Pride in Obama Aside, Tanzanians Praise Bush

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2008

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Feb. 17 -- For a president in his last year in office, heading overseas is one sure-fire means of getting away from that annoying election campaign to pick his successor for a little while. Or is it?

Turns out the folks President Bush is visiting have been following the contest back home almost as much as the Americans have -- thanks to a favorite son, of sorts, in Barack Obama, whose father was born in neighboring Kenya. They watch his speeches on the news, debate his chances with friends and ask visiting Americans about the latest developments.

"Everybody's warm about Obama," said Caroline Kessy, 48, who runs a shop that sells wood carvings in the Mwenge shantytown market here. "Africa would get a good image if one of us, one of our blood, could be one of your leaders."

Ali Gamba, 44, who owns another shop with wooden elephants and giraffes, said he thinks Obama would change the world economy and bring peace to the globe. "We watch him every day through television," Gamba said. "I'm excited."

But Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete understands the difference between a would-be president and the real thing. And so when a reporter asked Kikwete, during a joint news conference with Bush on Sunday, about African enthusiasm for Obama's candidacy, he diplomatically played it down and heaped praise instead on the president who had just given him a five-year, $698 million aid package.

"Of course, people talk with excitement of Obama," Kikwete said. But he added, "For us, the most important thing is, let him be as good friend of Africa as President Bush has been."

As for Bush, he seemed unenthusiastic about being upstaged. "It seemed like there was a lot of excitement for me -- wait a minute!" he said with a laugh. "Maybe you missed it."

Actually, it would be hard to miss it here in Dar es Salaam, where the streets are thronged with people waiting to see the president wherever he goes.

For Bush, who has made fighting AIDS, malaria and poverty in Africa a signature of his presidency, the unalloyed adulation he has encountered since arriving in Africa over the weekend for a six-day tour has been a rare warm bath after years of popular discontent at home.

Bush spent his second day on the continent here inspecting his handiwork, touring a hospital where two new wings were built with U.S. money and sitting down with AIDS patients who are doing better because of medication provided by the president's program. First lady Laura Bush helped launch a program to assist orphans of parents who had AIDS and presided at the donation of an ambulance to a hospital.

The president used the occasion to appeal to Congress to reauthorize and increase funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, without tampering with controversial elements such as its emphasis on abstinence.

"It's a program that's been proven effective," Bush said in front of the State House, the presidential residence. "And I understand there's voices on both ends of the political spectrum trying to alter the program. I would ask Congress to listen to leaders on the continent of Africa, find -- analyze what works, stop the squabbling and get the program reauthorized."

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