Power and Responsibility

African Business, August-September 2003 | Go to article overview

Power and Responsibility


Dear President Bush:

As your plane touched down in Dakar, Senegal, we welcomed the opportunity of your visit to examine the US-Africa relationship and to establish ties that are based on honesty, respect and a clear commitment to removing the structural obstacles that impede Africa's development. We would have liked to raise the following issues for your consideration. They are not new ones, but there was an opportunity, with your visit, to act decisively and change the image and relationship of your administration with Africa.

The visit to five African countries was scheduled to clash with the second African Union (AU) Heads of State summit meeting, in Maputo, Mozambique. It is unclear how the administration could have been so out of step with Africa's continental institutions not to have sought to attend this important meeting. Regrettably, your visit served as a distraction to the AU meeting.

We notice that your planning team omitted those countries like Tanzania and Kenya that have suffered directly from terrorist attacks against US interests and citizens. This is odd given the tremendous cost that these countries have borne and continue to bear as a result of their relationship with the US. Furthermore, the highly selective programme excluded civil society and the business communities who could have offered constructive and prepositional conversation around US foreign policy, aid and trade. As constructed, the agenda appeared to offer little else than a series of photo opportunities, starting with Goree Island and ending in a Ugandan AIDS clinic, with shots of our Presidents in between.

This trip may have boosted the Republican campaign image among the African-American community before elections. However, it did very little to boost confidence on the continent that this was a working visit which afforded the time and space for Africans to share their aspirations, and engage the US administration on the need for it to change its policies and practices toward Africa. The most important issues we needed to raise were:

1) Delivery, not spin, on HIV/Aids.

Two-thirds of the 25m people who have died are Africans. There is no doubt this is one of the gravest issues confronting the continent, yet the Global Health Fund is short on resources. While welcoming the public pledge of $15bn to a unilateral US Global AIDS programmes, we note your administration's request for 2004 is a miserly $450m. Where is the $15bn that you. have promised to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean? Show us the money!

The quality of US health programmes have suffered from the reliance on patented drugs and the restriction of health programmes that promote abstinence from sex rather than safe sex. We call on you to heed the demand of African leaders and women's organisations for a change in these policies and those promoting health cut backs. The demand for the right to import and manufacture generic drugs is a moral imperative. This trip would have been an opportunity to express your support for Africans to have access to cheap generic drugs and to promote women's rights to control their own fertility.

2) A decrease in unilateral militarisation, and the facilitation of regional peace-keeping.

Several African conflicts are leading to the deaths, displacement and impoverishment of millions of African women, men and children. African leaders have tried individually and collectively to respond to these conflicts despite the debilitating effects of structural adjustment policies (which the US supports) and debt servicing.

The US needs to provide adequate logistical and financial support for peacekeeping, peacemaking and peace-building in Sudan, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. It can do this through co-operation and collaboration with existing efforts such as the ECOWAS-sponsored peace conference on Liberia being held in Ghana, the South African-led peace efforts in Burundi and the United Nations and French-led operations in the DRC.

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