Analyst Says Bush's Africa Trip Avoids Controversial Countries

President Bush is scheduled to leave Friday on a visit to Africa that will take him to five countries, including Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. The President had said Thursday that he might delay his departure if it would help the U.S. Congress pass new rules for a domestic spying program that is expected to expire this Saturday.

Robert Rotberg is Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and director of the program on intra-state conflict at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He told VOA President Bush’s trip to Africa is an easy one and somewhat disappointing because the president is going to less controversial countries.

“He picked some countries where there is no controversy and where he avoids all the critical issues of Africa. The countries that he needs to talk about are not the ones he’s visiting. He needs to talk about Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad and Congo, but he’s not visiting any of those countries. He can even talk about Nigeria. But he’s going to Benin possibly because it would provide him an opportunity to talk about some of the democratic progress that Benin has made,” he said.

Rotberg said although Tanzania chairs the African Union, President Bush should have gone to troubled neighboring Kenya.

“That’s right which is a good reason to go to Tanzania. But its neighbor is the one in big trouble. And President Bush needs to find some way to help Kofi Annan mediate that conflict,” Rotberg said.

The United States has been pushing for more countries to commit peacekeeping troops to Sudan’s Darfur region. Rotberg said while this issue might come up during President Bush’s meeting with Tanzanian President Kikwete, Mr. Bush would have gotten more mileage on the isisue had he visited some of the countries with more clout when it comes to troop contribution.

“To that he needs to visit South Africa and Nigeria, not to visit Tanzania which doesn’t have any troops to commit. So if he really wanted to bolster the African force he would need to go to some of the tougher countries who have troops like Uganda which has troops and South Africa which has the most formidable contingent,” he said.

When President Bush first took office many Africans and Africanists had subdued expectations about what he could do for Africa. Now some say the President has improved U.S. relations with Africa, especially through his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Rotberg agreed but said like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, little PEPFAR funding has actually reached the people of Africa.

“PEPFAR is a very good program. But in fact only a small percentage of the promised funds has actually reached Africa. Similarly the Millennium Challenge Corporation has only managed to begin spending its funds at a very low level. So the signature elements of Bush’s plan for Africa hadn’t been delivered to any extent,” Rotberg said.

President Bush is also expected to discuss the U.S. plan to have an Africa Military Command (AFRICOM), especially during his meeting with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who, despite public rebuke of the program by some African leaders, has offered her country as host of AFRICOM. 

Rotberg said it would not be a wise decision for the United States to continue to push a military institution like AFRICOM, especially when some Africans say they do not want it.

“I think it’s really foolish to pursue the AFRICOM location in Africa when most Africans don’t want it. But he’s going to Liberia because Liberians say they would be happy to have AFRICOM based there. And he may announce something about locating it there. But since most of the rest of Africa doesn’t want it in Africa, there’s no point putting it there,” Rotberg said.

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