WASHINGTON: President Bush's first tour of Africa reverberated in Washington last week as African advocacy groups took the opportunity to win press for their various causes.
DATA (Debts, Aid, Trade in Africa) launched a campaign last week called Keep America's Promise to Africa. Aimed at members of Congress, who were coincidentally scheduled to debate several bills on aid to Africa last week, the campaign seeks to use media pressure to stop a number of Bush's initiatives from falling by the wayside.
"We are trying to get the President and Congress to keep the promises they made to Africa," said legislative director Tom Hart. "First is the large and well-known [$15 billion] initiative to fight AIDS, second is the Millennium Challenge Account, which directs aid to countries fighting poverty and corruption, and third is the promise that these will happen without cutting into other programs."
Hart stressed that Africa rarely registers on the US media radar, hence the need to make as much noise as possible while reporters are paying attention.
"I've done three interviews at CNN, and have three or four other media requests every day," said Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA). "I think [Bush's trip] has helped us in terms of people understanding that we're one of the better sources on Africa now."
Indeed, Bush used the CCA's recent business summit to announce that he would travel to Africa and take a stand on the civil war in Liberia. Established in 1992, the CCA encourages business investment in Africa.
Hayes praised Bush for being more involved in the continent than his predecessors, and said the CCA's members, mostly companies with a financial stake in Africa, were optimistic about new African business opportunities under the administration.
"This President has already done more in terms of concrete planning toward Africa than any US President in history," he said. "I'm encouraged by that."
The media highlight of Bush's tour came on the infamous former slave-trading post Goree Island, where former President Clinton once made apologies for slavery. Bush, however, cited slavery as "one of the greatest crimes of history" that nevertheless contributed to greater freedom for all Americans.
"The stolen sons and daughters of Africa helped to awaken the conscience of America," he said. "The very people traded into slavery helped to set America free."