WASHINGTON – President Bush and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni focused on trade and fighting disease during a meeting Tuesday at the White House.
There was no mention, when the two appeared before reporters afterward, of alleged human rights abuses by the Ugandan government or of Museveni's maneuvers to remain in power for 21 years.
Museveni was once hailed as a reformer in this central African country that suffered under the brutal dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. A decade ago, Museveni agreed to term limits and economic liberalization.
But he has upset the West by intervening in Congo's civil war, boosting military spending and reneging on a 2001 promise to retire from politics. The West has cut aid to the government in reaction to his moves to consolidate power and quash dissent.
Museveni pushed constitutional changes to allow him a third term and won re-election in voting last year, though Uganda's main opposition party charged many people were barred from the polls and some returns were falsified.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch pressed Bush ahead of the meeting to bring up what it called "serious crimes committed by both sides" during a brutal 19-year conflict in northern Uganda between the government and rebels, one of Africa's longest and most brutal wars. A truce has been signed, but the conflict has spilled over into southern Sudan and eastern Congo, causing further instability in the region.
The group also accuses the Ugandan army of torturing and unlawfully killing civilians while carrying out a disarmament program in the country's troubled Karamoja region. The army denies abusing human rights.
Bush praised Museveni in a number of areas, including his "determined efforts" against malaria and AIDS with help from U.S. funding.
"Uganda is the epitome of how one can implement a comprehensive ABC strategy to achieve concrete and specific results for the sake of humanity," he said.
Uganda once was among Africa's countries hit hardest by AIDS, with a million deaths and an estimated 900,000 additional infections. But it pioneered a groundbreaking strategy credited with cutting HIV prevalence.
The approach, known as A, B, C, calls for abstinence until marriage, being faithful to one's partner, and correct condom use. But some activists accused the United States of blunting the condom message in favor of an emphasis on abstinence.
Bush said his administration would "work with Uganda on their eligibility" for the Millennium Challenge. The Bush initiative conditions U.S. aid on a country fulfilling requirements such as commitments to democratic reforms, economic freedoms and human rights.
"I told the president this is a very important program," Bush said.
Uganda is what's called a "threshold country" in the program, meaning it has taken the first step toward gaining funding. But Museveni talked about it as if it is already a done deal, thanking Bush for money he said would be used to improve transportation infrastructure, thereby helping Uganda build up foreign trade and its economy.
"You need good infrastructure within a country like Uganda, as well as other African countries, so that you can produce goods at low cost," Museveni said. "Therefore you can be competitive in the expanded markets, and also in the regional markets."