Bush, in Africa, Issues Warning to Kenya

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Feb. 16 -- President Bush opened a six-day, five-nation tour of Africa on Saturday with a warning to Kenya's government that it needs to agree to a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition to settle a post-election upheaval that has torn the country apart.

Arriving to trumpets-blaring, red-carpet welcomes, Bush hoped to use the trip to highlight success stories in Africa and the programs he has launched to fight disease, poverty and illiteracy here. But he was immediately confronted with the latest crisis to challenge stability on the continent and defended his record of conflict resolution in the region.

"We've been plenty active on these issues, and we'll continue to be active on these issues because they're important issues for the U.S. security and for our interests," Bush said after landing in the tiny coastal country of Benin. He noted he will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya on Monday. "The key is that the leaders hear from her firsthand the U.S. desires to see that there be no violence and that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties."

A senior administration official later told reporters that the administration wants to use the Rice visit to pressure Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to compromise with his opposition. The official expressed frustration that Kibaki seems to assume unqualified U.S. support and said that Rice will tell him, "If you can't make a deal, you're not going to have good relations with and support of the United States." The official added, "We're not going to support a Kenya government that's going on as business as usual."

Kenya is the most urgent of several crises flaring in Africa as Bush makes the second trip of his presidency here. Rebels invaded Chad to try to topple the government, new violence has erupted in the Darfur region of Sudan, warlords are fighting in Somalia and a border standoff between Ethiopia and Eritrea threatens to reopen war. The U.N. Security Council devoted nine of its first 16 meetings this year to conflicts in Africa, even before its emergency meeting Friday on Eritrea.

But Bush has dedicated this trip to showcasing what works, rather than what does not, on a continent perennially plagued by crisis. After leaving Benin, he headed here to Tanzania, where he landed later in the day, and he also is scheduled to visit Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia -- countries chosen as models of promoting reforms, moving toward democracy and fighting AIDS and malaria. He defended his attention on the positive. "When you herald success," Bush said, "it helps others realize what is possible."

Bush has championed several programs targeted at Africa during his presidency, including a five-year, $15 billion effort to combat AIDS, another aimed at reducing malaria and a program called the Millennium Challenge Account that ties assistance to anti-corruption and market reforms.

Bush received warm welcomes in Benin and Tanzania. He became the first president to visit Benin, a cotton-growing sliver of land in West Africa that received a five-year, $307 million Millennium Challenge contract in 2006. Although he stayed just three hours and never left Cadjehoun Airport in Cotonou as Air Force One was refueled, he was greeted as a visiting king. Marching bands played, and dancers in flowing dresses swayed. President Thomas Boni Yayi presented him with the Grand Cross of the National Order of Benin and designated a George W. Bush Day.

The ceremony in Dar es Salaam later in the day was even more elaborate as dancers wore colorful sarongs emblazoned with Bush's face. A beaming Bush bounced along with the music. Tens of thousands of people lined his route from the airport to his hotel as night fell and he passed a series of billboards saying "Thank You for Your Support in Fighting HIV/AIDS" and "Thank You for Your Support in Fighting Malaria."

Bush plans to seal a $698 million contract with Tanzania on Sunday. "Those dollars come with great compassion from the American people," Bush said in Cotonou. "We care when we see suffering. We believe we're all children of God."

Bush will not visit Kenya or other trouble spots on this trip but said he will discuss them with other leaders. The December election in Kenya, which opposition leader Raila Odinga claims Kibaki stole, touched off a wave of ethnic unrest that has left more than 1,000 dead and 600,000 dislocated in what had traditionally been one of Africa's most stable nations.

Rice's trip there Monday will last just hours, and she will not become deeply involved in the talks. But Bush aides bristled at the notion that he is not doing enough to solve this and other crises in Africa. After a reporter asked him about that in Cotonou, a senior administration official approached the pool of journalists following him to make the case that he has been extremely involved over the years. "We solved Liberia," the official said. "We solved southern Sudan."

Bush aides then dispatched Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, to the press cabin of Air Force One during the flight to Tanzania to tout his record. She noted that under a two-year-old Bush program, 39,000 African peacekeepers have been trained, with tens of thousands more planned. She said that seven major wars were being fought in Africa when Bush took office; now it has been reduced to two.

In Kenya, Frazer said, Bush and Rice want to help but not interfere with former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan's efforts. "Right now, we don't want to supplant Kofi Annan's mediation," she said. As for the president, she noted that he has made several statements on the crisis in Kenya and will speak with regional leaders during this trip. "At the right moment in time," she said, "the president will engage."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company