Saturday, February 23, 2008

So what was the visit REALLY about?

"We're going to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. Each of these countries is blessed with natural beauty, vibrant culture, and an unmistakable spirit of energy and optimism. Africa in the 21st century is a continent of potential. That's how we view it."- President George W. Bush

The "potential" of Africa beckoned the first visit of US President George W. Bush since he became President. Bush made visits to discuss America's Africa policy with various leaders, as well as to pledge aid to hospitals for treatment of the AIDS epidemic, and to schools in light of the continent's vast illiteracy rate.

Networks published pictures and video footage of content and supportive citizens, eager leaders, traditional dancers, and orphaned children. You know they had to include the children.

The skepticism before his trip was that the only reason he visited the continent was because the United States planned on building a US military base somewhere in Africa, in light of the nation's ongoing war in Iraq. He immediately dispelled the rumors in an associated press article as "baloney", ensuring the Ghanaian president that a base was not what he was interested in. Nigeria and South Africa tensed up at the news, sure that
"the plan signals an unwanted expansion of American power on the continent or is a cover for protecting Africa's vast oil resources on the United States' behalf." -Associated Press

African media even saw America's heightened interest as a response to the significant presence of socialist China and India. The Chinese have heavily invested in Africa in the past decade, specifically to recovering nations of war.

So what was Bush's visit really about? Good will? Press? Guilt? Humanitarian efforts? AIDS? China?

AFRICOM.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is currently based in Germany and was initiated in February 2007 as (according to their website), "a 10-year thought process within the Department of Defense (DOD) acknowledging the emerging strategic importance of Africa, and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S."

Headed by General William E. Ward (a Morgan State University alum), the program will hopefully move to Africa in September of 2008 and begin its full operation. The hope is that AFRICOM will promote and keep relations with more than fifty African nations....and be responsible for U.S. Military operations in those nations (A.K.A. Military bases).

The discomfort of most African nations with a permanent American presence is the memory of the last time the U.S. was allowed permanent military presence and trade on the continent, about, say, 400 years ago.

Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered Liberia as a base for the AFRICOM headquarters, seeing the program as an opportunity for sustained peace in the small nation.

We'll see.

-Wayetu Moore

*Sidenote: I love the look on the little girl's face front and center. She's looking at the photographer like "Why is this white man talking to me like I'm deaf?"

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