A cartoon in a Johannesburg newspaper captured it all: George Bush had arrived in South Africa. Thabo Mbeki, the perfect host was proudly showing off his country in his presidential chopper. George Bush scrupulously checks out the lie of the land with his binoculars. Very impressed, he exclaims: "This is a beautiful country!" In alarm, Mbeki retorts: "But you can't have it!"
It was with great suspicion that Bush's post-Iraq visit to South Africa was greeted by ordinary South Africans. In contrast to ex-President Clinton's visit, Bush's arrival was pretty low key, marked by demonstrations against him. South Africa, a country that has emerged from a long history of the misuse of power, was not about to warm up to Bush.
It also came on the heels of a suspension of military aid to South Africa, worth some $7m for its refusal to sign an agreement with the US government which would exempt Americans from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
South Africa was one of 35 such blacklisted countries. Ironically, other African countries that Bush visited, did not suffer the same fate. Nigeria had its aid intact even though it had also not signed the agreement. If it was meant as a message, then South Africa did not get it. But Botswana did, and duly signed the agreement (see p26).
So what was the Bush agenda in Africa and why did he choose South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria and Senegal? Spending just five days visiting five countries?
If one is to believe Bush, then it is for what each country represents. His agenda was focused on protecting American interests and eliminating potential threats. To some extent, he has come to realise that he cannot go it all alone.
Key issues for him were oil, terrorists and AIDS. Prior to his visit, he had announced a $15 billion dollar package to tackle the Aids question and told African journalists in the White House that: "I will be carrying a message to the African people that, first, America cares about the future of Africa. It's in our national interest that Africa becomes a prosperous place. It's in our national interest that people will continue to fight terror together. It's in our interest that when we find suffering we deal with it."
The code word was National Interest. South Africa obviously occupies an influential position on the continent with plenty of leverage. Getting a recalcitrant South Africa on its side was necessary to help stamp out potential terrorist threats and unfavourable regimes in the neighbourhood.
A regional superpower cannot be ignored. Besides, South Africa has had its fair share of terrorism, especially in the Western Cape which it effectively wiped out recently.
Botswana was a bit curious. But according to Bush, the country represented good governance and prosperity on the continent. One of the best managed economies in the world, it could serve as an example to the rest of Africa.
It is also worthy to note that America has the biggest military base on the continent in Botswana, to keep an eye on things in the region.
In Uganda, the trip was purportedly about Aids and the success achieved by Uganda in stopping its spread. Even though, President Yowefi Museveni has a no-party system at odds with the Bush definition of democracy, Bush was happy to embrace him and watch a scintillating African dance performance by Ugandan schoolgirls.
Two UN Expert Panel reports have fingered Uganda and Rwanda as key culprits in the handling of "conflict diamonds" and other "conflict minerals" from DRCongo. But don't mention that to President Bush. Some African rebels and their sponsors are more important than others.
In Senegal, Bush visited the Goree Island and saw the last shipment point of slaves to America. …