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In Africa, Bush Shifts His Personal 'Mission of Mercy' to Ghana

U.S. President George W. Bush is pushing trade and aid in this tropical land of gold and diamonds, the latest stop on what he has dubbed his "mission of mercy" to Africa.

Bush got a ceremonial welcome Wednesday in Ghana, a stable democracy that gets U.S. assistance to fight disease, build roads, train teachers and expand markets for its crops. Several thousand children in their school uniforms lined the streets of Accra and waved tiny Ghanian flags as Bush's motorcade made its 10-minute drive to Osu Castle, a centuries-old building that was once a hub of slave-trading and now is the seat of government.

Ghana has the kind of story Bush likes to promote: an African nation that has largely avoided ethnic clashes and played a busy peacekeeping role on the continent. Ghana has boosted its economy and cut its poverty markedly, although many people here remain poor.

Compared with Tuesday in Rwanda, where Bush absorbed the history of that country's 1994 genocide, his agenda in Ghana has a decidedly lighter feel. He is eating lunch with Peace Corps volunteers, stopping at an international trade fair that resembles a county fair back home and taking in a T-ball game.

During a news conference, Bush is to announce an effort to combat neglected tropical diseases, a White House official said.

Ghana is in West Africa, near the equator, off the humid shores of the Gulf of Guinea. The agriculture-driven country is rich in resources, and the U.S. is a big trading partner.

Bush is meeting with Ghana's President John Kufuor, an Oxford-educated leader who came into power about the same time Bush did. Kufuor is given credit here for economic reforms, open government and regional leadership. Ghana, working through the United Nations, has sent peacekeepers to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Pakistan and the Balkans. That record is sure to win favor from Bush.

The U.S. president is in Africa for six days to showcase American generosity and put a human face on foreign aid. His initiatives -- with backing from Congress -- have reduced cases of malaria and HIV/AIDS, expanded education and built up infrastructure in Africa.

Those helpful efforts are overshadowed in the U.S. by the unpopular Iraq war, Bush's feuds with lawmakers, and other woes that have dragged down his approval rating.

Ghana received more than US$55 million in development aid from the United States in 2007. It won approval in 2006 for a five-year, US$547 million anti-poverty aid package from the U.S.

"You know, people say, 'Why would you want to come to Africa at this point in your presidency?"' Bush said Tuesday in Rwanda. "Because I'm on a mission of mercy, that's why."

The public display of cooperation also is meant to play well back in Washington. Bush wants Congress -- and his successor -- to keep his African initiatives alive.

Bush caps his night in Ghana with a formal state dinner, then he is off to Liberia, a nation founded by freed American slaves, before flying back to Washington.