Bush Deserves Praise for Commitment to Africa

Recently during a Washington, D.C- area concert, U2’s lead singer Bono commended President George W. Bush for all of the work he did to help Africa and everything he did to globally combat the AIDS virus.

“They had a little intro from Desmond Tutu about Africa and then Bono said he wanted to dedicated the next song (“One”) to President George W. Bush for sending billions of dollars in anti-viral AIDS drugs to Africa,” said Lisa Andrews a University of Maryland career services specialist who attended the concert.

“It was very positive.”

Apparently, Bono has had a change of heart about Bush since 2006 when he intentionally dodged a hug from the president at the National Prayer Breakfast. Hopefully, that’s the first step in the right direction toward recognizing Bush’s contribution to helping Africa combat the AIDS virus, a part of his presidential legacy that has gone largely unnoticed.

During his time in office President Bush did more to help Africa and more to combat the AIDS virus globally than any other president in history.

In 2003, as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Bush allocated $15 billion to take on the global pandemic and implemented plans to treat to 10 million people with antiretroviral treatment and prevent seven million new infections.

PEPFAR helped prevent mother to child transmission, provided antiretroviral therapy to AIDS victims, offered training and income to medical personnel and helped treat other diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and waterborne illness. It also placed an emphasis on helping orphans and women who were victims of rape and sex trafficking. The bill has reportedly saved at least hundreds of thousands of lives in the 15 African countries targeted as part the legislation.

According to Neil Bush, the president’s brother, the impact that PEPFAR has had on the region is obvious.

“I’ve been to Africa frequently over the past 3 to 4 years and have seen the kind of impact that my brother’s commitment has had,” Bush said during a telephone interview. “I’ve also heard first-hand from African leaders the appreciation they have for everything my brother did to help the continent. His impact on Africa includin g his focus on eradicating the AIDS epidemic is one of the lesser known achievements of George’s presidency, but will eventually be recognized as an important part of his legacy.”

Before leaving office, President Bush made sure that the battle against AIDS would continue. In July 2008, PEPFAR was renewed and even expanded with the passing of the “Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008,” which actually tripled the original act’s funds to $48 billion.

Earlier this year, in a piece titled, “Has Bush been Africa’s best friend?” the BBC reported that initially only 50,000 Africans were on anti-viral drugs, but that Bush’s legislation has since “made anti-retrovirals widely available.” The article added that Bush’s legislation halved the impact of malaria in 15 African countries.

"I don’t think it’s too strong to say that President Bush’s Africa policy is the most distinguished foreign policy legacy of the administration,” said Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development who was quoted in the BBC piece. “Although few expected such interest eight years ago, the president has clearly been deeply and personally committed to strengthening U.S.-Africa relations.”

Bush’s commitment to Africa supersedes just funding to combat the AIDS virus. During his presidency, Bush took a leadership role in the international community in openly condemning the killings in Darfur as “genocide,” and stepped up pressure on the Sudanese government while also sending envoys to the Democratic Republic of Congo to prevent a regional conflict between Rwanda and Uganda.

In a time when few leaders showed any interest at all, President Bush selflessly demonstrated tremendous leadership to help Africa and showed incredible compassion to people suffering from the horror of the AIDS virus. His actions speak volumes about his character and how much he cared about people who were powerless to help themselves. These monumental strides should finally be taken into account when judging him in the historical record.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a Washington, D.C. based investigative reporter and lawyer who interned for U.S. Senator John Kerry’s legal team during the presidential election of 2004. He can be reached at jshapiro@ufl.edu.