If the purpose of the five-nation tour of Africa by the United States President, Mr. George Bush was to strengthen bilateral relations between the US and Africa, it may have only partially achieved that goal. Coming in the waning days of Bush's tenure, the tour might have served the rather unintended purpose of showing the ambivalent nature of America's policy towards the development of democracy in the continent.
True, President Bush's tour was marked by huge donations in financial aids to all the countries he visited--Ghana, Liberia, Tanzania, Benin and Rwanda. But his failure to deprecate in clear terms the sham elections in Kenya was a thunderous indictment of the US leader's commitment to the eradication of electoral fraud in Africa in particular and elsewhere. His so-called intervention in the Kenyan political crisis was at best tepid. As critics have rightly noted, perhaps the US president had acted out of enlightened self-interest. Electoral disputes may, after all, not be a respecter of nations if we are to recall the Florida incident that dogged Bush's own election in 2000. Still, his failure to speak up against the avoidable shortcomings of the Kenyan presidential election took the thunder out of what would have been a win-win situation for the US leader.
Notwithstanding, the Africa tour may well be a reassuring proof that the continent has not disappeared altogether from the US foreign policy radar. At every stop, President Bush announced handsome donations in support of the campaign to eradicate diseases such as malaria or halt the spread of HIV-AIDS. Bush left no one in doubt that his administration was as committed as any other in the world to helping Africa overcome its health and development challenges.
In Tanzania where he announced a donation of more than 600 million dollars in development grant, Bush said it was the desire of the US government to encourage faster economic growth in a continent so richly endowed but so poorly governed. He said almost the same thing in other countries, urging African leaders to pay greater attention to the welfare of their people. Such generosity and timely admonition deserve to be commended. African leaders, for their part, would do well to heed it.
In truth Africa's greatest progress-stopper has been mal-governance and irresponsible leadership. Corruption accounts for more than 75 per cent of the grinding poverty in Africa. African leaders are notorious for mindless pillaging of public treasury. Leaders who corner the commonweal to themselves only make it easy for poverty to flourish.
While the US leader may have said nothing new during his Africa tour, it is noteworthy that he made similar remarks during a previous tour of the continent a couple of years earlier. That he found it necessary to restate it during his latest tour is clearly an indication that the lessons had not been learnt. How regrettable.
On the nurture of democracy in the continent, we think the US ought to adopt a more decisive policy that will seek to isolate African leaders who try to thwart the electoral preferences of their people. The Kenyan episode is particularly painful given that country's profile as a place with relative political stability. The role of President Mwai Kibaki in the entire process leaves much to be desired.
All said, Bush's Africa tour will no doubt enhance bilateral relations between the US and Africa. What is left now is for all the nations that benefited from the tour to proceed to convert the gains of the visit to tangible improvement in the living standards of their people. This will necessarily entail careful and prudent planning. We hope the opportunity will not be lost.