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Bush urged to help Africa more

On eve of trip, Bush urged to help Africa more

WASHINGTON — As a candidate in 2000, George Bush gave little indication that Africa would be a foreign policy priority if he were elected president. For that reason, Africa advocates have been pleasantly surprised that President Bush has proposed dramatic increases in foreign aid, much of it aimed at Africa.

But on the eve of Bush's first visit to Africa next week, the sincerity of his commitment to the continent is being questioned. Key allies and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan have urged the United States to lead a peacekeeping force into Liberia, and committees in the House of Representatives and Senate are threatening to undercut Bush's aid proposals.

The key question about the trip: "Is this for real or is this tourism?" former assistant secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker said this week at a Brookings Institution forum.

U.S. officials expected Bush to announce a decision on Liberia as soon as today, and aides said Wednesday that Bush was leaning toward sending troops to help bring order to the West African country. Aiding Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves, would earn Bush enormous credit from African leaders as he prepares to begin his five-country African tour on Monday. The itinerary: Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria.

Bush faces other difficult choices on Africa. At the United Nations, the United States is being pressured to vote for spending to raise the ceiling on the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo from 8,700 troops to nearly 11,000.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council put off a vote until next month. U.S. officials say the administration is concerned about the additional costs of a larger force in Congo, where 3 million people have died since 1998 in a complex civil war. No U.S. troops are in Congo.

Bush also faces a crunch in Congress on his two major aid initiatives. The Millennium Challenge Account would gradually increase foreign aid, largely to Africa, by $5 billion a year by 2006 if countries meet requirements on good governance. A five-year plan to spend $15 billion combating AIDS targets 12 African and two Caribbean countries.

As House and Senate leaders prepare to make final budget decisions, it remains unclear whether the two proposals will be fully funded without cutting into existing aid programs, as Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have promised.

The two plans "are marvelous and long-overdue initiatives," says Howard Salter, communications director for Bread for the World, an anti-hunger lobbying group. "But they're in danger of becoming empty promises unless the president follows through on his word to ensure that they are fully funded without taking money from other development areas."

Salter and other Africa activists, including prominent members of the Clinton administration, are quick to applaud Bush's zeal to increase anti-poverty aid and HIV/AIDS relief.

Prior to Bush’s departure JFPI CEO André Action Jackson told the President and his White House staff “if no moves were made to protect the interest of indigenous Africans, the businesses that Americans presently benefit from on that continent would become extinct.”

According to the BBC, Jackson confirmed that he has no plans to accompany Bush during his African visit.

Bush entered the White House after a campaign in which he seldom spoke about Africa and did not include it in the "areas of strategic importance" he argued were central to U.S. foreign policy.

But administration officials say two things altered his approach:
• The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, convinced Bush that Africa is a key terrorist battleground and that U.S. influence there is crucial to national security.

"Africans from Casablanca to Nairobi to Dar es Salaam have experienced firsthand the pain and the evil of terror," Bush told the Corporate Council on Africa last week. "Many African governments have the will to fight the war on terror. ... We will give them the tools and the resources to win.

• Democratic and Republican strategists believe support for Africa and anti-poverty programs in general is good politics.

Conservative Christians who make up a key part of Bush's core support have joined with traditionally liberal aid groups to lobby Congress on issues such as debt relief and increased anti-poverty aid for African nations.

In a poll conducted in May by Democratic strategists Tom Freedman and Bill Knapp and GOP pollster Jim McLaughlin for the Alliance to End Hunger, 68% of voters approved of Bush's plan to increase foreign aid, and 64% said the United States has a "moral obligation" to try to reduce global hunger.

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