Bush's Mission Accomplished — In Africa

A Major Bush Success

In his final press conference Monday, President Bush took strong exception to a question premised on the idea that he had caused the United States to become unpopular throughout the world. 

Far from flailing around for an example of a place where the US -- and he, in particular, remain popular, Bush was direct: "You go to Africa, you ask Africans about America's generosity and compassion..."  

Fact is, though, he's right.  All the critics might not love him in New York (and Washington, DC), but they sure do in Africa:

Africa as a continent stands out as the main region in the world where Bush is most likely to be missed and where widespread support for the 62-year-old Texan mystified his critics. 

When he visited the continent in February, he was greeted everywhere by excited, happy crowds.

Pew foundation polls suggested that he had approval ratings of up to 80%, even in countries with a dominantly Muslim population.

In Darfur, many people reportedly name their newborn children George Bush.

"While Bush's critics have given him little credit for his African initiatives, they will be among his most enduring legacies in a region of the world neglected by policymakers from both parties for too long," wrote Andrew Natsios, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, in an article in the Boston Globe last year.

It helps that America is not fighting any wars in Africa, as it is in the Middle East or Central Asia.

So in Africa, Bush would be remembered for "playing a central role as peacemaker in ending a 20-year civil war between the Arab north and African south," wrote Mr Natsios.

"It was the Bush administration that first raised the alarm about the atrocities in Darfur, organized a massive humanitarian relief effort to save people in the displaced camps, and rallied an international coalition to send peacekeeping troops to restore order through the United Nations and the African Union," he added.

When Mr Bush arrived in Tanzania in February, President Jakaya Kikwete poured praise on him.

"Different people may have different views about you and your administration and your legacy," he said.

"But we in Tanzania, if we are to speak for ourselves and for Africa, we know for sure that you, Mr President, and your administration have been good friends of our country and have been good friends of Africa." 

And the HIV/AIDS program is a major achievement by this administration:  

AIDS is no longer a death sentence for people like Ndaxu Mungunda, a Namibian found to be HIV positive after the birth of her child. She, her husband and child were given AIDS drugs provided at all major Namibian hospitals.

Four years later, at age 40, she and her husband look forward to something that is by no means a certainty in Africa's AIDS era – a ripe old age.

At a 22-bed clinic run by Living Hope, a church-based charity near Cape Town, 85 percent of patients now survive. A few years ago, it was the opposite, said Living Hope volunteer Pat Ball, a retired teacher from North Carolina.

In a sunny room furnished with toys and a play kitchen at the Soweto Hospice in Johannesburg, dying children are given a chance to enjoy what remains of their lives.

"We want to give them their childhood back," said Louisa Ferreira, director of a nine-bed pediatrics unit funded by the program – which has helped care for nearly 4 million orphans and vulnerable children overall. "The hospice is not about death. It's about life."

U.S. Ambassador Eric Bost brims with superlatives about the achievements in South Africa and believes Bush will be judged more kindly in history than on Jan. 21.

Ironically, this was one of the priority policies for Secretary of State Colin Powell during the early days of the administration.  Yet, the evangelical Christians also saw ministry to Africa as an important mission.  Conservative congressional Republicans like former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas regularly spoke out on the need for attention on Africa. There was far less conflict between the scientific/medical community and the faith-based religious right as might be expected. As a result, the continent was the beneficiary of the most consistent aspect of Bush policies.

Even on issues of much lesser import, Bush managed to strike the right tone. During his African tour last year, he delivered Little League equipment to a a neophyte team in Ghana.

And so, as his administration comes to an end, how's this for a great irony:  In Africa, newborn sons are named after George W. Bush.  Yet his legacy to this country is the election of a black man -- whose father was a true son of Africa.

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