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Wednesday, July 9, 2003 | Updated 6:22 p.m. ET
photo: Opinion leaders echo these Pretoria protesters in voicing their feelings about the president. (AFP)
President Arrives to Protests
Bush's Africa tour greeted by diplomatic snubs, critcism in media.
President Bush Receives Cool Reception in South Africa
Policies on Iraq, AIDS, International Court Sources of Criticism
PRETORIA, South Africa, July 9 -- President Bush received a cool reception today in the capital of Africa's largest economic power, as opinion leaders across the continent complained about his policies on Iraq, AIDS and the International Criminal Court.
Bush has come with many goodies for this long struggling region: the promise of billions of new dollars for development, disease fighting and counter-terrorism efforts, and the prestige conferred by his making only the third sub-Saharan Africa tour by a U.S. president. But Africans have responded with anti-Bush demonstrations, diplomatic snubs and critical media coverage.
Here in South Africa, the country's revered former president Nelson Mandela, who sharply criticized Bush on Iraq and once said he "cannot think properly," arranged to be out of the country for the three nights Bush is here.
The country's dominant political party, the African National Congress, led a 2,000-person march to the U.S. Embassy here today in protest of Bush's visit. Hundreds more marched in Cape Town.
The current president, Thabo Mbeki, left the country today after a half day with Bush to attend the 52-nation African Union meeting in Mozambique with the rest of Africa's leaders. Bush will not be meeting with the African Union.
The reception for Bush in Africa is not as overtly hostile as those he has received in places such as Germany, where tens of thousands filled the streets to protest what they called his unilateralist and militaristic policies. At the same time, however, the reception contrasts markedly with the large and adoring crowds that greeted former President Bill Clinton five years ago; some still have photos of Clinton in their homes.
In Uganda, which Bush will visit briefly on Friday, ordinary people are proud and happy to have an American president visit. But they see Bush's interest in Africa as simply part of his war against terrorism. Already, intellectuals in newspapers and on the radio in Uganda have characterized him as a "cold fish," who does not really care about Africans.
"Sure, Bush is coming to visit our AIDS clinic -- and he will be here for a whole four hours," said Walfula Oguttu, editor-in-chief and managing director of The Monitor, Uganda's well-regarded independent newspaper. "But we all know it all has to do with fighting terrorism. His AIDS money is trying to buy Africa. That is what everyone is saying." Sitting in the busy newsroom in the capital city of Kampala, Oguttu said Africans are also greeting Bush with suspicion because he ruled "tyrannically" against the international community by going to war in Iraq.
In Nairobi, which was scheduled to be a destination for Bush before his Africa trip was postponed in January, Kenyans are angry that Bush is not including a trip to visit the African victims of terrorist attacks in last year's bombing of a Mombasa hotel or the U.S. Embassy bombing of 1998.
"It is true Bush is going to spend a sum of money . . . surpassing any his predecessors committed to Africa, and yet he will never be liked on this continent," read an editorial in The Nation, Kenya's influential daily. "In Kenya especially, America has become a dirty word. . . . Africans respect power, of course. But there is something they respect more. Wisdom. They are not sure what they are seeing in the White House represents anything close to that."
Bush has avoided public rifts with his hosts in Africa. In a press conference today, Bush and Mbeki emphasized their common ground while avoiding differences on contentious issues such as Zimbabwe's leadership, AIDS and Iraq. Mbeki told Bush in a luncheon toast later today that "we would not but receive you as a friend and an honored guest," adding: "We're greatly strengthened, Mr. President, by the knowledge that we have you as our partner and friend."
When reporters quizzed Bush and Mbeki about their differences over Zimbabwe -- Bush has been highly critical of President Robert Mugabe while Mbeki has sought to negotiate with the authoritarian ruler to end violence there --Bush said the reporters were trying to "create tensions which don't exist."
Bush and his hosts have reason to be cordial. Bush is seeking help in the fight against terrorists. And countries including South Africa and Botswana are in negotiations with the administration over a potentially lucrative free-trade agreement.
But tensions show themselves in other ways. Bush had originally intended to visit a South African military base today, but that was dropped in favor of a visit to a Ford Motor plant. The Star, a South African newspaper, quoted South African government sources as saying the Americans were "too embarrassed" to proceed with the visit, because in recent days the administration cut military aid to South Africa and other countries that did not agree to exempt Americans from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
An administration official said Bush "simply decided he wanted to go to the Ford plant." Senegal and Botswana agreed to the exemptions, provoking some grumbling here that Bush bought their support with military aid and a presidential visit. "Underpinning this apparent largesse . . . is his uncompromising stick to drop developing countries from his list of military beneficiaries if they do not grant immunity to U.S. military personnel against crimes against humanity," said Na-iem Dollie, a respected on-line journalist in Nigeria.
Despite Mbeki's cordial embrace of Bush, his African National Congress, is protesting Bush's visit. According to the Sowetan, a South African newspaper, a number of members of parliament and other politicians have "snubbed invites" from Mbeki to lunch with Bush today. The paper's editor, John Dludlu, wrote that rising anti-American sentiment in Africa "has everything to do with his behavior in and out of office," on Iraq, trade and AIDS. A cartoon in the paper shows corpses tied to Bush's motorcade labeled "International Justice," "Third World" and "U.N."
Even in Senegal, a peaceful West African country not known for anti-Americanism, about 50 demonstrators objected to his visit before his arrival Monday with signs saying "Bush butcher" and "Receiving Bush is like making a pact with the devil."
Much of the criticism comes with the job of being president in a post 9/11 world when security makes it difficult for Bush to interact with the populace. In Uganda, for example, local farmers are annoyed with Bush because they have been asked to cut their trees for security reasons by municipal authorities in Entebbe.
Other criticism comes from the nature of Bush's fast-paced sprint through the continent. Sitting in a caf in downtown Kampala, Agnes Tiisa, a station manager at Mama FM, a popular women's radio station in Uganda, complained that Bush "is going to come here for only four hours, praise AIDS and not help with any of our real problems. People feel he is using us to get re-elected in his own country. We Africans care about spending time."
Even some of the AIDS researchers and doctors in Uganda, people Bush is celebrating, have gripes. That's mostly because he appointed a former executive of a pharmaceutical company to be an adviser on international AIDS. On the world's poorest continent, nothing is demonized more than the drug companies that charge prices that almost no African can dream of affording for life-saving drugs.
"Now there is the problem that everyone is pre-judging the guy and saying he is only here to help us in his own self-interest," said David Serwadda, acting director of the Institute for Public Health at Makerere University and a long time HIV/AIDS researcher.
But Serwadda said he is willing to give Bush and his AIDS policy a chance, as long as they bring in the promised cash quickly. "People are dying right now," he said. "Bush will have to move fast to make an impact and win us over."