WASHINGTON – President Bush departed Monday night on a five-day, five-nation tour of Africa (search), only the second time a U.S. president has visited that continent in his first term.
It's the president's third trip to Africa, but his first as president. He is visiting Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria, nations the White House has identified as making substantial economic and democratic progress.
Bush is headed to the continent at a time when anti-Americanism is on the rise around the world, including in Africa. Analysts say the trip is an effort to show that the United States is not an international bully.
"Where else can they demonstrate Bush is more than just a cowboy than to come to the continent most in need of assistance?" asked Jakkie Cilliers of the Institute for Security Studies (search) in Pretoria, South Africa.
The president's agenda includes a meeting with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (search). The two will discuss economic development. Wade, who was elected to office in March 2000, is a big proponent of private investment over World Bank or International Monetary Fund intervention.
In South Africa, the principal issue on the president's agenda is AIDS. Bush has just secured $15 billion in funding to help Africa and the Caribbean treat and reduce their number of AIDS cases. Overall, Africa has 32 million AIDS cases. South Africa has 5 million of those cases, the highest caseload of any country in the world.
President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela, a vocal critic of Bush policy in Iraq, has forged a solid relationship with Bush, but the two likely will discuss issues on which they disagree. Last week, the Bush administration cut off aid to 35 countries, including South Africa, for their failure to exempt U.S. soldiers from being tried in a proposed international war crimes court.
The two are also expected to discuss Zimbabwe (search), neighbor of South Africa and one of the continent's most troubled nations.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crisis since President Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister since independence in 1980 and president since 1987, began a land redistribution campaign in 2000, forcing white farmers off their land, crippling the economy and leading to shortages of food staples. Unemployment stands at 70 percent. Inflation is more than 300 percent and the IMF predicts it will reach 500 percent by year's end.
Mugabe rigged the 2002 presidential election to stay in power. Since then, he has directed government to undertake state-sponsored political violence that has led to 200 dead and many more beaten, tortured, raped and jailed for their beliefs.
Bush and Mbeki differ on how to deal with Mugabe. Bush, who refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the 2002 election, has imposed limited sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders and is seeking more concerted international pressure, especially from African nations.
Mbeki says he will not pressure Mugabe and instead favors what he calls "quiet diplomacy."
That quiet diplomacy, which comes down to no condemnation of Mugabe, has been criticized in South Africa, but analysts say it's unlikely that Bush will tell Mbeki to get off the fence.
"He will defer to South Africa to handle the problem, as have the British," said John Stremlau, head of South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand's department of international relations.
John Makumbe, a political scientist at Zimbabwe University in Harare, said he too thinks Bush will have trouble moving the ball on Zimbabwe.
"I don't think President Bush will get much joy from African leaders. There will be the usual niceties but it will be so much hot air," he said.
In Botswana, the president will again address AIDS. While South Africa has the highest caseload, Botswana has the highest HIV infection rate in the world.
In Uganda, the president will tour an AIDS clinic and discuss anti-terror efforts. Uganda is one of five African nations due to receive $100 million in U.S. aid to improve port and border security and to tighten anti-terrorism initiatives. Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Tanzania also received the money.
On Saturday, the president arrives in Abuja, Nigeria, where President Olusegun Obasanjo has offered asylum to Liberian President Charles Taylor. By that time, Taylor's abdication and deployment of U.S. peacekeeping forces may be settled.
Bush has insisted that Taylor leave the nation before any decision is made on whether to send U.S. troops into the West African nation. If troops go in, they will not only act as peacekeepers but will help to restore security, create a new government and meet basic human needs for the 3.2 million people whose economy has been racked by civil war. Already an advance team of military assessors is on the ground determining whether U.S. aid would be appropriate.
Taylor has said that he will depart, but only after an external military force arrives to keep armed rebels in check and minimize bloodshed. That strategy was criticized Monday by the State Department.
"The issue of the hold-up, I wouldn't describe it so much as a hold-up as saying this needs to be done in a way that is expeditious but that also doesn't lead to chaos," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
While in Nigeria, the president will tour an HIV/AIDS facility to see the fruits of U.S. aid designed to stop the transmission of AIDS from mother to child. The president will also discuss trade and U.S. oil imports from Nigeria, which have increased in recent years, and may continue to do so in the future as the United States seeks alternative sources to Middle Eastern oil.
The United States has not paid much attention to Africa, devastated by internal strife, in part because of prior failings, for instance in 1993, when U.S. troops were routed by clansmen who descended on U.S. forces as they tried to capture two Somali warlords responsible for killing 24 Pakistani peacekeepers.
Several African nations, many of them with large Muslim populations, are also hostile toward the United States for its attack on Iraq and its anti-terror campaign, which has led to targeting of terrorists in several African nations as well as selective assistance to those who help the United States.
Fox News' Major Garrett and the Associated Press contributed to this report.