Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - As President Bush begins a visit to Africa Friday, commentators say some of his administration's actions have had a constructive impact on relations, although skepticism remains, particularly in the field of security-related policies.
Among the benefits seen are improved governance, education and projects helping AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis patients.
"I think is has been very important for some of the U.S. assistance to the continent to be linked to good economic and political governance," said Kwame Owino, an economist with the Nairobi-based Institute of Economic Affairs.
Tairus Barasa, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research in Nairobi, said that Bush initiatives like AIDS funding were helping the continent to meet the Millennium Development Goals, specific targets U.N. member states have agreed to achieve by 2015.
Some analysts say U.S. military engagement is important when it comes to improving the capacity of African armies to respond to terrorism and other challenges. The U.S. subsidizes some national armies and has trained more than 44,000 peacekeepers from 19 African countries.
These include more than 80 percent of African peacekeepers currently deployed in African Union and United Nations peacekeeping missions, both inside and outside of Africa, according to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
The U.S. deploys an 1,800-strong Combined Horn of Africa Task Force based in Djibouti, and a warship sailing along the African coastline trains militaries to respond to maritime security threats.
Established last October, the US Africa Command (Africom) is due to be fully operational by October this year.
Some military initiatives have received a critical reception.
Owino said some actions taken by Washington after 9/11 created a wedge between many Africans and the U.S., particularly the war against Iraq and disputes about its legality.
"Africans generally have a lot of respect for the U.N.," he said. "While sub-Saharan Africans generally admire the American people, the [perceived] anti-U.N. actions made them hate the Bush administration."
The war prompted some Africans to worry that their countries could come under attack if their governments did not agree with U.S. policies, he said.
Bush's Feb. 15-21 visit will be his second to the continent. In July 2003 he visited Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. This time, Bush will visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia.
In the West African nation of Benin, an agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has helped to reform national policy on microfinance, benefiting small farmers and entrepreneurs. The country has also launched a major U.S.-supported anti-malaria campaign.
The MCC is a U.S. body designed to work with some of the poorest countries in the world on the principle that aid is most effective when it reinforces good government and economic freedom.
Tanzania and Ghana are credited with making significant gains, while Rwanda has initiated social, economic and justice programs aimed at helping to transform the lives of people affected by the 1994 genocide.
The U.S. has been instrumental in stabilizing civil-war-torn Liberia and helping the political process that led to the election of Africa's first elected woman leader, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Liberia is the only country to have publicly expressed interest in hosting Africom.
Bush's visit will focus largely on promoting development, growth, security and disease-fighting. Hadley said in a pre-trip briefing Wednesday that the president would discuss the ongoing instability in Kenya with the leaders of all the countries he visits.
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