By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 15, 2008
President Bush vowed yesterday to use a week-long trip to Africa slated to start today to push for peaceful resolutions to conflicts in Kenya and Sudan, but he rebuffed calls to boycott the Summer Olympics in Beijing to pressure China into using its influence to stop the violence in Sudan's Darfur region.
Bush announced that he will dispatch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya to try to mediate a post-election rupture that has threatened to unravel what historically has been one of the continent's most stable nations. He also promised to "use all our diplomatic resources" to get a full U.N. peacekeeping force deployed to halt what he terms genocide in Darfur.
But shortly after delivering his speech previewing the five-nation trip, Bush told an interviewer that he saw no reason to use the Olympics to turn up the heat on the Chinese government, which has strong political and trade ties with Sudan. Activists have mounted an international campaign against China for protecting the Khartoum government from stronger U.N. sanctions. Just this week, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg quit as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics in protest.
"That's up to him," Bush told BBC World News America. "I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg, so I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur."
The president dismissed the various interest groups trying to use the Olympics as a lever to press China on different grounds. "I mean, you got the Dalai Lama crowd. You've got global-warming folks. You've got, you know, Darfur," he said. "I am not going to . . . go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way because I do it all the time with the president."
Bush's trip to Africa will be the second of his presidency, although it came under a cloud yesterday when a battle with Congress over warrantless surveillance prompted him to offer to delay his departure if it would help settle the matter before a current eavesdropping law expires tomorrow night. Since Congress defied him and left town without passing the new legislation he sought, aides said he likely would still leave this afternoon as scheduled.
The trip will take him to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia as he attempts to highlight his efforts to combat poverty, disease and illiteracy on the continent. Bush in his first term launched a five-year, $15 billion program called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, that has been widely praised for spreading treatment across Africa. About 1.3 million HIV-positive Africans now receive life-saving medication as a result. Bush also launched programs to increase education and fight malaria.
The president will use the trip to lobby Congress to expand his Africa initiatives, including another $30 billion for the AIDS program in its second five years. He said he will sign a $700 million Millennium Challenge Account contract with Tanzania, the largest so far in the program he created to steer money to developing nations that combat corruption and reform government. He announced an additional $875 million in funds for Africa by the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and said he will sign an investment treaty with Rwanda.
"In one of the major priorities of my presidency, the United States has fundamentally altered our policy toward Africa," he said in a speech at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. He added: "Paternalism has got to be a thing of the past. Joint venturing with good, capable people is what the future is all about."
Bush generally earns credit on Africa policy even among his opponents, but some remain critical of the AIDS program's focus on abstinence and argue that the additional funds he has requested will not really double the program. Some activists said U.S. investment is targeted more out of security concerns than the population's needs. "At a time when the U.S. is giving more money to Africa than ever before, our aid looks less strategic than ever," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of the relief organization Oxfam America.
Moreover, some critics complain that Bush has not done more to stop the killing in Darfur or paid enough attention to a spate of other conflicts in nations such as Chad, Somalia and Congo. The upheaval in Kenya following a disputed election has riven its society along ethnic lines, killed more than 1,000 people and dislocated another 600,000.
Rice, who will accompany Bush on the trip, will break off Monday to help former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan broker a settlement between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. The two sides issued conflicting statements yesterday about whether talks had brought progress. Bush said Rice will deliver a firm message: "There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy."
On Darfur, the president acknowledged that the effort to assemble a full 26,000-member joint U.N.-African Union force to protect the local population has been mired in political inertia. Just 9,000 troops have been deployed so far and Sudan's government continues to play a destabilizing role, according to regional specialists.
International officials say Sudan actively supported rebels who tried to overthrow the government of Chad last month. And the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of advocacy groups, reports that military and militia attacks on towns in Darfur last week killed at least 150 people, displaced more than 12,000, and burned towns to the ground.
"I must confess, I'm a little frustrated by how slow things are moving," Bush said. "And yet we will support their efforts to find forces necessary to make a robust contribution to save lives."