In Africa, Bush touts aid efforts, basks in popularity
Mr. Bush has been generally well-received so far on his five-country trip to Africa.
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And in Liberia, Bush will discuss the objectives of America's new military command for Africa, known as AFRICOM, which was set up to give Africa as high a priority as, for example, the US Central Command does for the Middle East, or Pacific Command gives to Asia. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has stated her interest in hosting a permanent US military base on Liberian soil.Skip to next paragraph
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By choosing programs that have had positive results, Bush's Africa trip has the feel of a victory lap. In Rwanda, many people appreciate Bush's fight against terrorism; a few name his antimalaria and HIV/AIDS initiatives as success stories. But Bush also benefits from the friendship Rwandans feel for Americans in general. It's a sentiment inspired as much the Clinton Foundation – and other nonprofit groups whose names Rwandans easily rattle off – as by any of Bush's own initiatives.
"America is very good at [public] diplomacy," says Gasana Mutesi, president of Amani Africa, a Rwandan nongovernmental organization that helps street kids pay their school fees. "Americans try to include themselves in the society, especially young Americans."
American popularity in Rwanda has little to do with US programs like PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Research, a program lacking a distinct public face. "When his [Bush's] money did come, it came through the ministerial level," which she says made it invisible to ordinary Rwandans.
"When he makes a decision, he fulfills the mission," says Baker Gasatura, a student at the School of Finance and Banking. Mr. Gasatura remembers Bush's last visit to Africa in 2003, when the president launched PEPFAR, and takes this return trip as evidence of Bush's honesty in dealing with the continent. "A politician who is a liar doesn't come back to see if what he promised is accomplished."
Even Rwandans who are not directly affected by US aid dollars often have a favorable impression of Bush for the same quality – self-assurance – that people elsewhere often find aggravating.
"I like the way he speaks. He's so confident," says Evode Ntizinira, a student at the Kigali Institute of Education. "Whenever I am eating a meal and he is speaking, I have to stop and listen."
Bush talks, says one Rwandan, "as if he is president of the whole world," a style young people say goes beyond rhetoric to action.
To a certain extent, it is America's lack of interference in Africa that makes it more popular than other Western powers, which had large colonial holdings here. For many Africans, politics is a distant concept, while the poverty of daily life – where 300 million Africans lack safe drinking water, 3,000 African children under the age of 5 die every day from malaria, and 1 in 16 African women die in childbirth – is the focus of attention. That's why many Ghanaians will see Bush's visit Tuesday as the arrival of a benefactor.
"America gives help to Africans and that is why Bush is popular," says James Semaha, a newspaper seller in Accra. "[Americans] give aid and loans to take care of the poor and we are poor here. It is very good [Bush] is visiting because it means he has something to give. He is coming to help, not just for a visit."