ANALYSIS - I am not an ardent fan of US President George Walker Bush. However, it is always decent to give credit where it deserves. President Bush may not be as popular back home or in many parts of the world, but at least he has a reason to smile as he counts only eleven months for his stay in the White House – he has put a smile on many African faces.
Bush, who is currently on a goodbye presidential tour in Africa, has widely been criticized for his international policy, particularly on Iraq, but has at least managed to build a legacy for himself in Africa where his schemes have saved millions of lives and lifted many others from abject poverty.
He might not have been the first American president to do that, but he surprisingly managed to carry on that trend, in some cases with remarkable innovations, despite finding himself in the midst of a complicated, endless and illegitimate war in Iraq where Washington has spent billions of dollars.
However, under his rule, he introduced the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), which has given shape to the fight against HIV/Aids in 13 focus countries in Africa and two outside the continent.
PEPFAR has been operational for five years on a budget worth $15 billion, and Bush recently asked the Congress to double that funding for another five years. The funding is the largest ever financial commitment from any donor for fighting a single disease.
There have been voices suggesting that the additional $30 billion Bush has requested Congress is little, but what is indisputable is that he has showed commitment to help save lives in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Obviously for Africans, any suggestion by a Congressman or Aids activist for an increment in PEPFAR money is mostly welcome.
Tatu Msangi, a single Tanzanian mother, took the story of the success of PEPFAR to Congress during a State of the Union address last month.
She is a living testimony of just how, through PEPFAR, the Bush administration has saved a life deep in a remote African village.
Msangi testified how despite living with HIV, she received the necessary counseling and Nevirapine (medication) during her pregnancy, and subsequently delivered a bouncing HIV-free baby girl. Now, her daughter Faith Mang’ehe has a future, and Msangi hope, thanks to Bush’s Emergency Plan.
This is not the only success story of its kind. In Rwanda and in other benefiting countries, such achievements are there although many remain publicly unnoticed.
“Thank you so much for the initiative. It has done so much for our people. It has given us a future,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kiwete told Bush on Sunday at a Dar es Salaam hospital which was partly built by the American people.
Under Bush presidency, a number of African countries have continued to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) although not many Africans have benefited yet due to a number of factors.
Africans will remember that in 2004, President Bush signed into law the AGOA Acceleration Act, which extended the legislation to 2015. The initiative has helped triple African total exports to the US since 2001 – the year Bush came to power.
Another groundbreaking initiative by Bush is the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) which he announced in March 2002.
Through MCA, the US has ‘rewarded’ poor countries that ‘govern justly, invest in their people, and open their economies to enterprise and entrepreneurship.’ Although the criteria could still be quietly disputed by some African governments, at least all well-intentioned developing countries in Africa will strive to qualify for MCA funding, thus improve their accountability and governance standards.
On Sunday, Bush signed $698 million Millennium Challenge Compact with Tanzania, a deal which will help the latter to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth through infrastructure investments in transport, energy and water. This grant is the largest in the history of the programme.
In addition, through the Africa Education Initiative which Bush launched in 2002, the US intends to distribute more than 15 million textbooks, train nearly a million teachers, and provide scholarships for 550,000 girls by 2010 in Africa.
On conflict-resolution, the US government has over the recent years seemed to act a bit more responsibly than in the past, a shift from its costly behaviour from, for instance, 1994 when the international community stood by as the Genocide unfolded and claimed at least one million Rwandans in 100 days.
Bush and his administration officials have repeatedly described the ongoing violence in Darfur as genocide, and helped train and equip African peacekeepers, including Rwandan soldiers, for the peacekeeping mission in the troubled western Sudan region. Although the violence still continues, there is evident political will from Bush’s government to help end the crisis.
Five years ago, the US government helped end the Liberian civil war, resulting in the eventual election of the first African woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Under Bush, the US was also in one way or another engaged in the search for peaceful settlement of years of Burundi turmoil, which heralded in a democratically elected government three years ago.
The US remains actively involved in efforts to stabilise the eastern DR Congo, particularly within the framework of the Joint Tripartite Plus Commission, in which it plays facilitator role.
It was also among the observers of the November 9, 2007 Nairobi communiqué between Rwanda and DR Congo, under which the latter is obliged to disarm and expel Rwandan militias holed up on its territory, beginning next month.
I am one of those who strongly believe that the UN and other international players have done little to end the threat posed by Interahamwe/ex-FAR militias in DR Congo. But I still hope that if the UN, US, EU and other stakeholders can maintain the pressure, the problem will ultimately be solved.
Of course, even as Bush pushes for an end to conflicts around the continent, harsh spots remain – but which cannot be rightly blamed on him.
Bush’s speeches have also increasingly been characterized by a positive shift in policy towards Africa. In a statement he delivered in Washington D.C shortly before embarking on his second African tour last week, he underlined that it was significant for developed countries to treat African nations not as “charity cases” but as “equal partners”.
Such school of thought is what is on the mind of a new breed of revolutionary African leaders including our own President Paul Kagame, who on several occasions, has blamed some western powers for approaching African matters in a bullish manner.
Therefore such African leaders would not agree more with Bush when he says: “We (United States) have also revolutionized the way we approach development. Too many nations continue to follow either the paternalistic notion that treats African countries as charity cases, or a model of exploitation that seeks only to buy up their resources. America rejects both approaches.
Instead, we are treating African leaders as equal partners, asking them to set clear goals, and expecting them to produce measurable results.”
Observers have said such statements from US politicians are interlaced with their fear for competition from other emerging world economies especially China, but whatever the reason, at least Bush’s statement is right.
Secondly, many African leaders will agree with the US President that what Africans need today is not aid but investment.
“America is serving as an investor, not a donor,” Bush said. This remark was last week re-echoed by an Ethiopian government official during a Reuters interview when he said: “What many African government officials want to see is less aid from Western powers like the US and more investment. This is the way forward for the continent...”
That is why Rwanda will emerge as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Bush’s visit in the long-run as the American President today signs a bilateral investment treaty with Rwanda when he arrives in the country en route from Tanzania.
The agreement, which according to Bush, will see more capital flow to “Rwanda’s dynamic and growing economy”, is America’s first such treaty in sub-Saharan Africa in nearly a decade.
It is also worth noting that Bush is passionately pushing for several pro-Africa initiatives that will live longer than his presidency - in other words, which will extend the often talked-about American generosity towards the disadvantaged world inhabitants, to the next US administration.