Bush Explains Focus of Africa Military Command
In a press availability at Osu Castle with Ghanaian President John Kufuor February 20, Bush said, "I know there is a controversial subject brewing around that is not very well understood, and that's 'Why would America stand up what's called AFRICOM?'"
"I want to dispel the notion that all of a sudden America is bringing all kinds of military to Africa. It's just simply not true. This is a way of making our command relevant to the strategy that we have put in place," Bush said.
AFRICOM represents a unique command structure, the president explained. "It is a command structure that is aiming to help provide military assistance to African nations so African nations are more capable of dealing with Africa's conflicts -- like peacekeeping training."
Obviously, Bush said, "we have got an issue in Darfur [Sudan] that we all have to work together to solve. I am very pleased that the AU [African Union] and the U.N. hybrid force should be moving in there -- I would like to see it move in there quicker -- but the whole purpose of AFRICOM is to help [African] leaders deal with African problems."
"We do not contemplate adding new bases," the president stressed. "The purpose of this is not to add military bases." Bush sought to dispel incorrect press reports and rumors in Ghana, which said he was seeking to build a base in Ghana. "That's baloney," he said.
Bush said that in his talks with President Kufuor, the Ghanaian leader told him, "'You are not going to build any military bases in Ghana'" -- to which Bush said he replied, "I understand, nor do we want to."
Bush quickly added that this does not mean that AFRICOM might not want to establish an office somewhere in Africa, and he repeated again that AFRICOM is a "new concept."
NEW TROPICAL DISEASE INITIATIVE
Bush also announced a $350 million initiative over five years to target neglected tropical diseases such as hookworm and river blindness. "This is all part of our initiative -- whether it be on HIV/AIDS or malaria -- to help save lives," he said.
Additionally, Bush announced that the United States is spending nearly $17 million to help Ghana in its fight against malaria.
On the subject of China's influence in Africa, Bush said: "I don't view Africa as a zero-sum for China and the United States. I think we can pursue agendas without pursing a great sense of competition." Bush added that he does not view China as a "fierce competitor" on the continent.
The policy of the United States, he said, is aimed at "helping people. Trade helps people," he said, and that is why completing the so-called Doha round of international trade talks successfully is so important.
Bush did say that he presumed African leaders would impose high standards -- such as requiring the employment of local workers, imposing environmental protections and protections against undue exploitation -- on China or any other country bringing investment capital to the continent. That is the way it should be in dealing with any country, he said. "The United States is willing to live with those standards. We believe in those standards," he said.
In his comments, Kufuor thanked Bush for refuting the incorrect rumors about AFRICOM and any notion that the United States is intending to build military bases on the continent.
"I believe the explanation the president has given should" put an end to the speculation, he said, so the relationship between Ghana and the United States will grow even stronger in the future.
Additionally, he thanked Bush for creating a fund to fight neglected diseases in Africa. Kufuor said his government -- like others in Africa -- is committed to fighting such maladies but lacks the resources to do so effectively.
Turning to malaria, Kufuor said he read that morning in a newspaper that malaria might kill more people in Ghana than HIV/AIDS and, for that reason, he thanked Bush for his announcement of $17 million to fight malaria in Ghana. "So any help we can get in our fight to contain and eradicate this disease should be most welcome to the people of Ghana," he said.
Bush was greeted on his arrival at Osu Castle -- the seat of government in Ghana -- by Kufuor and an honor guard clad in gray and light-blue-trimmed uniforms while traditional musicians played in the background. The castle, which was built in the 1600s, is located in Accra on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean's Gulf of Guinea.
After leaving Osu Castle, President Bush lunched with Peace Corps volunteers to commemorate Ghana's being the first country to receive Peace Corps assistance. The president also visited with beneficiaries of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID's) West Africa Trade Hub.
The USAID Trade Hub in Accra works with another USAID trade hub in Dakar, Senegal, through the African Global Competitiveness Initiative (AGCI) to facilitate trade in 21 West African countries across the region.
The regional trade hubs -- which also are in Nairobi, Kenya, and Gaborone, Botswana -- facilitate trade between the United States and the region under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows a range of products to be exported duty free into the United States.
The four trade hubs serve as the central point where business, government and finance can gather to promote economic growth and development.
Later, Bush attended a tee ball, or baseball, game, played by small children. The game, which occasionally is played on the grounds of the White House, came to the West African country courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.