[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 21:46 GMT 22:46 UK
Bush's big African ambitions

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online, Washington

US President George W Bush is making an historic trip to Africa next week, with plans to tackle some of the most difficult conflicts that are convulsing the region.

President Bush has met many African leaders in Washington
It will be the first trip to Africa by a Republican president - and Mr Bush is taking a big agenda with him.

He will be visiting five nations - Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, and Nigeria - which span the continent and define many of its problems and possibilities.

The president has already pledged to spend $15bn in Africa to fight the spread of HIV/Aids, and $10bn in increased foreign aid to countries which pledge to fight corruption and open their markets.

(The US) is exploring all the options as to how to keep the situation (in Liberia) peaceful and stable
President George W Bush

Appointing his new Global Aids Coordinator, former pharmaceuticals boss Rany Tobias, Mr Bush said that "millions of lives depend on the success of this effort, and we are determined to succeed."

But even more dramatically, the Bush administration may be considering a military intervention in Liberia to end the debilitating civil war and ensure that President Charles Taylor stands down.

The US is also mediating a ceasefire in Sudan, and may be planning a more active role in encouraging change in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has been accused of clinging on to power and blocking fair elections.

Global agenda

The impetus for President Bush's Africa trip comes from several directions.

Firstly, Mr Bush wants to demonstrate that US is not neglecting the welfare of the world's poor while waging the war on terrorism.

Aids victim
HIV/Aids affects one in four in Southern Africa
Africa's economy has dramatically lagged behind the rest of the world, and the president will be emphasising the benefits of globalisation and open markets in encouraging economic development.

According to former Africa assistant secretary Chester Crocker, who served Ronald Reagan, the trip will provide an "answer those who say there is a double standard or that we don't care", and to reassure not just Africans but "our allies and third-country observers".

Secondly, Mr Bush is responding to his conservative and religious constituency in joining the global fight against HIV/Aids.

This policy, first announced in January's State of the Union address, was strongly advocated by faith-based organisations who are working in Africa.

And finally, following the war in Iraq, the US is weighing up its options in playing global policeman in Africa.

In a reversal of the roles they played during the Iraq conflict, it is the US State Department that is urging military intervention in Liberia, which is engulfed in a bloody civil war, while the Defence Department is resisting a further troop commitment.

Fierce internal debate

Earlier this week, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a news conference that the US had "no vital interests" in Africa.

Defence officials are worried that the US already has too many commitments overseas, with 150,000 troops in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan.

But in a speech at a Washington think tank, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner said that "our children and our grandchildren will are much more likely to have serious business, financial, political, commercial links to Africa" and pointed out that one-fifth of US oil imports come from Africa.

From a humanitarian and moral point of view, as well as the historical and security point of view, we ought to be engaged
Former Clinton official Susan Rice

West African nations, led by Nigeria, and US allies like Britain, are urging the United States to contribute up to 2,000 troops to a task force for Liberia which would also include 3,000 African soldiers.

And his predecessor as assistant secretary in the Clinton administration, Susan Rice, said:

"In Liberia, the United States is the international 911. There is nowhere else to turn... from a humanitarian and moral point of view, as well as the historical and security point of view, we ought to be engaged."

President Bush, who has called on the Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, to step down to face war crimes charges, said on Wednesday that the US was "exploring all the options as to how to keep the situation peaceful and stable".

The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has issued an international arrest warrant against the Liberian president, accusing him of backing brutal rebels during the 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone.

Good examples

The situation in Liberia is expected to dominate talks between President Bush and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Students protesting against the fuel price rise in Lagos, 25 June 2003
Protests in Nigeria over economic reform have hurt the government
The US is also expected to press Nigeria to make more progress in fighting corruption, and Nigeria will argue that it should receive debt relief on loans it received from international institutions like the IMF.

Likewise, the situation in Zimbabwe could prove a key part of talks with South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki - although Mr Bush will probably also to want to raise privately Mr Mbeki's less than enthusiastic embrace of Western help in fighting HIV/Aids.

But the US is a strong supporter of Mr Mbeki's continent-wide plans for economic reform - Nepad - which he sees as the right model for Africa.

The three smaller nations to be visited by President Bush are seen as models of the kind of African leadership the US wants to encourage.

Mr Bush has been impressed by Uganda's approach to tackling the HIV/Aids crisis, and has already met President Museveni at the White House.

Senegal is cited by Assistant Secretary Kansteiner as a model of democracy in West Africa, and relatively free of corruption.

The new plans for increased US foreign aid to Africa, the Millennium Challenge Account, call for economic and political reforms as a precondition for additional aid.

Finally, Botswana is seen as an example of good environmental practice while encouraging responsible tourism.

All in all, Mr Bush's trip encompasses a broad and perhaps risky agenda, marking a new phase in the development of his foreign policy ambitions.

If he succeeds, Mr Bush is likely to enhance his standing as a man of peace as well as a victor in war - both in the eyes of the world, and perhaps more importantly, with the American public.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"Many Liberians want America to intervene"

US President George W Bush
"We are determined to help the people of Liberia find a path to peace"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific