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Has Bush been Africa's best friend?

George W Bush with Benin President Thomas Yayi Boni in Benin in February 2008

By Martin Plaut
BBC News

There is great anticipation in Africa as the inauguration of Barack Obama draws near, but President George W Bush may turn out to have been the continent's best friend.

While Mr Bush has been severely criticised for the invasion of Iraq, his green credentials and the general deterioration of relations with the rest of the world, his African record has won considerable support.

Even normally critical voices, like the aid activist and former rock star, Bob Geldof, gives Mr Bush credit for what he has achieved.

At the top of the list is the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), initiated in 2003.

At the time just 50,000 Africans were on anti-retroviral drugs.

BUSH'S AFRICA RECORD
George W Bush under a mosquito bed net in Tanzania in February 2008
Pumped $18bn into fighting HIV/Aids, much of it in Africa
Backed cancelling $34bn worth of debt for 27 African states
Launched initiative that has halved Malaria in 15 African countries
Led condemnation of Sudan's record in Darfur as genocide
Pressed for north-south peace deal in Sudan
"Saved millions of lives", according to aid activist Bob Geldof
Backed Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia to battle Islamists

Since then the US has pumped $18bn (12bn) into fighting HIV/Aids - much of it in Africa.

By 2007, 1.3 million Africans were on medication, much of it paid for by the Bush administration.

Not that Pepfar is without its critics.

Some have attacked the US for preventing any funding for programmes that support abortion in any form.

Others suggested that it has downplayed the need to promote the use of condoms.

But no-one denies that the funding has made anti-retrovirals widely available, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

The story on aid is much the same.

The US has backed programmes to cancel $34bn (23bn) worth of debt for 27 African states.

At the same time aid to Africa has risen to $5.7bn (4bn) dollars a year by 2007.

And, as anyone who has ever been to a refugee camp in Africa will testify, almost all the food aid to be seen comes from American farmers - aid worth $1.23bn (0.85bn) in 2007.

George W Bush in Tanzania in February 2008
I don't think it's too strong to say that President Bush's Africa policy is the most distinguished foreign policy legacy of the administration
Todd Moss
Center for Global Development

Mr Bush's Malaria initiative has seen the disease halved in 15 African countries.

Travelling to the continent with the president in February last year, Bob Geldof concluded: "The Bush regime has been divisive - but not in Africa.

"I read it has been incompetent - but not in Africa. It has created bitterness - but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives."

The Bush legacy on Africa has won support from Todd Moss, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

"I don't think it's too strong to say that President Bush's Africa policy is the most distinguished foreign policy legacy of the administration," he said.

"Although few expected such interest eight years ago, the president has clearly been deeply and personally committed to strengthening US - Africa relations."

Diplomatic offensive

More controversially, Mr Bush led the international community in declaring that the atrocities in Darfur amounted to genocide.

The US put increasing pressure on Sudan, but since Mr Bush refused to recognise the International Criminal Court in The Hague, refused to back its attempts to indict Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The administration has also been active on the diplomatic front.

Renegate general Laurent Nkunda in North Kivu, DR Congo, on 10 November 2008
Mr Bush's envoys in DR Congo have been working hard to stop fighting
The US put considerable pressure on Sudan to end the 21-year conflict with rebels in the south, leading to the signing of a peace deal in January 2005.

And Mr Bush's envoys in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been working hard to prevent fighting with the dissident general, Laurent Nkunda, becoming a regional conflict, involving Rwanda and Uganda.

But Mr Bush has had his fair share of setbacks in Africa - particularly on the security front.

Universal hostility

His attempt to bring US armed forces dealing with the continent under one unified command - Africom - was viewed with considerable concern by African leaders.

Officially announced in February 2007, Mr Bush had originally planned to base it in Africa.

Liberia and Botswana were both suggested as potential bases.

But the plans were met with almost universal hostility, and the force now operates from Germany.

The other reverse came in Somalia.

A Congolese refugee camp in Kibati on 12 November 2008
Many Africans hope Barack Obama can improve their lives
The US-backed Ethiopian operations against Islamists following Addis Ababa's invasion in late 2006.

The Union of Islamic Courts were driven from Mogadishu. But the Islamists reformed and continued to attack the Ethiopian forces, who finally withdrew from the city in the last few days.

Far from breaking the hold of the Islamists, the Ethiopian action appears to have strengthened their hand, exactly the position that Mr Bush was attempting to avoid.

So can Africa really expect a major reversal of policy under Barack Obama?

Probably not, if remarks from his top Africa adviser are anything to go by.

Speaking in September last year, Witney Schneidman, an adviser on Africa to Mr Obama, had this to say about the thinking in the president-elect's camp:

"Africom, the US military command for Africa, should also realise its potential, in co-operation with other US agencies and regional partners, to promote peace, security, and stability on the continent.

"An Obama agenda will create a shared security partnership programme to build the infrastructure to deliver effective counter-terrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for co-ordinated action against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa and elsewhere."

While President-elect Obama is almost certain to build on the Bush legacy on aid and HIV/Aids, it appears that it will continue the Bush presidency's strategy in African security issues as well.

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