Bush assures Africa on U.S. bases

The Baltimore Sun

ACCRA, Ghana -- After crossing Africa from west to east and back, the central issues that President Bush brought on his tour came together yesterday in the white stucco Osu Castle, Ghana's seat of government.

With gusto, Bush declared "that's baloney" to the notion that the United States was preparing to establish military bases in Africa.

"Or, as we say in Texas, that's bull," he said at a news conference with Ghanaian President John Kufuor.

Bush defended the foundation of his program to combat HIV and AIDS, which emphasizes premarital abstinence, fidelity and the use of condoms. He was responding to a question from a Ghanaian reporter who said that in African societies "this doesn't really strike a chord because multiple sexual relationships or partner relationships is the reality, though it's not spoken of in public."

Bush also challenged the idea that China's progress in Africa in seizing commercial advantages, particularly in energy development, might come at the cost of U.S. opportunities.

"I don't view Africa as a zero-sum for China and the United States," Bush said.

Bush, on the fifth day of a six-day trip, drove through streets lined for miles with schoolgirls in yellow dresses and boys in khaki shorts and yellow or blue shirts. He exchanged rhetorical bear hugs of admiration with Kufuor, who, like Bush, is watching a campaign to elect his successor.

Five decades after Ghana gained independence from Britain, the country's political history is largely one of coups and corruption. Kufuor was Ghana's first president installed after a democratic election.

Taken with Bush's final stop on the five-nation trip, Liberia, which he was to visit for several hours today, Ghana is seen by the White House as an encouraging demonstration of political progress on the continent.

U.S. relations with Ghana are on a smooth enough footing that what had been scheduled as a 65-minute series of meetings ended early. What was perhaps the most sensitive issue, the nature of a new U.S. military command responsible for Africa and whether its establishment would mean permanently stationing troops on the continent, appeared to have been resolved with Bush's promise to place no more than a headquarters operation in the region.

Liberia is seeking to host the offices of the new Africa Command, which Bush said would help provide military assistance to nations on the continent for, among other things, peacekeeping missions.

In an opening statement at the news conference after he met with Kufuor, Bush stated: "We do not contemplate adding new bases."

"I want to dispel the notion that all of a sudden America is bringing all kinds of military to Africa," he said. "It's simply not true."

Kufuor, who previously raised objections to the U.S. plans, suggested he was satisfied with Bush's explanation.

Bush came to Africa to draw attention to U.S. health efforts across the continent, primarily in fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Yesterday, he announced that the United States would make $350 million available over five years for treatment of what he called "neglected tropical diseases," among them hookworm, river blindness and elephantiasis. The current budget for such programs is $15 million, the White House said.

Responding to the question on HIV/AIDS and whether his focus on abstinence and fidelity could work here, he said, "I understand customs and norms." But, noting that the program was "comprehensive," he said there was a third element, "called condoms."

"The program has been unbelievably effective," Bush said.

But Taylor Royle, a spokeswoman for the ONE campaign to end extreme poverty and the AIDS epidemic, said that the number of infections in Africa peaked in 1998, according to the United Nations anti-AIDS office. It was on its way down when Bush began his campaign against the disease in 2003, she said.

Bush also said 50,000 people were receiving anti-retroviral drugs in the countries that are part of his AIDS relief program when he took office, and 1.2 million are receiving them now.

"I monitor the results," he said. "And if it looks like it's not working, then we'll change."

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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