President Obama and ex-President George W. Bush will make a joint appearance in Tanzania on Tuesday, according to the White House. They’ll participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam that killed 11 people and wounded 85.
The presence of both men in Africa is a coincidence of sorts. Tanzania is the last stop of Mr. Obama’s Africa tour, and it’s also the site of a conference on aiding African women sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute.
Since the title of the conference is the “First Ladies Summit,” we’re pretty sure the White House arranged its schedule so that first lady Michelle Obama could attend the Bush-led meeting. White House officials have described the event as an important forum for promoting a larger role for women in Africa.
At least nine African first ladies are expected to attend, according to the Bush Institute, as well as Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Africa is one subject on which Obama and his predecessor often agree. Obama may have run for the White House on a platform highly critical of Mr. Bush’s economic and war policies, but he has always praised Bush’s work on AIDS relief in Africa as a life-saving effort.
In fact, in some ways Bush’s Africa policies have been a tough act for Obama to follow. The former poured money into the effort while the latter has reduced funds for Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Facing budget wars with Congress, the Obama administration proposed cutting funding for PEPFAR by $214 million last year, prompting criticism from AIDS activists that Obama is retreating on the Bush-era commitment.
“We think it sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on Sunday.
That commitment also includes a military buildup. US Africa Command, one of nine unified combatant commands of the US armed forces, was established in 2007 per the recommendation of Bush security officials. Since then, it has grown to about 2,000 people, though it has little in the way of assigned military forces of its own.
As to the Dar es Salaam bombing, it occurred on Aug. 7, 1998, almost simultaneously with a bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Two-hundred-fifty-eight people died in the two attacks, most of them local workers. US intelligence fingered Al Qaeda’s East Africa leader Fazul Abdullah Mohammed as the mastermind of the attacks. He was killed in Somalia by Somali government troops on June 8, 2011.