The United States has economic, political and security interests in Africa. More and more, President Bush has personal ones.
Heading into his second trip to the continent, Bush was pressed by radio reporters from the region about what was really driving his agenda. He spoke of instilling hope and opportunity as an alternative to extremism, a familiar theme for him. But he also spoke about a moral imperative - his country's and his own.
With backing from Congress, Bush is behind an emergency HIV/AIDS response that is the largest in history to target an infectious disease. He is now trying to double its size, from the commitment of $15 billion to another $30 billion over the next five years.
"I couldn't live with myself if I didn't develop an effective strategy and call upon the American people to help," Bush said in a round-table with reporters at the White House on Thursday. The group included one representative from every country he is visiting: Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. Bush was to depart Washington on Friday
Bush, nearing the end of a presidency dominated by the war in Iraq, is proud of humanitarian foreign policy, too. He often talks about how many Americans are unaware of their own generosity abroad, and he makes a point to publicize the country's giving nature. His aides say he takes Africa policy personally.
The president is also behind a major effort to reduce Malaria, which is a major killer of young children in Africa.
"When you see human suffering, it's based upon something that affects your heart," Bush said. "And so that's why I've made the decisions I've made."
The president is traveling there with his wife, Laura. It will be her fifth trip to the continent during the Bush presidency.
Sudan, Africom and Zimbabwe
Bush covered a range of other topics with the reporters. Among them:
- He expressed frustration at the plodding deployment of a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur region. Only about 9,000 of an authorized 26,000 troops and police have arrived. Conflict in the region has led the killings of more than 200,000 people over nearly five years, and has driven 2.5 million from their homes. Bush pointed blame at both the Sudanese government and at other nations for not supplying enough pressure.
- Bush said no decisions are imminent about Africom, the new Africa Command that is based in Stuttgart, Germany. Liberia has publicly offered to host a headquarters, while other African nations have reservations about where the command would be based and whether it would give the U.S. too much influence.
The president said the command will not be a traditional military-style command, and will integrate a State Department component. "We're in the process of making sure we understand what that integration means, and then evaluating if and where facilities will be built. It's on my radar screen," Bush said.
- Bush acknowledged that Zimbabwe has only gotten worse since his visit to Africa in 2003. President Robert Mugabe has become increasingly authoritarian, spearheading media control and takeovers of white-owned farms. Bush described him in a speech earlier Thursday as a discredited dictator who "presides over food shortages, staggering inflation, and harsh repression." In the interview, Bush said flatly: "Mr. Mugabe has ruined a country."