Why is Bush Visiting Africa?

Could it be to demonstrate that he is truly a "compassionate conservative," or is it a public relations campaign meant to deflect attention away from a struggling domestic economy and a growing postwar crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

He told President Mogae that his five-day trip to Africa was meant to demonstrate “that we’re not only a powerful nation, but a compassionate nation”.

Some commentators have accused Mr Bush of travelling to Africa for domestic electoral advantage, but the President said that the average American “cares deeply about the fact that people are dying in record numbers because of HIV-Aids. That’s really the story that I want the people of Africa to hear, and I want the people of America to know that I’m willing to take that story to this continent.”

But not all Africans are greeting Bush with open arms ...
President Bush received a cool reception Wednesday in the capital of Africa's largest economic power [Pretoria, South Africa], as opinion leaders here and across the continent complained about his policies on Iraq, AIDS and the International Criminal Court.

Bush has come to this long-struggling region with the promise of billions of dollars for development, disease-fighting and counterterrorism efforts, and he carries the prestige of making only the third sub-Saharan Africa tour by a U.S. president. But Africans have responded with anti-Bush protests, diplomatic snubs and critical media coverage.

In South Africa, the country's revered former president, Nelson Mandela, who sharply criticized Bush on Iraq and once said Bush "cannot think properly, " arranged to be out of the country while he is here.

Bush had intended to go to a South African military base, but that was dropped in favor of a visit to the Ford plant. The Star, a South African newspaper, quoted South African government sources as saying the Americans were too embarrassed to proceed with the visit, because in recent days the administration cut military aid to South Africa and other countries that did not agree to exempt U.S. citizens from prosecution before an International Criminal Court.

An administration official said Bush "simply decided he wanted to go to the Ford plant." Senegal and Botswana agreed to the exemptions, provoking some grumbling in South Africa that Bush bought their support with military aid and a presidential visit.

Paul Vallely, of the New Zealand Herald, gives a thought-provoking analysis of Bush's motives for visiting Africa, unlike anything you'll find in the American press.
So why am I suspicious? In part because even with the increases, America is still the world's stingiest donor, giving only 0.12 per cent of its national income to aid - less than a third of the EU's percentage.

The whole of Africa still gets less American aid than Israel and Egypt.

Much of the money has to be spent on American goods and services, and aid is contingent on "eligibility criteria" which promote democracy, human rights, anti-corruption action and the private sector - and require recipients to "do nothing to undermine US interests".

But there is more. To curry favour with the Republican Party's growing African-American constituency, Bush begins his tour today on the island of Goree off the coast of Senegal, which was once a centre of the slave trade.

The bitter irony is that in many ways nothing has changed. The relationship between the United States and Africa is still characterised by unrestrained power, deep injustice and unequal exchange.

But now, the slavery is economic, not physical, and passes under the euphemism of "trade".

Bush will this week no doubt be much on his soapbox to lecture Africans on the virtues of open markets and fair trade. He will brag about America's Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Under it, African garment and textile exporters are given duty-free access to US markets.

The trouble is that most of the products in which Africa has an advantage are excluded. Take peanuts. Senegalese farmers face tariffs of more than 150 per cent to export to the US. And African textile-makers have to use US yarns and fabric.

The International Monetary Fund says these protectionist loopholes cost African exporters about US$500 million a year.

There are other strings. The "concession" is given only if African Governments open their markets to US investors, enforce US intellectual property claims and lower their trade barriers to US goods. This is unequal trade at its most insidious.

All of these so-called concessions and all the increases in aid - are wiped out by Bush's double standards in subsidising US producers by US$200 billion a year.

Last year, America's 25,000 corporate cotton farms reaped a harvest of US$4 billion in Government subsidies, three times the total amount of US aid to Africa.

In West Africa, you see the consequences. There, US subsidies cheated 11 million small cotton farmers of US$200 billion in lost income in 2001.

In effect, some of the globe's poorest people are competing against the world's richest treasury.

The answer, as ever these days, is September 11, 2001. On the one hand, the "failed states" of Africa are seen as a potential breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. On the other, there is oil.

US petroleum production is decreasing and its consumption is rising. African oil is of the "sweet" low-sulphur variety which is good for cars.

By 2005, it is estimated that between 15 and 25 per cent of US oil will come from Africa - close to the proportion now coming from the Middle East. And, apart from Nigeria, the Africans are not members of the nasty Opec cartel.

So pay no attention to that recent Christian Aid report which showed how oil concentrates power in the hands of elites, encourages irresponsible spending, chokes other economic activity, fuels poverty, impedes democracy and makes conflict more likely.