KIGALI - US President George W. Bush kicks off his five-nation African tour tomorrow. He is scheduled to arrive in Rwanda on Tuesday, his third leg of the continental tour.
While briefing journalists about the upcoming tour, the US President’s National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, said from Washington D.C on Wednesday that Bush will visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia, respectively.
“The President will meet with President Kagame and see U.S.-trained Rwandan troops. Rwanda was the first country to deploy peacekeepers to Darfur as part of the African Union mission in August 2004,” he said.
He added that the US provided nearly 7,000 Rwandan troops with training, and spent more than $17 million to equip and transport Rwandan troops for peacekeeping service in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Rwanda has at least 3500 peacekeepers in Darfur out of a 10,000-strong force, which since January 1 is under a joint AU-UN mandate.
“Rwanda continues to be a strong regional voice for greater and stronger international involvement in ending the genocide in Darfur,” a statement sent to The New Times quoted Hadley as saying about Rwanda’s involvement in efforts to stabilise the region where an estimated 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million displaced in what the US calls genocide.
He added that while in Kigali, Bush and his wife Laura will also pay their respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, where the remains of at least 250,000 people have been buried over the past years.
The US President and his wife will also participate in the dedication of the new U.S. Embassy in Kigali, he added.
The US embassy has since January moved from Nyarugenge to its new offices in Kacyiru.
Also expected to feature in Bush’s meeting with Kagame include the situation in Kenya, where up 1,000 people have died in post-election violence that has engulfed the East African nation since the widely disputed December 27, 2007 presidential poll which returned President Mwai Kibaki to power. Opposition leader Raila Odinga says he was robbed of victory, but Kofi Annan-led negotiations are on the threshold of reaching a political settlement.
“Obviously, it’s (the Kenyan situation) a source of great concern, and the President is going to want to talk to all of the parties, all of the -- with the leaders of all the countries he is going to visit, about it. It is -- you know, it’s a great tragedy on the continent,” Hadley told reporters.
“….what’s happening in Kenya is a step backwards. What needs to happen is pretty clear. We have been very actively engaged in our diplomacy there, and supporting what (former UN secretary general) Kofi Annan is doing. First step is for the parties to agree to stop the violence. Second step is to facilitate humanitarian assistance.
“And then third, work out a power-sharing arrangement which will allow the government to function, to ensure that security is maintained; and as part of that arrangement, talk about what is the process for ensuring a continuation of Kenyan democracy. That, obviously, means, at some point, free and fair elections,” he explained.
Asked whether the issue of the base of the proposed US’ Africa Command (AFRICOM) will feature in Bush’s discussions with his African counterparts during his five-day visit, Hadley said: “I’m sure that issue will come up….The concept is still being worked out. (US) Secretary of Defence (Robert) Gates talked to the President about it recently.
There’s a lot more work to be done. I’m sure it will be an item of discussion on the trip, but I wouldn’t be looking for any announcements at this point in time.”
Liberia has offered to house the headquarters of AFRICOM, which US officials say, will be based on a partnership with African countries, with a view of building their capacities to empower them to assume a major role in addressing the continent’s problems.
On Darfur, the US presidential advisor said: “I think what we’re seeing there is progress. It is very slow progress. I think the President would say it is too slow progress. The key there is to get this AU/U.N. force deployed. That will put 20,000 to 25,000 peacekeepers on the ground, it will assure a secure situation, and a context for the rebels to organise themselves, and the government to sit down and try and negotiate the peace.”
“I’m told that recently the Sudanese government negotiated a status of forces arrangement to cover the new U.N. peacekeeping force. That’s a good thing. That’s progress. As you know, the forces on the ground have gone from about 7,500 to about 10,000. There are additional forces coming in the next month or two, from Ethiopia and Egypt….What you’re going to see is continued effort to highlight this issue and put pressure in order to get this force deployed,” he added.
Other issues to highlight President Bush’s visit on the continent include diseases, poverty, development assistance and the rule of law.
This visit will be Bush’s second to Africa since 2001, and Mrs. Bush’s fifth visit. Hundreds of members of Bush’s advance party are already in Kigali City, and are mainly noticed at the main hotels in town.