Bush starts off Africa trip in Benin

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Laura Bush, First Lady of the United States, upon arrival in Benin, with Chantal de Souza Yayi, First Lady of Benin.
Yayi and Bush previously met at the White House in December 2006.

U.S. President George W. Bush, accompanied by his wife Laura, began his five-nation trip to Africa today in Benin, where he met with President Yayi Boni and participated in a joint press conference. This is Bush's second visit to Africa and the first time any US president has visited Benin. Topics that were discussed included malaria, cotton, and the crises in Kenya and Darfur.

At the press conference, held at Cadjehoun International Airport in Cotonou, Yayi thanked Bush for coming to visit and praised him for his "great concern for Africa, its well being, and of the development of its people." Bush then commended the government of Benin for their "fight against corruption" and "firm commitment to the investment in its people".

"Your fight against corruption is visible and easy for the people to see," Bush said. "This is such a good lesson ... because leaders around the world have got to understand that the United States wants to partner with leaders and the people, but we're not going to do so with people that steal money, pure and simple." Benin is one of the recipients of the Millennium Challenge Account, which aims to foster economic growth in countries that are deemed to have effective governments and economic freedom.

On the topic of malaria, Bush mentioned the Malaria Initiative, which intends to provide a mosquito net for every child to prevent the spread of the disease. He also mentioned initiatives to facilitate the spread of HIV and AIDS. "We can save lives with an aggressive, comprehensive strategy," Bush said. "And that's exactly what you're putting in place here in Benin."

The United States wants to partner with leaders and the people, but we're not going to do so with people that steal money, pure and simple.

—George W. Bush

The economy was also an important issue. President Yayi said he and President Bush discussed diversifying Benin's economy away from its dependence on cotton. "He shared his vision with us, and he is encouraging us to diversify the sources of solutions to the problem that we have today, namely the cotton industry." Yayi says it is hard competing with cotton markets in Asia and the United States. Bush said the World Trade Organization is willing to help Benin's economy, but he also suggested exporting more cotton-based products in addition to raw cotton.

Bush said the United States will help facilitate a peacekeeping force in Darfur, but will not send troops to the region. "I made the decision not to [send troops], upon the recommendation of a lot of the groups involved in Darfur, as well as other folks ... once you make that decision, then there's not many other avenues except for the United Nations and the peacekeeping forces."

When asked about the situation in Kenya, Bush said he has sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit the country on Monday to support former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in mediating the conflict. "Kenya is an issue ... and that's why I'm sending Secretary Rice there to help the Kofi Annan initiative - all aimed at having a clear message that there be no violence and that there ought to be a power-sharing agreement," said Bush.

White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said Rice's visit will only last a few hours. "It's basically to go in, give some impetus, but then step out and let Kofi Annan continue his diplomacy," he said. At a press briefing aboard Air Force One, one reporter questioned what could be accomplished in a few hours and asked why the President didn't go to Kenya instead. Ambassador Jendayi Frazer answered with, "Secretary Rice's engagement on Kenya has been much longer than a few hours. She has been talking to President Kibaki and Raila Odinga before the election, right on the eve of the announcement, immediately after that. And so she's been very much engaged over the last three or four months on dealing with electoral crisis."

"The purpose of her going is to back Kofi's mediation, it's not to take over that mediation," Frazer continued. "President Bush does not need to go to Kenya at this point. At the right moment in time, the President will engage, but right now it's occurring in a very systematic way to back Annan's mediation, not to try to supplant Annan's mediation."

After spending three hours in Benin, Bush flew to Tanzania, where he will stay for three nights. He will then continue his trip in Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia.