Bush follows Obama to Africa

dubyafricaIt’s not often that Africa sees a visiting American president, much less two. But as President Obama travels across the continent next week, so will his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush, who made fighting AIDS in Africa a top goal of his administration, will take a trip there — his third since leaving office — as part of a program to combat cervical cancer. He will leave late next week for Zambia, where he will help refurbish a clinic, and then head to Tanzania, where his wife, Laura Bush, is organizing a forum for African first ladies.

Mr. Bush will overlap briefly on July 2 with Mr. Obama in Tanzania, the last stop on the current president’s itinerary after Senegal and South Africa. There are no plans for the two to see each other, but Michelle Obama has agreed to attend the first ladies’ forum with Mrs. Bush in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, to promote women’s education, health and economic empowerment.

“It’s coincidental that we have two American presidents on the continent at the same time – in the same country at the same time – but it’s indicative of a continued commitment, which is great news,” said Hannah Abney, communications director for the George W. Bush Presidential Center. “It wasn’t planned. It really was coincidental. But we’re really excited about it.”

Africa was a personal priority for Mr. Bush during his presidency, overshadowed by Iraq, terrorism and other issues but one of the few areas where he drew praise across party lines. His Millennium Challenge program steered billions of dollars in development aid to countries that committed to reform. His President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, directed lifesaving drugs and other care to millions with H.I.V. and was called the largest humanitarian health effort ever undertaken by any country.

As a result, Mr. Bush remains more popular in Africa than at home, and he has taken pride in his efforts there. He devoted a substantial part of his newly opened presidential museum, outside Dallas at Southern Methodist University, to an exhibit about Pepfar. And global health has been a top focus of the former president’s public policy institute.

Teaming up with Pepfar, the United Nations and pharmaceutical companies, Mr. Bush helped form Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, which is devoted to curbing cervical cancer and breast cancer. It started in Zambia in 2011 and expanded to Botswana in 2012.

Last year, Mr. and Mrs. Bush helped refurbish a clinic in Kabwe, Zambia, where nearly 30,000 women have been treated since, according to his presidential center. They will help renovate and reopen another clinic on July 1, this time in Livingstone, Zambia; a team of four Southern Methodist University students left Friday to work on the reconstruction.

Mr. Bush’s interest in Africa coincides with that of his own predecessor, Bill Clinton, who has spent much of his own time since office on programs to provide help there. “It was a critical part of his administration,” Ms. Abney said of Mr. Bush. “It’s also something he and Mrs. Bush feel personally about. They feel a commitment to the people there.” – NYT