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GEORGE W. BUSH JR – AFRICA’S ‘UNLIKELY HERO’?

Former US President George W. Bush meets Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete

Pulling up in a taxi to the Kilimanjaro Hotel overlooking the port in Dar es Salaam’s last Thursday afternoon after a hot dusty struggle through the industrial area of the city from Julius Nyerere Airport, this Kenya Forum correspondent was struck by the unusually heavy security laid on at the hotel’s entrance: a threat from Al-Shabaab or Al-Qaeda perhaps?

No, it wasn’t a terrorist threat that had led to the thick-necked guys with wires coming out of their ears and bulges in their pockets prowling the hotel, it was ‘World AIDS day’ and former US President George W. Bush was in town.

Bush flew into Dar es Salaam with his wife Laura as part of tour that included visits to Ethiopia and Zambia, to be met by Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete and his wife Salama. A photograph of the two First Ladies greeting each other, their husbands looking on, appeared on the front page of Tanzania’s Daily News under the headline ‘JK: We’re winning AIDS war’.

President Kikwete, George Bush Jr at his side, told the awaiting press and dignitaries that Tanzania had recorded significant achievements in the fight against the scourge of AIDS. Transmission rates had fallen from 18 per cent in the 1990’s to 5.7 per cent, he said, with 13 million Tanzanians undergoing voluntary counseling and testing since July 2007. (That still leaves 1.3 million Tanzanians living with AIDS and last year some 86,000 people in that country are believed to have died of the disease).

It’s a similar position in Kenya. Depending on which figures you believe there are between 1.2 and 1.5 million people infected with HIV in Kenya but infection rates are falling and those receiving antiretroviral therapy have increased to 460,000 patients at present.

The Kenyan government announced on November 22 that it intends to roll out a countrywide programme that will increase this figure to 1.2 million. Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o, speaking at the launch of Guideline for anti-retroviral therapy in Kenya, said his ministry was committed to providing HIV care and treatment and that measures were being put in place but as to concrete details as to how this was to be done he appeared to have little to say.

President Barrack Obama, speaking at a ‘celebrity studded’ World AIDS Day event back in the USA, vowed to ‘boost’ US efforts to fight AIDS ‘with a new target of providing treatment to 6 million people worldwide up to 2013, up from a target of 4 million’. It was an increase in the ‘target’, note.

President Obama said, “We can beat this disease. We can win this fight. We just have to keep at it”. It sounded great, you can just hear him saying it, can’t you. He talked of the need to “keep refining our strategy”, he called on China to “step up” as a major donor, and he credited his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, for his efforts in combating AIDs.

PEPFAR

It was the $15 billion ‘President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief’ (PEPFAR) launched in 2004 that is in large measure why George Bush Jr is held in much higher regard in Sub-Saharan Africa than his many detractors would care to think or admit.

The British left-wing newspaper The Guardian, not at all a natural supporter of any US President with the surname Bush, that in 2008 described PEPFAR as a ‘revolution that is transforming healthcare in Africa’ and an aid programme that ‘has been praised as the most significant… since the end of colonialism’. The headline for the article was, ‘George Bush: a good man in Africa’ and referred to him in the sub-headline as ‘an unlikely hero to the poor of a continent ravaged by Aids’.

OBAMA’S LEGACY?

You may not like George Walker Bush Jr, many people don’t, Amnesty International have been trying to get him arrested for crimes against humanity on his latest African sojourn, but The Guardian had a point.

‘Bill Clinton’s legacy in Africa was the debacle of Somalia and the abandonment of Rwanda’s Tutsis to the 1994 genocide’, The Guardian’s article by Chris McGreal, declared.

Bill Clinton sounded and looked better, Barrack Obama sounds and looks better, but Bush has surely done more for Africa than either of them. And the Kenya Forum has another point arising from Bush’s visit, or rather a question. What will Barrack Obama’s legacy be to Africa?

President Kenyatta declared winner.

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