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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bush And Africa: Where Did Everybody Go?

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George W. Bush is the most powerful and controversial man in the world. His every move is watched and critiqued and his every word is avidly transcribed, broadcast, analyzed, mocked and once in a long while even praised. He lives in what could reasonably be considered one of the most all-encompassing media bubbles in the world. But George W. Bush has found a way to get away from it all. He went to Africa.

The Bush Administration's Africa policy, its ambitiousness, its comprehensiveness and its extraordinary success in saving lives is one of the great, neglected stories of our time and the degree and quality of the coverage of his current visit to that most troubled continent shows that this media disinterest is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Bush's attention to Africa has been complex and multilayered and its most remarkable accomplishment has been the saving of millions of African lives. In 2003 the administration introduced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year plan with a $15 billion price tag, concentrated primarily on Africa. It is the largest, costliest program ever targeted at a single disease and its beneficiaries are the millions currently afflicted with HIV as well as those who, but for the program would be its next victims. Since its inception PEPFAR has been responsible for 1.4 million Africans receiving treatment for the disease. Not satisfied with this accomplishment President Bush has proposed the doubling of the program's budget over the next five years.

But AIDS is not the only disease that the President has put in his sights. The President's Malaria Initiative, whose objective is to cut the mortality rate of that disease in half in five years, has also been a great success, benefiting an estimated 25 million people via the distribution of 6 million bed-nets treated with insecticide.

But the administration has not concentrated on disease while ignoring Africa's other large and complicated problems. Realizing merely distributing money and care-packages is not likely to address the larger issues causing misery to millions the administration created the Millennium Challenge Corporation which ties assistance to adoption of free-market principles, thereby promoting fiscally sound policies in an effort to improve standards of living.

Africa has been a breeding ground for Muslim extremism and the disaster that is Darfur is an ongoing human tragedy and the president is attempting to address that situation (which is proving even more intractable than AIDS or malaria) with an increase of sanctions against the Sudanese government responsible for Darfur and the creation of AFRICOM, a security command that the President is attempting to launch.

These and other efforts are realistic, conservative (the Heritage Foundation has written glowingly about them), humane and have proven to be largely effective. Sadly their success is inversely proportional to the attention they have drawn in America and the world outside of Africa.

No president in American history has ever lavished such concern and largesse on Africa, certainly not President Bill Clinton, who until this presidential season was often touted as being America's first "Black President'. (After his recent race-baiting tactics however Clinton seems to be turning whiter with each passing day.) One might think that the man who had been accused in the 2000 campaign of being responsible for a Black man being dragged to his death by a group of racists and accused by the Left and their friends in the media as neglecting the victims of Hurricane Katrina because of the color of their skin might get a little recognition for the success of his African humanitarian efforts. But one would be wrong. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Julian Bond are not to be found grabbing media face-time touting these great accomplishments. And the msm coverage has been perfunctory at best.

No so in Africa itself where Bush has largely been hailed as a hero. Tanzanian President Jakay Kikwete says that, "Of course, people talk with excitement of Obama....The US is going to get a new president, whoever that is. For us, the most important thing is, let him be as good a friend of Africa as President Bush has been." And "We feel proud because it's recognition of our contribution towards bringing security and stability not only to Darfur but also our region. The U.S government has been our strong partner in this," army spokeswoman Jill Rutaremara told Reuters. Traveling with Bush has been former Live Aid promoter and Boomtown Rat,
Bob Geldof hardly a natural ally of the President's, who said Mr. Bush, "has done more than any other president so far.""This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion...What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.

It may not be surprising that the msm hasn't paid much attention to Mr. Bush's superlative record here. What is surprising that the conservative press and blogosphere has reacted with not much more than a shrug, as well. The msm undoubtedly finds that the President's efforts in Africa don't match their template for him on one level (he's an uncaring fascist) and where it does (the President's humanitarianism is inseparable from his deep Christian faith) it turns out that the template itself works against them. Conservatism's neglect may be due to the President's poor pr on the issue or the fact that Africa has appeared to be such a basket case for so long it is hard to recognize true progress when it occurs.

This is all quite unfortunate but the lack of accolades the President has received makes his actions that much more notable. While the President's African policies may not make large headlines today when the history books are written on the Bush years it is likely they may finally get the attention they deserve.

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