LUSAKA — Former President George W. Bush has kept a relatively low profile in the United States since leaving office. But in Africa this week he is publicly promoting his institute's initiative to prevent and treat cervical cancer. While Bush is following a familiar post-presidential path in supporting humanitarian causes, he would prefer to focus on quiet service, to lead through example and hard work.
He worked alongside other volunteers in Kabwe - Zambia's second-largest city - to renovate a health clinic which specializes in the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer.
“You're always the former president but I wanted to come here as a laborer...I do want to say that on this particular trip that myself and friends have left behind a clinic and hope to inspire others to come and refurbish clinics as well,” Bush said.
Bush is helping lead the fight against cervical cancer in his post-presidential years and has so far helped raise more than $85 million. But he is a reluctant public spokesman for the cause and says he would prefer to contribute outside the media spotlight.
“I hope you don't see much of it because I don't want to be in the news. In other words, I believe that quiet service is the best kind of service,” he said.
In Zambia, Bush and his wife Laura also visited an orphanage where many of the children were born with HIV. The children are alive today because of President Bush's 2003 AIDS initiative in Africa that provided billions of dollars for retroviral drugs and treatment. It is an emotional tour full of hugs and picture taking.
“I believe freedom is important for peace and I believe one aspect of freedom is people to be free from disease. And so Laura and I are very much involved in this initiative,” Bush said.
While Bush may prefer that his good work go unnoticed, he is following a familiar path that has helped refurbish the public image of other recent former presidents.
Former president Bill Clinton left office under a cloud for his affair with a White House intern. But his involvement in good causes - like joining former president George Herbert Walker Bush to raise money for Asian tsunami relief in 2005 - helped rehabilitate his public image.
Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University, notes former president Jimmy Carter was not re-elected for another term, losing the 1980 election in a landslide. But he says Carter is now held high esteem by many for his work in promoting democracy and eradicating guinea worm disease.
“Most observers believe that he was a much more successful former president than he was president of the United States, and of course was ultimately rewarded for all of this post-presidential activity with the Nobel Peace Prize,” Lichtman said.
In his post-presidential years George W. Bush seems be finding his role in quiet service and seems genuinely unconcerned about his place in history.