By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
June 13, 2005
"We believe Africa is a continent full of promise and talent and opportunity, and the United States will do our part to help the people of Africa realize the brighter future they deserve," Bush told reporters after meeting with the officials.
Bush said the five - Festus Mogae of Botswana, John Kufuor of Ghana, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Armando Guebuza of Mozambique - have made "a strong statement ... about democracy and the importance of democracy on the continent of Africa."
"All of us share a fundamental commitment to advancing democracy and opportunity on the continent of Africa," Bush said. "And all of us believe that one of the most effective ways to advance democracy and deliver hope to the people of Africa is through mutually beneficial trade."
Bush has focused on Africa in recent days, discussing it with British Prime Minister Tony Blair early last week and following up Wednesday with an address to the African people broadcast over the Voice of America network.
Despite the president's praise for their efforts, some of the democratically elected officials who visited the White House represent countries that are listed among the world's poorest. Mozambique often is considered the poorest nation on Earth, and is included with Niger on UNICEF'S list of least-developed countries.
Diamond-rich Botswana also faces hurdles. Globally, it trails only Swaziland in the incidence of HIV - almost 40 percent of Botswana's sexually active adults have the virus that causes AIDS.
So the announcement Friday that foreign ministers of the world's eight richest nations - including the United States - agreed to a debt-relief package was good news for those ushered into the Oval Office on Monday. Three of the countries represented - Ghana, Mozambique and Niger - stand to benefit most from the move.
Despite his support for debt relief, Bush rejected another entreaty from Blair - that the United States and other developed nations double aid to Africa over the next several years for infrastructure and anti-HIV efforts.
Bush on Monday noted that the United States already is the global leader in aid to Africa - sending about $6.2 billion there annually. He also said that nations covered under the African Growth and Opportunity Act - those promoting democratic reforms, consisting of 37 of 53 African nations - have seen trade with America jump 88 percent last year.
"In other words, we pledged to open our markets, we have opened our markets, and people are now making goods that the United States consumers want to buy," Bush said. "And that's helpful. That's how you spread wealth. That's how you encourage hope and opportunity."
Bush also vowed continued vigilance regarding AIDS, saying that American assistance already has contributed to treatment of more than 200,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa.
"The United States of America is firmly committed to working with government to help fight the pandemic of AIDS," he said. "And I want you all to know that when America makes a commitment, we mean what we say. ..."
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