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Bush Trip to Africa to Highlight Humanitarian, Economic Issues


Next week, President Bush will visit five African countries - Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. Analysts say the trip concerns a variety of U.S. humanitarian, military and economic interests on the continent. From Washington, reporter William Eagle reports.

President Bush will visit countries where analysts say the United States has made significant investments in public health.

One of the administration's top initiatives is The President's Emergency Plan on AIDS Relief, a five-year, 15-billion-dollar, comprehensive approach to combating HIV/AIDS. The plan, known as PEPFAR, includes 15 so-called focus countries, 12 of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Bush will visit two of the 12 African countries - Tanzania and Rwanda. The other countries on the trip also receive a small amount of funding from PEPFAR.

Observers say one event expected for the Tanzania leg of the President's trip will emphasize the plight of AIDS orphans and children infected with HIV/AIDS. Another event may look at women and treatment.

Another is the President's Malaria Initiative, which for the next two years will provide 300-million dollars to cut in half deaths from the disease in target countries. In recent years, they have included Tanzania, Rwanda. This year, they will include Benin, the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, Ghana and Liberia.

Stephen Morrison is the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

"Global Health has turned out to be a worthy investment in terms of preserving America's standing in Africa," says Morrison. "There was a recent Kaiser survey that ... shows that ... Africa accounts for eight of the 10 countries in the world were [positive opinion of the US] has held. And those are the ones where the biggest investments in global health have been made."

" [According to recent WHO report]" he says, "Rwanda and Ethiopia show dramatic gains in bringing down malarial infections by the introduction of bed nets and a combination of therapies. Ghana has made more modest, but significant gains. In all of the countries (being visited), you are going to have some element of the malaria initiative to it. There is a lot of energy right now in those programs."

PEPFAR is up for renewal in September, and President Bush has proposed 30-billion dollars during the next five years. He would also like to increase the number of people being treated from by about from one-and-one-half million to two-and-one-half million.

Some in Congress are proposing more than 50-billion dollars.

Morrison says the Bush administration and Congress are also debating how closely funds should be integrated with administration efforts at fighting other diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria.

According to Morrison, "the president will be using this trip to put pressure back on Congress to act now to get authorizing and appropriation legislation through, so our partners in Africa are confident there will be no gaps or stumbling in carrying forward on these very sensitive programs."

Several countries also receive funds from the development assistance program, the Millennium Challenge Accounts. They promise grants and investments to countries that have shown progress in democracy and good governance and in fighting corruption. President Bush will visit three of those countries on his trip, Ghana, Tanzania and Benin. Liberia is trying to join the program.

In September, the program's board of directors agreed to provide Tanzania with nearly 700-million dollars as part of a five-year plan to reduce poverty and promote economic growth, in part through improvements in infrastructure.

"In Ghana, Benin, and Tanzania," he says, "the Millennium Challenge Corporation is becoming operational so it is a celebratory trip in a way, to look at areas where there has been significant innovation in U.S. foreign assistance in support of governments in Africa that are performing well and have proven to be strong partners of the United States."

Morrison says the president's trip will likely play well back home. He says President Clinton got an enormous boost from his visits to Africa, both domestically and internationally, including one to Ghana where television showed a half million enthusiastic supporters.

Morrison says the United States is popular in many parts of Africa, especially Liberia, where the Bush administration is credited with helping to bring peace and development during the past five years.

A popular song there, called "One-Way Ticket to Monrovia" includes an appreciation for the United States and for the peacekeepers of the Economic Community of West African States: "Thank God for ECOWAS," the chorus goes, "and thank God for George Bush."

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