THE WHITE HOUSE (FinalCall.com)–President George W. Bush padded his administration’s diplomatic portfolio in his war on terrorism Dec. 5, meeting here with two African leaders and by visiting Washington’s Islamic Center to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
“We must remember that the war on terror is global in nature and if the terrorists could strike in Kenya, they could strike in Ethiopia, they could strike in Europe,” Mr. Bush warned at the beginning of his session with the African leaders in the Cabinet Room.
The session with Kenya’s soon-to-retire President Daniel Arap Moi, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia brings to 27, the number of meetings Mr. Bush has had with African heads of state since taking office. It was planned some time ago, but was given added significance by the Nov. 27 attacks on Israeli targets near the Kenyan coastal resort city of Mombasa.
Three suicide bombers killed 10 Kenyans and three Israelis when they drove a vehicle full of explosives into a hotel. At the same time missiles narrowly missed an Israeli passenger plane as it was leaving the Mombasa airport, officials said.
“Mr. President, a moment ago you said that we are engaged in the first war of the 21st century,” Prime Minister Meles said in response. “We believe the war against terrorism is a war against people who have not caught up with the 21st century, who have values and ideals that are contrary to the values of the 21st century.”
For his part, Mr. Moi, who leaves office in late December at age 77, promised his country’s continued cooperation with U.S. security forces, and also urged international investors to help east and central Africa develop its telecommunications, power generation, tourism, and other industries.
Even as Mr. Bush met with the two African leaders, U.S. Marines and Kenyan troops were carrying out joint exercises–dubbed “operation Edged Mallet”–just off Kenya’s coast.
“Part of this was a payback,” said Melvin Foote, president of the Constituency for Africa. “The U.S. still has a debt of gratitude to Kenya over the embassy bombing” in 1998, Mr. Foote said, describing Kenya in East Africa, and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa as strategic U.S. security allies, just as Nigeria and South Africa are the major U.S. partners in West Africa and Southern Africa. “Some of this is a thank you for support over the years.
“A lot (President Moi’s) meetings were around trade. He’s planning to do more of that when he leaves office. Today’s meeting was at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Yesterday the meeting was at Corporate Council on Africa. He’s actually looking at the trade side and doing business himself,” said Mr. Foote, who attended a luncheon conference Mr. Moi hosted for U.S. non-government and business leaders.
The Kenyan leader told the Chamber of Commerce that he welcomed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), passed two years ago by Congress, and that his country’s textile imports had increased from $45 million per year in 2000, to $70 million in 2001, according to published reports. He said he hopes his country can increase its exports of cut flowers, honey and leather. Kenya already exports coffee and wood products to the U.S.
Between them, the two African leaders met with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Corporate Council on Africa, leaders of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in addition to their security talks with government officials.
President Moi’s ties to important, conservative Christian leaders may be in part responsible for his good standing now in Washington, according to one scholar. “I think Moi in a sense is enjoying now a re-confirmation of his position,” Dr. Sulyman Nyang, professor of African Studies at Howard University told The Final Call.
“It is likely because of his connection with the international Christian movement. Because the Christian right, people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others, have been very helpful to Moi. The very fact that he’s now coming at the very end of his rule, when in the Clinton administration and even before, he had problems with some American diplomats” is testament to Mr. Moi’s political rebirth, said Dr. Nyang.
“(Mr.) Moi has now successfully wrangled his way into acceptance in Washington. For him the war against international terrorism has provided a good entry point for rehabilitation and reaffirmation.”
Other Africa-watchers in this country agree. “President Moi of Kenya really represents the dinosaur of the old model of the African dictator,” Salih Booker, executive director Africa Action, said in an interview. “It’s sad to see him sort of being re-legitimized as he’s finally getting out of office. But it’s because the United States is only interested in Africa as a piece of real estate, as land to project force into other regions.
“Meles Zenawi on the other hand, a brilliant and younger generation leader is sadly beginning to become the new model of the strong man. He’s also trying to pitch his country to the U.S. as being geo-strategically important in projecting force into the Persian Gulf. Neither one of those types of leaders really represent the best interest of Africa’s people. Sadly, the United States is also not terribly interested in the interests of Africa’s people,” said Mr. Booker.
The meeting with Mr. Bush also touched on the 19-year civil war in neighboring Sudan. Mr. Moi said he hopes the currently stalled peace talks would resume soon in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, between the Sudanese government and rebel forces.
Later, Mr. Bush visited the Islamic Center, where he praised the peaceful ways of the majority of the world’s Muslims at a celebration of Eid al-Fitr–the Feast of Thanksgiving–marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic Holy month of fasting and prayer.
Mr. Bush’s visit was yet another rebuke to the Revs. Robertson and Falwell who have attacked Muslims, Islam, and its Holy Prophet Muhammad in a number of interviews and public comments. Such remarks “do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans,” Mr. Bush said last month, distancing himself from the prominent evangelists.