COTONOU, Benin – U.S. President George W. Bush insisted Saturday his administration is actively engaged in resolving turmoil in Africa, but said his trip to the continent is focused more on its successes than its conflicts.
"When you herald success, it helps others realize what is possible," the president said in Benin on the first stop of a five-nation tour. "This is a large place with a lot of nations and no question not everything is perfect. On the other hand, there are a lot of great success stories and the United States is pleased to be involved with those success stories."
Even as Bush defended an emphasis on the positive, he stepped into one of Africa's most disturbing recent developments. December's presidential elections in Kenya unleashed weeks of ethnic violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands, a worrisome sign in a country typically regarded as one of Africa's most stable.
Bush endorsed a power-sharing agreement to help resolve the dispute. He is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from his entourage on Monday to visit Nairobi.
"The key is that the leaders hear from her firsthand U.S desires to see that there be no violence, that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties," the president said.
Kenya's political rivals announced a 10-point plan on Friday to resolve their political crisis after weeks of negotiations. They remained deadlocked over power sharing, however.
On the worsening violence in Sudan's western Darfur region, which is now spilling over into escalating tensions with neighboring Chad, Bush said he "had a tough decision early on as to whether to send troops to Darfur."
Once he decided not to, a decision he said was guided in part by recommendations from groups working in Darfur that he did not identify, Bush said "there's not many other avenues except for the United Nations and the peacekeeping forces."
But he said he hopes to shine a spotlight on the need to speed up the deployment of a joint African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force to Darfur while in Rwanda on Tuesday.
Bush intends to thank Rwandans for contributing the largest contingent of troops so far to that mission in a gentle nudge to nations he believes are not doing enough.
Bush spent only three hours in Benin, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the country. He then flew to the other side of Africa for three nights in Tanzania. He arrived in Dar es Salaam to a rousing airport welcome, greeted by men and women in clothes bearing Bush's likeness. President Jakaya Kiwete escorted Bush and his wife, Laura, off their plane.
On a trip that will also take him to Rwanda in Central Africa and back to West Africa to Ghana and Liberia, Bush is highlighting America's commitment to improved health and economic development on the continent, an aspect of his foreign policy overshadowed by the war in Iraq. The image of the U.S. has declined in many parts of the world, but remains high in Africa.
The president's trip comes as conflict flared across the continent, with the new crises in Kenya and Chad and longer-running troubles in places such as the Horn of Africa, Congo and Zimbabwe. Bush said he would address Africa's conflicts while talking with leaders in the countries he is visiting.
"These meetings give me an opportunity to talk about ways forward in trouble spots," he said. "We've been plenty active on these issues."
Benin was chosen for the visit because it is one of Africa's most stable democracies — and because its location made it a convenient refueling stop.
The nation has many political parties, a strong civil society and press freedoms, yet is one of world's poorest countries, is severely underdeveloped and continues to struggle with corruption. The 2006 elections were nearly derailed when the government ran out of funds to finance its election machinery. Voters stepped in, raising cash, lending computers and using motorcycle headlights to illuminate ballot-counting centers.
Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin, reiterated his commitment to battling corruption.
"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 gave Bush the chance to tout one of the initiatives underpinning his trip to Africa, the Millennium Challenge Account. It provides U.S. aid to countries that agree to govern justly, shun corruption, help their own people and support economic freedoms.
"My trip here is a way to remind future presidents and future congresses that it's in the national interest and the moral interest, for the United States of America to help people," he said. "I reject the old-style type of grants."
Benin has a five-year, $307 million compact under the program. The money is designed to build up a physical infrastructure and justice system, and to spur commerce and investment. Yet the program has had trouble, too. The flow of money has been slow and many countries have struggled to get their projects going, prompting criticism in Congress.
Benin is also one of 15 African countries targeted by a Bush effort to reduce malaria, a disease that is spread by infected mosquitoes.
Malaria kills more than 1 million people a year — many of them under 5 years old — mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Bush's effort — part of a trend of global outreach and awareness — is built around getting medicine, insecticide and mosquito-stopping bed nets to millions of people.