Carolyn Kaster Associated Press Women wearing traditional wraps called khangas emblazoned with President Barack Obama's image line up to enter the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Monday to perform for Obama.

Obama's African policies follow trail blazed by White House predecessor

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 7A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 2:59 pm

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – President Barack Obama often notes that he inherited a world full of problems from predecessor George W. Bush, from a Great Recession to unpopular wars. It's not meant as a compliment to Bush.

When it comes to Africa, though, Obama also inherited Bush's policies. On that, he has little choice but to salute his predecessor.

As Obama will be reminded today in Tanzania, Bush set something of a humanitarian standard for the aggressive efforts he took on the continent, first pushing through a massive program to help AIDS patients that's saved perhaps millions of lives, and then with a personal commitment that continues today.

Bush is in Tanzania with former first lady Laura Bush. The ex-president is making his third trip to the continent since he left office four years ago, this one taking him first to Zambia to help refurbish a clinic as a part of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon campaign against cervical cancer, then to Tanzania, where Laura Bush is hosting a first ladies forum to empower women in Africa that's sponsored by her husband's institute.

First lady Michelle Obama will join in at the first ladies event. Also, in a last-minute addition to the schedule, President Obama and his predecessor will join at a wreath-laying event this morning at the site of the fatal bombing at the U.S. Embassy in 1998.

Obama received an enthusiastic welcome when he landed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Monday, the last stop on a weeklong tour of the continent. Large, enthusiastic crowds and blaring horns welcomed Obama, the first lady, and their daughters, the Associated Press reported.

Today, Obama will seek to connect with Bush's record in Africa, rather than drawing a contrast with it.

Speaking aboard Air Force One en route to South Africa, Obama lauded Bush's program to help AIDS patients.

"President Bush deserves enormous credit for that. It is really important. And it saved the lives of millions of people," Obama said.

"The United States has really done wonderful work through the (anti-AIDS) program started under … President Bush, and continued through our administration," he added in Cape Town.

The keystone of Bush's record was the 2003 creation of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, aimed largely at Africa. In the decade since, it's spent $44 billion fighting AIDS, including $7 billion in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, according to the State Department.

When Bush's program was created, AIDS was rampant in sub-Saharan Africa and fewer than 100,000 people here were taking anti-retroviral drugs. Today, more than 2 million are taking the drugs.

In February, Secretary of State John Kerry said the program had saved "maybe 5 million lives."

Ex-President Bill Clinton said in April that in his trips to Africa he'd "personally seen the faces of some of the millions of people … alive today" because of Bush's programs.

Bush traveled extensively in Africa, visiting five countries in 2003, and five more in 2008. After the second trip of his presidency, an exuberant Bush invited 200 people to the White House for a slide show.

By comparison, Obama visited one country in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana, for less than 24 hours in his first term, and he's visiting three countries on this trip, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

Bush helped broker peace in warring Sudan, and he proposed creating the Millennium Challenge Corporation – a foreign aid agency that's primarily helped Africa – and a pair of programs to combat malaria and AIDS/HIV.

Obama has continued two of Bush's biggest successes: the Millennium Challenge Corporation – which has approved more than $8.4 billion in programs worldwide in agriculture, transportation, water supply and sanitation, education and other areas – and the AIDS relief programs.

Some anti-AIDS activists accuse Obama of reducing money for the AIDS program.

Obama chafed at the criticism, telling reporters on this trip that he couldn't get as much money out of a Republican-led House of Representatives as Bush did. And the White House says Obama has increased funding for overall global health programs as he looks to turn the initiatives into a comprehensive approach to health.

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