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Bush visits Africa to promote US image, strategic interests
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US President George W. Bush embarks Friday on a week-long trip to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia in an apparent aim to promote a kind and gentle US image as well as US strategic interests in the African continent.


"The trip will be an opportunity to demonstrate America's commitment to the people of these countries and to Africa as a whole," White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Thursday.


"The trip will highlight how the United States has partnered closely with the people of Africa to address the challenges of disease, poverty and security. Together, we've really made remarkable progress," Hadley said.


The US media has pointed out that fighting disease, poverty and promoting growth, development and security will be Bush's main themes as he embarks his second trip to Africa.


It will be Bush's second Africa trip since he took office in 2001. Bush last visited Africa in 2003 when he focused mainly on showcasing democratic advances and US commitment to tackling AIDS.


While meeting with visiting Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure in the White House on Tuesday, Bush said his commitment to helping Africa battle corruption, HIV/AIDS and malaria as well as promoting literacy remained strong.


"I assured the president that our commitment remains strong," Bush said.


During his Africa trip, Bush is expected to highlight his call for doubling aid to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria, and a 698-million-dollar grant to Tanzania as part of his Millennium Challenge Corporation aid program, according to U.S. media.


The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US aid program to countries that adhere to democratic principles and sound economic principles, has approved 698 million dollars in aid for Tanzania and Bush will sign the pact during his visit in the country.


According to a Pew Global Attitude Project report released in July last year, "US image is much stronger in Africa than in other regions of the world."


"Generally Bush is viewed positively in Africa, as is the US, " according to Anthony Holmes, director of the Africa program at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Another aim for Bush's Africa trip is to promote US strategic interests in the continent.


"Africa is also increasingly vital to our strategic interests ... We know that if Africa were to continue on the old path of decline, it would be mere likely to produce failed states, foster ideologies of radicalism and spread violence across borders. We also know that if Africa grows in freedom, and prosperity and justice, its people will choose a better course," Bush said in a speech at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on Thursday.


"For all these reasons, America has dramatically increased our commitment to development in Africa," Bush said.


During the speech, Bush also announced that he would dispatch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya to support efforts to end violence and help political reconciliation there.


"In Kenya, we are backing the efforts of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan to end the crisis," Bush said.


"And when we are on the continent, I have asked Condi Rice to travel to Kenya to support the work of the former secretary general and to deliver a message directly to Kenya's leaders," Bush said, adding that "there must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy."


Kenya is of particular concern to the United States as Kenya, once viewed as one of Africa's most stable countries but now possibly on the brink of disaster. Kenya's disputed elections in December last year ignited fighting between supporters of the government and main opposition party.


According to the Kenyan Red Cross, over 1,000 people have been killed in rioting, tribal fighting and police raids since the election and some 300,000 people have been displaced.


Violence and conflicts will surely run against US interests in the continent as the United States has announced plans to establish an Africa Command (AFRICOM) to oversee military operations on the African continent.


"Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth in Africa," Bush said in a statement in February last year announcing the news to establish the AFRICOM.


In addition to Bush himself, Secretary of State Rice visited Africa in December last year to show the United States attaches importance to the continent.


However, some US analysts have voiced different views over US ambitions in Africa. According to Nicole Lee, the executive director of TransAfrica Forum, a US think tank focusing on US policy toward Africa, a greater US military presence in Africa is "neither wise nor productive." Instead, the United States should focus on "development assistance and respect for sovereignty," she said.


(Xinhua News Agency February 15, 2008)

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