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Obama, Bush in Africa – will they meet?

01 July 2013, 12:00

Cape Town - President Barack Obama and former President George W Bush are planning to be in the same city a world away from home, but the question is whether they will get together.

The Democratic president was to fly on Monday into Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the last stop on a weeklong tour of Africa that wraps up on Tuesday. His Republican predecessor coincidentally also plans to be there for a conference on African women organised by the George W Bush Institute.

Their wives plan to team up at the conference on Tuesday for a joint discussion on promoting women's education, health and economic empowerment. President Bush plans to be in attendance, before delivering his own speech there the following day, after the Obamas will have left.

Initially aides said the men had no plans to meet, but Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes indicated on Sunday that could change. "There may be something," Rhodes said.

Having both presidents in town "sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent", Rhodes said.

During his African visit, Obama has credited Bush with helping save millions of lives by creating the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. 

"The United States has really done wonderful work through the PEPFAR programme, started under my predecessor, President Bush, and continued through our administration," Obama said on Sunday during a visit to the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre in Cape Town.

Finances and politics

Bush's accomplishment in fighting Aids was one of his signature foreign policy successes, while Obama has not been so focused on Africa despite his roots there and only now is making a major presidential trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Obama's only previous visit as president was a brief visit to Ghana his first summer in office, although he travelled to Africa several times previously and has vowed to come back.

Obama told reporters earlier in the trip that finances and politics play a role in preventing him from doing more.

"Given the budget constraints, for us to try to get the kind of money that president Bush was able to get out of the Republican House for massively scaled new foreign aid programmes is very difficult," Obama said. "We could do even more with more resources. But if we're working smarter, the amount of good that we can bring about over the next decade is tremendous."

Any visit with Bush would have to fit into a busy schedule for Obama.

He arrives in Tanzania on Monday afternoon and heads for a meeting with President Jakaya Kikwete. Obama plans to meet later with business leaders from the US and Africa to talk about increasing trade in east Africa, before ending the evening with a dinner hosted by Kikwete.

On Tuesday, Obama plans a private greeting at the US embassy, and then a quick stop at the memorial on the grounds of the former embassy that was bombed five years ago, killing 11 people. The president then delivers a final speech focused on bringing more electric power to Africa and heads back toward Washington by noon.

- AP


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