"When you herald success, it helps others realize what it possible," the president said here in this tiny sliver of a West African nation, the first of five nations Bush is visiting. "This is a large place with a lot of nations and no question not everything is perfect. On the other hand, there are a lot of great success stories and the United States is pleased to be involved with those success stories."
Even as Bush defended an emphasis on the positive, he stepped into one of Africa's most disturbing recent developments. December's presidential elections in Kenya unleashed weeks of ethnic violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands, a worrisome sign in a country typically regarded as one of Africa's most stable.
Bush endorsed a power-sharing agreement to help resolve the dispute. He is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to peel off from his entourage on Monday to make a quick trip to Nairobi, and said she would deliver his view.
"The key is that the leaders hear from her firsthand U.S desires to see that there be no violence, that there be a power-sharing agreement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties," the president said.
Kenya's political rivals announced a 10-point plan on Friday to resolve their political crisis after weeks of negotiations. They remained deadlocked over power sharing, however.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said the purpose of Rice's trip was to support former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is mediating the political talks. Bush does not need to go to Kenya, she said. "Right now, we don't want to supplant Kofi Annan's mediation. That is not the intention."
She said both sides or the political crisis in Kenya understand the U.S. position that any individuals who obstruct the process will be subject to U.S. sanctions. "The message is to both sides that they have to find a deal that's credible and that will lead to reconciliation over the long term," she said.
"I think that both have heard our message that there will be not be business as usual."
On the worsening violence in Sudan's western Darfur region, which is now spilling over into escalating tensions with neighboring Chad, Bush said he "had a tough decision early on as to whether to send troops to Darfur." Once he decided not to, a decision he said was guided in part by recommendations from groups working in Darfur that he did not identify, Bush said "there's not many other avenues except for the United Nations and the peacekeeping forces."
But he said he hopes to shine a spotlight on the need to speed up the deployment of a joint African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force to Darfur while in Rwanda on Tuesday. Bush intends to thank Rwandans for contributing the largest contingent of troops so far to that mission, sort of a gentle nudge to the nations he believes are not doing enough to push the effort forward.
Bush spent only three hours in Benin, the first U.S. president to do so, before flying to the other side of Africa to stay three nights in Tanzania. On a trip that will also take him to Rwanda in Central Africa and back to West Africa to Ghana and Liberia, Bush is highlighting America's commitment to improved health and economic development on the continent, an aspect of his foreign policy overshadowed by the war in Iraq. The image of the U.S. has declined in many parts of the world, but remains high here in Africa.
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The president's trip comes as conflict flared across the continent, with the new crises in Kenya and Chad and longer-running troubles in places such as the Horn of Africa, Congo and Zimbabwe. Bush said he would address Africa's conflicts while talking with leaders in the countries he is visiting.
"These meetings give me an opportunity to talk about ways forward in trouble spots," he said. "We've been plenty active on these issues."
Benin was chosen for a Bush visit because it is one of Africa's most-stable democracies
- and because its location made it a convenient refueling stop. The nation has many political parties, a strong civil society and press freedoms, yet is one of world's poorest countries, is severely underdeveloped and continues to struggle with corruption. The 2006 elections were nearly derailed when the government ran out of funds to finance its election machinery. Voters stepped in, raising cash, loaning computers and using motorcycle headlights to illuminate ballot-counting centers.
Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin, reiterated his commitment to battling corruption.
"Your fight against corruption is visible and easy for the people to see," Bush said. "This is such a good lesson ... because leaders around the world have got to understand that the United States wants to partner with leaders and the people, but we're not going to do so with people that steal money, pure and simple."
Benin gave Bush the chance to tout one of the initiatives underpinning his trip to Africa, the Millennium Challenge Account. It provides U.S. aid to countries that agree to govern justly, shun corruption, help their own people and support economic freedoms.
"My trip here is a way to remind future presidents and future congresses that it's in the national interest and the moral interest, for the United States of America to help people," he said. "I reject the old-style type of grants."
Benin has a five-year, $307 million compact under the program. The money is designed to build up a physical infrastructure and justice system, and to spur commerce and investment. Yet the program has had trouble, too. The flow of money has been slow and many countries have struggled to get their projects going, prompting criticism in Congress.
Benin is also one of 15 African countries targeted by a Bush effort to reduce malaria, a disease that is spread by infected mosquitoes. Malaria kills more than 1 million people a year
- many of them under five years old - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Bush's effort
- part of a trend of global outreach and awareness - is built around getting medicine, insecticide and mosquito-stopping bed nets to millions of people. The president and his wife, Laura, landed in the West African nation on a muggy day, walking off Air Force One onto a red carpet. They were greeted with a military salute by troops in camouflage uniforms and berets, men in purple shirts blowing lively tunes on horns and signs of appreciation for U.S. aid to the nation.
One placard read: "Beninese people will remember forever."
At Cadjehoun International Airport, the president of Benin read a several-page greeting and presented Bush with the Grand Cross of the Order of Benin on a maroon and gold sash. The two leaders joked as more decorations were pinned on Bush's suit. One adornment fell off after an exchange of kisses with their wives, and Bush had to retrieve it from the floor.
Referring to the grand order, Bush said: "I gratefully accept this on behalf of the American people. I stand here by your side as a friend, a believer in your vision."
Press; By BEN FELLER]
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