In his recent trip to Africa, President Bush basked in approval he could not get at home. But his policies toward Africa don’t merit such acclaim.
He is so popular in Africa that Benin has declared a George W. Bush national holiday, and in countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Mali more than 70 percent of Africans view him favorably.
Yet his legacy in Africa will be mixed, at best, since his policies for the continent more often than not have been flawed, cynical and outright dangerous.
Bush has long been giving with one hand and taking with the other. A day or so before he left for Africa ABC News reported that in the next funding cycle, the White House plans to cut the budget for U.N. troop missions in Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere by more than $193 million.
What did make the news was his announcement while in Rwanda of a $100 million award to the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNIMID). That was a good public relations move. But when you look at the details, he has simply reshuffled the budget, and in fact has cut funding to U.N. Africa peace initiatives by $93 million.
On economic policies, what the United States gives in aid to Africa, it takes back – and more – in unequal trade practices.
Look at Mali, where Bush has a 79% favorable rating. U.S. farmer subsidies cost Malian farmers $43 million dollars as a result of depressed market cotton prices, according to Oxfam, an international anti-poverty group. Yet Washington gives Mali only about $37 million in aid a year. Clearly, Mali would be better off with equal trade than with foreign aid – as would many other African countries.
Then there is the centerpiece of the Bush Africa legacy: PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). Rather than being guided by science and research, PEPFAR is guided by conservative ideology. It will fund only programs that promote abstinence, and will not fund AIDS prevention programs that also distribute condoms, even though public health agencies stress the importance of condoms.
AIDS is a global emergency that also ought to merit such emergency measures as loosening strict patent laws so that antiretroviral therapy can be manufactured and sold cheaply. But the Bush administration has opposed this approach, preferring to give its friends in the pharmaceutical industry a break, rather than give patients with AIDS a break.
On the security front, Bush claims that the new Pentagon command for Africa, Africom, will “enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and to promote the development of health, education, democracy and economic growth.”
But even amidst his friendly trip, the president ran into such criticism of Africom that he was forced to say in public that the United States would not base Africom in Africa.
When President Bush has intervened in African affairs, he has sometimes made matters much worse. For instance, he supported the invasion and occupation of Somalia by neighboring Ethiopia to push out the Islamic Court, which had restored order after years of anarchy. Ethiopia now stands accused by human rights organizations of gross violations.
President Bush did not deserve the warm welcome he received in Africa.
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is a co-editor of Pambazuka News (www.pambazuka.org), the author of “Hurling Words at Consciousness” and a columnist for the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.