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Out of Africa.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Throughout President Bush's Africa trip last week, White House aides made a point of suggesting that the president has always considered Africa a high priority.

That's not true. As a candidate and later as a newly elected president, Bush repeatedly and clearly dismissed Africa as irrelevant to U.S. interests.

But Bush's priorities on Africa, and nearly everything else, have undergone a radical restructuring since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, he has just become the third American president - and the first Republican - to make an extended visit to sub-Saharan Africa.

During his five-day tour, Bush announced an expansive agenda for Africa that included sweeping promises to help with AIDS, good governance, trade and the war on terrorism.

If the president makes good on these pledges, it will require a heightened, and unprecedented, level of involvement in African affairs for his administration - and the United States - in the years ahead.

The task will not be easy. Even while Bush was visiting Africa last week, Congress was agreeing to appropriate only a fraction of the $15 billion Bush promised in his State of the Union address last January.

The president cannot let such myopic thinking prevail. An estimated 30 million Africans, nearly two-thirds of them women, are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. More than 3 million African children also are infected, and there are more than 11 million AIDS orphans. Every dollar that Bush pledged - and much more from other wealthy nations - is needed to prevent the AIDS pandemic from further devastating sub-Saharan Africa.

Bush can do much to improve the struggling economies of African nations. One of the most significant, and politically difficult, steps would be to start scaling back the shamelessly huge protectionist subsidies that the U.S. government provides to this nation's farmers - subsidies that manipulate the world market and leave African farmers unable to compete.

Bush also must do more than merely talk about U.S. commitment to fighting terrorism and bringing political stability to a continent torn by bloody civil war. Under his administration, the United States has steadily decreased military aid to key African nations. They include South Africa, which the Bush administration has unfairly targeted because of its refusal to endorse exempting U.S. citizens from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

In addition to increasing military aid, Bush has an opportunity to demonstrate U.S. commitment in Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. By contributing a small but symbolically important number of U.S. troops to a multilateral peacekeeping force, the president could help end a civil war that has cost tens of thousands of lives and has driven more than a million Liberians from their homes. More importantly, U.S. intervention could help prevent the rapid spread of violence and the destabilization of governments that could turn the region into a breeding ground for terrorist organizations.

Bush's trip demonstrated an impressive and growing commitment by a president who not long ago shrugged off Africa as unimportant to U.S. foreign policy interests. But he still has a long way to go before Africans - who are accustomed to empty promises - take him seriously and believe that the U.S. president is motivated by more than the continent's large oil deposits or by the prospect of wooing black voters at home.

Bush would do well to keep in mind the cautious words of an editorial that appeared last week in The Monitor newspaper in Uganda: "Welcome to Uganda, Mr. Bush, but our suspicions remain."
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Title Annotation:After trip, Bush must deliver on bold promises; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 15, 2003
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