An African Ally Is Well Served

Fete for Ghana's Leader May Be Final State Dinner on Bush Menu

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008; Page C01

President John Kufuor of Ghana was the guest of honor last night at what seems likely to be the last state dinner hosted by President Bush -- and only the sixth he's held during nearly eight years in office. But the lavish proceedings had an elegant air of business as usual.

The guest list was light on glitter -- with baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield the closest thing to a star -- and weighted toward NGOs and business executives. A jovial-looking Vice President Dick Cheney was on hand, as was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, radiant in blue and accompanied by trusty date Gene A. Washington, an NFL executive. They and other guests filed into the State Dining Room while the president and first lady -- in a long-sleeved collared dress in shimmering purplish blue -- posed for photos with Kufuor and his wife, Theresa.

In toasts before dinner (Maine lobster gratin, ginger-scented lamb, banana-coconut pudding) Bush and Kufuor were brief but ebullient, cheerfully mentioning their soon-to-end terms.

"John and I will be in the ex-presidents club in the next few months," Bush said. "I'm confident we've left behind an enduring relationship between our two countries." He called the guests "compassionate people" who care about Africa's future, and thanked Kufuor for helping Ghana "build a thriving democracy."

Kufuor called Bush "a great man . . . a strong man" and the "most supportive of American presidents toward Africa." He drew laughs by pointing out that he and Bush took office the same year and will leave in the same year, "so perhaps we are two of a kind."

After dinner, the guests moved to the Rose Garden for a performance by the cast of "The Lion King."

This was the second such fete for an African leader during the current Bush administration (the first being the dinner for Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and his wife, Lucy, in October 2003). Ghana's last leader, Jerry Rawlings, was President Bill Clinton's guest at a state dinner in February 1999.

Bush and Kufuor see eye to eye on many issues, including Kufuor's commitment to improving education and combating malaria and HIV-AIDS. Kufuor said yesterday that as part of the Millennium Challenge Compact, Ghana will soon begin spending $547 million to renovate schools, increase agricultural productivity, expand infrastructure and support rural development. And Bush's trip to Ghana in February solidified a partnership built on respect for ballot-box democracy: Kufuor's election in December 2000 was considered a triumph for Ghanaian voters, who had been under Rawlings's rule since he seized power in 1979.

Earlier in the day, during joint remarks on the South Lawn and in the Rose Garden, Kufuor engaged Bush on climate change, saying the United States "must be in the vanguard" of addressing global warming. But he was quick to add, "You have been good and I hope history will judge you well."

"Laura and I are looking forward to having you to dinner tonight," Bush said. "I promise not to unleash the dance moves that I first displayed in Ghana, in what was one of the most memorable trips of my presidency." (As well as one of the most memorable YouTube records of that presidency.)

It's quite possible that Kufuor's first state dinner will be Bush's last. The mammoth events take a few months to plan . . . and, truth is, the president doesn't really like these kinds of things.

Unlike his father -- whose first year in the White House saw three formal "working" dinners for Mideast leaders, a state dinner for Pakistan, four more black-tie White House dinners for leaders of Australia, Mexico, Panama and the Philippines, and dozens of smaller functions -- Bush has generally opted for smaller, more informal fetes.

When he has chosen the state dinner route, political points have been made. Then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox, whose dinner was held Sept. 5, 2001, was lauded as a good neighbor and important ally. Poland and the Philippines, honored in separate dinners after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were both members of the "coalition of the willing."

The dinner for Kibaki amounted to a diplomatic apology after Bush skipped a planned trip to Kenya, citing security concerns, and the last dinner -- for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in May 2007 -- celebrated old alliances with glitz and glamour.


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