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Reporting Bush's Safari. Not Exactly as Scripted / Bushs Besuch in Afrika anders als geplant

Ein interessanter und umfangreicher Bericht aus dem "Black Commentator (englisch)

"Bushs Goodwill-Tour" kommentierte Martin Ling im "Neuen Deutschland" mit kritischem Unterton: "George Bush ist am Ende angelangt. Mit Liberia, dem 1848 von befreiten Sklaven aus den US-amerikanischen Südstaaten gegründeten Staat, fand die zweite Afrika-Reise des USA-Präsidenten einen passenden Abschluss: Das von einem langen Bürgerkrieg (1990-2003) zerrüttete Land befindet sich unter Führung von Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf im Aufwind. Liberia ist wie die vorangegangenen Reisestationen Benin, Tansania, Ruanda und Ghana ein Beispiel für relativ stabile, demokratische Verhältnisse auf dem afrikanischen Kontinent. Sie passen damit ideal ins Raster der offiziellen Bushschen Afrika-Politik, die sich zuvorderst der Förderung der Demokratie und der Bekämpfung von Krankheiten wie Malaria und Aids verschrieben hat.
Bush ließ seinen Worten auch Taten folgen: Die Entwicklungs- und Aidshilfe wurde in seiner Amtszeit beträchtlich aufgestockt. In Afrika wurde das anerkennend zu Kenntnis genommen. Doch bei aller Gastfreundlichkeit wurde der USA-Präsident auf die grundlegenden Mängel der USA-Afrikapolitik aufmerksam gemacht. Ghanas Präsident John Kufuor forderte Bush zum Beispiel auf, endlich die Subventionen für die US-Baumwollfarmer zu stoppen, die die afrikanischen Produzenten chancenlos machen. Bush äußerte sich dazu nicht - auf seiner abschließenden Tour des Guten Willens umschiffte er alle Probleme und Krisenländer. Damit ist Bush gedient, Afrika sicher nicht." (ND, 22. Februar 2008)
Der nachfolgende Bericht über Bushs Reise , der uns leider nur auf Englisch vorliegt, geht darüber hinaus auch auf die strategischen Absichten der US-Administration ein. Das afrikaniscfhe Öl ist im Spiel und die - bislang - gescheiterten Versuche, einen Partner für das neue US-Kommando für Afrika (Africom) zu finden. Dazu sind nicht einmal die von Bush besuchten Musterknaben bereit.
Im Übrigen fällt auf, dass die Medien hier zu Lande dem Bush-Trip wenig Beachtung geschenkt haben. Wer gibt sich schon gern mit einer "lahmen Ente" ab?! Das ist schade, denn der Kontinent - dem Öl sei Dank - rückt immer mehr in den Gesichtskreis der Großmächte.

Reporting Bush's Safari. Not Exactly as Scripted

By Carl Bloice, BC Editorial Board *

Going over various U.S. media reports about President George Bush's sojourn in Africa, one would get the impression that it was some kind of victory lap for the lame duck president, waving to adoring crowds as a whole continent rose up in praise of his good works. That's the way the script was written and for a while, it looked as if that was the way it would play out, with reporters dutifully jotting down and passing on every line uttered at briefings by Bush National Security Advisor, Stephan Hadley.

It didn't turn out that way. No sooner had the Bush five- nation safari begun than reality rose up and mugged the pretty picture.

The Administration pitched the Africa trip as part of a 'development agenda' and much of the media immediately bought and broadcast the line - embellishing it with talk about it demonstrating 'the caring side' of U.S. policy.

'The trip will be an opportunity to demonstrate America's commitment to the people of these countries and to Africa as a whole," Hadley told reporters as the trip got underway. 'The public mission of his travels is to improve health on an impoverished continent,' reported effusive Associated Press writers. 'The underlying one is to preserve his initiatives beyond his presidency and cement humanitarianism as a key part of his legacy.'

More independent observers and Administration critics, however, tagged its purpose quite differently. 'Analysts interpret his second African tour in seven years of government as a clear message to defend Washington's strategic interests in the region, more than to solve endemic development problems,' said the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.

'Oil, a heightened US military presence on the continent with Africom and ever-tougher competition from China are all issues that will not be far from the surface during George W. Bush's latest Africa tour,' wrote Agence France Presse correspondent, Jacques Lhuilery, who went on to note: 'Besides, the US is increasingly eyeing Africa's substantial oil reserves.'

One question went unasked: why didn't the President stop in, say, to South Africa or Nigeria, major powers on the continent and in the international arena. One answer is obvious: there might have been demonstrations. (The U.S. media almost totally ignored the estimated 2,000 protestors who marched through Tanzania's capital the day before his arrival, burning US flags and chanting, 'Bush is an oil thief' and 'evil is not a foreign policy.' New reports identified the protesters are Muslims. Forty percent of Tanzanians are Islamic.)

The Bush safari began with a naked display of unilaterialism executed before he'd see even one African capital.

Before boarding Air force One, the President announced that he was dispatching Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to Kenya to involve herself in the dispute over the outcome of the country's recent presidential election. Bush and Administration media briefers stoutly maintained that Rice's intervention was to support ongoing mediation efforts of United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, but it was clearly more than that - or maybe not that at all.

In her usual imperious manner, Rice led off with a threat. The U.S., she declared, wanted a 'power sharing agreement' (as opposed to a recount or a revote) and whichever Kenyan leader didn't agree to it would face punishment from Washington. (It's hard to image that that's what Annan had in mind.) Rice's equally imperious Undersecretary for Africa Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, bluntly told reporters that any person 'seen as obstructing the effort for a peace process, a power sharing agreement, the president stated, will be subject to possible further sanctions by the U.S.'

The next day, in Tanzania, Bush tried to clean up the act by saying that he and Rice had discussed with the Benin president 'not what we should do to dictate the process but what America can do to help the process move along' in Kenya. But the Kenyan government officials were not assuaged. Foreign Minister, Moses Wetangula, said, 'We encourage our friends to support us and not to make any mistake of putting a gun to anybody's head and saying ?either-or', because that cannot work.'

That could well have been a reaction to the strange statement by another White House spokesperson that while Rice was carrying a stick, there were no carrots in her satchel - no incentives to make a 'deal.' Arriving in Nairobi, Rice shot down that notion proclaiming, 'There is a lot to be gained in a relationship with the United States through resolution of this political crisis.' New York Times reporters bought the latest version, reporting, 'it seemed that she was bringing carrots, not sticks.' Evidently the sticks didn't work.

Bush's disavowal of any threat to the Kenyans came, according to the spokesperson, after the Tanzanian President, Kikwete, told him, 'there is a belief that Africans can't solve African problems and that somebody from the West has to come and try to solve it for them.'

While U.S. officials in the traveling party stressed to reporters that Rice was in Kenya to support and not upstage Annan, if the UN leader was not embarrassed by the heavy- handed intrusion he should have been. He acknowledged that he was aware that there were Kenyan political leaders 'unhappy about what they see as international involvement and international interference.'

A power sharing agreement, of course, would keep in power Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, up until now a Bush ally on the continent and one whose re-election he had originally welcomed. Following the disputed vote, the Bush Administration threatened to withhold visas of any Kenyan it said was 'fomenting violence' and raised the possibility of sanctions, including visa denials to 13 specific Kenyan politicians and businesspersons. One of them, Member of Parliament, Kabando wa Kabando, a government supporter, accused the U.S. of having 'a plan to silence all those who support the government of President Mwai Kibaki; this is ethnic profiling.'

'We shall not accept such sort of stupid, neocolonial and totally unacceptable way of infringing on the sovereignty of a nation through blackmail or 'whitemail' of its own citizens,' Kabando said.

The Washington Post described a hospital with AIDS facilities Bush visited as 'his handiwork' and waxed on about 'the unalloyed adulation he has encountered since arriving in Africa,' even though the President had at the time visited only two countries - one of them for only three hours.

Listening to the major media reports on the Bush trip, one might think the U.S. money being spent to combat AIDs in Africa was coming out of Bush's own pocket, or that the visit was useful in a campaign to force Congress to provide more funding. Actually, the opposition is true, in that Congress wants to appropriate more AIDs money than that for which Bush has asked. Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee are proposing to allocate $50 billion over five years, over 50 percent more than the White House has proposed. Besides, critics on the continent and in the U.S. bemoan the fact that 50 percent of the aid money is earmarked for so-called abstinence programs. 'The US emphasis on abstinence and trying to encourage people to remain loyal to one partner does strike a chord in traditional African societies, but despite its popularity among church groups, and the billions of dollars promised, the evidence suggests that it does not save lives,' observed the BBC. Besides, much of the funds are channeled through 'faith-based' groups in the countries involved and in the U.S.

'In a recent Pew Research Center report, African countries held more favorable views of the U.S. than any others in the world,' wrote AP. 'And Bush, the face of the U.S. superpower, is showered with praise wherever he goes. It seems a world away from the sentiment at home, where his public approval is at 30 percent.' Well, not exactly. His approval rating in Tanzania - where the biggest and showiest welcome was staged - is less that 50 percent and only slightly better than it is at home.

Exactly one year ago, the Pentagon announced plans to establish an Africa Command (Africom) to oversee military operations on the continent. Since then, US officials have become increasingly active in Africa. Rice visited five African countries over the year. However, no substantial progress has been made in choosing a site to locate the new command center. Liberia is the only country that has shown any enthusiasm for inviting in the U.S. military operation and playing host to the Africom. Other major countries in Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria, have said they are unwilling to have Africom headquarted on their soil or to provide permanent U.S. military bases. 'If there is going to be a physical presence on the continent of Africa in the forms of a headquarters,' President Bush said, 'obviously we would seriously consider Liberia.'

Many Africans 'feel ?nervous and insecure' about a U.S. presence they fear will lead to an increase in terrorist attacks,' Ebenezer Asiedu, a research fellow at King's College, London, told Reuters last week. Others are concerned Africom will be used to militarize U.S. foreign policy or prop up friendly dictators. 'The United States has done that time and time again across Africa,' said David Francis, head of the Africa Centre at Bradford University.

The President's stay in Benin was a doozie. He met with President Thomas Boni Yayi at the airport during a three hour stopover before taking off for Tanzania. Part of that time was devoted to Bush receiving the Grand Cross of the National Order of Benin, the country's highest award. He appears to have used the occasion mainly to comment on the situations in neighboring Kenya and Sudan. When he left, no substantial new agreements were announced.

One critical issue was at least brought up during the brief airport rendezvous - undoubtedly by the Benians. Half of Benin's nearly seven million people live in poverty and, like others in West Africa, Benian farmers are reeling from the unloading of cheap cotton on the world market by U.S. growers aided by U.S. farm subsidies. Cotton accounts for 40 percent of Benin's gross domestic product and nearly 80 percent of its exports. 'The economy of the tiny cotton-producing country has been ruined by the US policy of subsidizing its domestic cotton grower,' wrote AFP's Lhuilery.

Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad, Benin have for four years lobbied the World Trade Organization (WTO) to require industrialized cotton producers like the US to end export subsidies and other direct aid to their own cotton growers. Earlier this month, the U.S. appealed a WTO decision - acting on a complaint by Brazil that condemned US cotton subsidies.

The U.S. President's reply was the stock one. Bush praised Yayi's fight against corruption, reported Reuters 'and said the U.S. government was willing to reduce farm subsidies' if 'other states granted market access for U.S. products.'

'If George Bush comes here without something concrete to say about our everyday livelihood, he needn't bother. ... US cotton growers get subsidies and so they make a better living than us. What does Mr. Bush make of that?' a Beninese cotton grower said to Reuters.

The Voice of America said President Yayi, the former director of the West African Development Bank, said he and Bush talked about how to steer Benin's economy away from its dependence on cotton. It didn't say who brought the subject up.

Benin signed a $307-million compact with the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account in 2006. Under its terms the U.S. is slated to make available $5 million in assistance to countries like those on the Africa itinerary, provided they institute "the rule of law," as well as "sound fiscal policies," including 'free trade' for "American goods and services." Foreign Policy in Focus analyst, Conn Hallinan, noted that free trade and open markets have inflicted ruinous damage on poor countries in Latin America and Africa over the past 15 years and 'When added to the recently passed U.S. Agriculture Bill that increases U.S. export subsidies, this plan to tie aid to U.S. political and economic rules will likely make an already bad situation worse.'

Tanzanian officials evidently put on quite a show. One Associated Press report was almost lyrical. In the Arusha region, it said, Bush was 'swept up in an outpouring of affection' and as 'thousands lined the road to see him, one woman burst into a dance of joy just from a hug and fierce- looking Maasai warriors leapt and chanted in his honor.' There, he spent the day 'in Mount Kilamanjaro's massive shadow' where 'the region's effusive demonstration of thanks for the U.S. drive to improve African lives dominated the day.' 'On one stretch, locals had even strewn flowers in the road.' Bush was 'greeted by Maasai women dancers who wore purple robes and white discs around their necks. The president joined their line and enjoyed himself, but held off on dancing.' Another report said he tried to keep up with the rhythm but quickly gave up. Secretary Rice didn't get to see it. She was in Kenya twisting arms but Hadley had to have been proud. It was just as the foray into the Dark Continent was supposed to be reported.

Apparently there wasn't much pomp and circumstances during the President's brief stay in Rwanda, an airport greeting, a little boy with flowers and a lot of security. There he visited a memorial to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and pledged $100 million dollars to help train and equip African peacekeepers headed to Sudan - $12 million for the Rwandans. Bush did take time out to attack Cuban President, Fidel Castro, whose popularity dwarfs his own across the globe.

As this is being written, the trip is not over. There is still Ghana and Liberia to go. However the visit as a whole turns out, it won't have been as scripted. Too many real problems and read controversies crowded onto the stage.

Alas, apparently Africa will not have seen the last of George Bush. According to the Los Angeles Times, First Lady Laura Bush said the President would return after he leaves office - because 'he had promised their daughters he would take them on a safari.'

* BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.

February 21, 2008, Black Commentator

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