Bush's attempt to anoint some of his more successful policies in Africa in the dying months of his presidency risks being derailed by cynicism over U.S. motives and the same issues, led by Iraq, that have made him unpopular elsewhere.
About 2,000 Muslims marched peacefully through Dar es Salaam on Friday to protest against Bush and his war on terror.
One of the march organizers, Sheikh Mussa Kundecha, told Reuters: "Bush will be here for his own benefit instead of caring about the people of the country."
Student Emmanuel Dickson said earlier: "America and Bush have one policy, to look after their own interests. If he is going to give us money for infrastructure and health ... what does he want in return? He wants to bring forces to Africa and he wants to stop the Chinese from getting a greater hold."
Beijing is now Africa's third biggest trading partner, behind the European Union and the United States, after a huge 30 percent jump in the first 10 months of 2007.
Analysts say confused U.S. policy on Africa and bad handling of its new Africa command (Africom), particularly premature discussion of basing it on the continent, have alienated regional powers like South Africa and made Washington unpopular.
Bush approved Africom, a new command for Africa to offer both training to African armies and humanitarian work, a year ago. But African opposition has forced it for the moment to shelve plans to base the headquarters on the continent.
Africom has added to Africa's unhappiness over other elements of Bush's post 9/11 campaign against Islamist militants.
U.S. backing for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia a year ago to prop up a weak transitional government against Islamist insurgents and the subsequent "rendition" of Muslim suspects, including Kenyan nationals, to Ethiopia has caused widespread anger.
Patrick Smith of the Africa Confidential newsletter said U.S. policy "appears to be at sea ... what is the foundation of the policy? Is it a security nexus based on militarization or is it a much more development-oriented policy?"
"There is a sense that Africa has got the fag end of the war on terror and that it has been very badly handled and if anything has diminished the U.S.'s standing in the region with no great benefit in terms of military effect."
There is also a widely held belief around the continent that Bush is trying to counteract growing Asian, especially Chinese, influence and investment and that Washington is only really interested in oil resources in the Gulf of Guinea -- expected to provide 25 percent of its needs by 2015.
"What is on top of Bush's mind is the Chinese. China is worrying to the U.S. It is not only taking markets and alternative trade partnerships ...African countries will no longer need American aid to survive," said Ugandan student Joseph Mwaka.
Houcine Akkari, a retired man in Tunis told Reuters: "The U.S. says it wants to help Africa to boost democracy, reduce poverty and improve governance. But the truth is so different. Bush wants to exploit Africa which is rich in natural resources, without giving anything to Africa." (Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina, Francis Kwera in Kampala, and Sonia Ounissi in Tunis)