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Powell shows the way for Bush Africa policy


SECRETARY OF STATE Colin L. Powell's four-country tour of Africa reflects his personal priorities, not his president's.

The Bush administration campaigned for election with an implied promise almost not to have an Africa policy. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld ruminates about reducing even the small role in military training that exists.

But Mr. Powell makes clear he cares, is engaged and hopes to offer U.S. resources to help African efforts in behalf of health, democracy, peace, law and order.

The most hopeful sign was his pledge to appoint an envoy to seek an end to Sudan's civil war, which causes death, starvation, homelessness and slavery. Otherwise, the health and military training programs he is boosting are continuations of modest Clinton administration efforts to support African self-help, nothing more.

Even these face hostile scrutiny from administration budget-trimmers. But the 600 million people in 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are a major part of the world in which the United States lives. Helping them to deal with crises is in the U.S. national interest, regardless of where Mr. Powell may trace his ancestry. It is in the national not personal interest, whoever is secretary of state.

The U.S.-financed African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), under which 30 U.S. instructors help train 600 soldiers of dirt-poor Mali for peace-keeping duties, is a worthy if tiny effort. The Clinton administration's Africa policy, after reeling from the failed Somalia intervention, went in the right direction. It should be strengthened, not reversed.

So it is reasonable to hope that Mr. Powell helps convince President Thabo Mbeki that containing HIV is fighting AIDS.

Then he should have an easier time convincing President Bush that combating diseases and training African troops as peace-keepers in conflicts where neither would not want to send U.S. troops are good and necessary policies.

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