It’s rare that a U.S. president and a past president are in a continent other than North America at the same time. It’s even rarer when it occurs in Africa, a continent that the United States largely neglected until the last couple of decades.
But on Monday in Tanzania, former President George W. Bush joined President Barack Obama in honoring the victims of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya by laying a wreath at a memorial at the new embassy.
The joint appearance came the day before President and Michelle Obama were to return to the United States after a week-long visit to several African nations. Former President Bush and his wife, Laura, are in Africa promoting health initiatives and women’s initiatives. Before going to Tanzania, the Bushes spent four days in Zambia, where they visited an agricultural program operated by women and funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Later, they helped clean a health clinic in Livingstone.
Although the two presidents and first ladies didn’t spend a great deal of time together, their bipartisan representation carries a potent message to all of Africa that America is and will continue to be invested there as a partner in humanitarian as well as economic ventures. That’s particularly timely given that China and even Middle Eastern countries are increasing their own influence in Africa.
The Bushes’ visit, their third in three years, is driven by humanitarian concerns. Mrs. Bush, in fact welcomed Mrs. Obama to a “First Ladies Summit” that the former first lady hosted. In addition to the two Americans, the first ladies of Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia participated. Both American women are superb examples of the good that dedicated first ladies can accomplish.
President Obama, whose trip began in Senegal, hopes to accomplish considerable good through the “Power Africa” initiative he unveiled in South Africa. This plan involves a preliminary investment of $7 billion in the next few years to provide electric power to millions of Africans for whom it is a fantasy. Two thirds of the people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have electricity.
On their trips, President Obama’s goals weren’t so different from former President Bush’s. What’s more, their presence together spoke volumes. Certainly Africa is big enough and important enough to keep them and future U.S. presidents occupied for a long time.