Former president George W. Bush spoke at the Africa leaders summit this week. He was funny: “And if there are Members of Congress here, thank you for coming. If not, why not? (Laughter.)” He was self-deprecating: “The last two summers, we spent time in Kabwe and Livingstone, Zambia, helping refurbish and reopen health clinics. I was in charge of the painting. (Laughter.) She was in charge of going over the spots I missed. (Laughter.) She had a lot of work cut out for her. But in my defense, I was beginning to study the impressionist movement. (Laughter.)”

Unlike President Obama, he did not rely on platitudes or speak as if Africa were one big, undifferentiated country. He spoke about specific programs in three countries in which he is involved and announced he was extending his work to two more countries:

Three years ago, the Bush Institute launched Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, which as Laura described is a public-private partnership that combats women’s cancers with a simple commitment: People living with AIDS should not be dying from preventable and treatable diseases. By bringing together a broad partnership of government, corporations, foundations, and multilateral organizations, we set out to raise awareness, screen high-risk populations, provide HPV vaccinations, and treat those with lesions through simple, low-cost methods. We work to lift the shadow of stigma from the cancers that target women. Our goal was not to build a bureaucracy, but to build a broad, shared, practical commitment. And we took the PEPFAR approach as our model: we work to show an idea can work, to increase capacity, and to bring it to scale.
And in the three countries where Pink Ribbon Red ribbon started work – in Zambia, Botswana, and Tanzania – we’re seeing results.  More than 100,000 women have thus far been screened for cervical and breast cancer. (Applause.) The First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba, has been a champion, fighting against false rumors about the HPV vaccine – something that needs to be done here in America as well. (Applause.) Mama Kikwete, the First Lady of Tanzania, has been a great advocate and led the mobilization for mass screenings. (Applause.)  . . . These programs survive and thrive when local leaders take ownership and commit their resources, as we’ve seen in Tanzania, Zambia, and Botswana. Our goal is to create working models – proven partnerships – that additional countries, over time, can expand and incorporate into their own national plans. This has always been my approach to development: Partnership, not paternalism. And so I’m pleased to announce today that Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is expanding to include two additional partner countries: Namibia and Ethiopia. (Applause.)

It was a reminder how dedicated he was and is to women’s rights and human rights more generally. (“One group that requires our particular attention is women and girls. We know that young women are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS – because they are particularly vulnerable to poverty and violence. And women with HIV are four to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer, because their bodies have a reduced ability to fight infections such as HPV. This fatal link between HIV and cervical cancer can be broken. It is our job to break it.”)

The week ended with an admission of sorts from his successor. It seems we should have left behind forces in Iraq as the Bush administration wanted. It seems that retrenchment and retreat, just as Bush predicted, is a recipe for violence and instability. It seems Obama was handed, by his own admission, a stable and peaceful Iraq, let it deteriorate and now is forced to go back in. And yes, Obama is no George W. Bush.

For his efforts in saving millions of people from AIDS and other diseases, his ongoing spotlight on human rights and his far-sightedness on the Middle East, we can say well done, President Bush.