As violence in Africa threatened to overshadow his six-day tour of the continent, President Bush on Saturday defended his decision not to visit strife-torn nations like Kenya and Sudan, saying he wanted to focus instead on successes like his programs to fight AIDS and malaria.
"This is a large place with a lot of nations, and no question, everything is not perfect," Bush said during a brief visit to Benin before arriving in the capital of Tanzania. But "there's a lot of great success stories, and the United States is pleased to be involved with those success stories."
Bush's short stay in Benin - just three hours, enough time for an airport news conference with President Thomas Yayi Boni and for Air Force One to refuel - made him the first American president to visit the tiny West African nation. It was on Bush's itinerary because it represents the kind of success he wants to highlight: how American aid has helped fight poverty and disease in nations that are home to some of the world's poorest people.
But with Kenya ravaged by postelection violence and a worsening humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, Bush could not escape Africa's crises, and the White House spent much of Saturday fending off suggestions that the president should be more engaged as a peacekeeper.
Bush assured reporters that he was not ignoring the bloodshed in Kenya or in Darfur, where 200,000 have died and 2.5-million have been chased from their homes in an ethnic conflict that he has called genocide.
"As you know, I had a tough decision to make early on, and that is whether to send troops into Darfur," he said; he decided against it in favor of African Union peacekeeping troops. But he said he would bring up Darfur while visiting Rwanda.
Bush in Africa
Highlights of President Bush's trip to Africa, which began Saturday:
Today: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Meeting and joint news conference with President Jakaya Kikwete.
Monday: Arusha, Tanzania. Tours hospital, textile mills and girls school.
Tuesday: Kigali, Rwanda. Arrival ceremony and visit to Kigali Memorial Centre. Meeting and news conference with President Paul Kagame. Flies to Accra, Ghana.
Wednesday: Accra. Arrival ceremony, meeting and joint news conference with President John Kufuor. State dinner.
Thursday: Monrovia, Liberia. Arrival ceremony and meeting with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Participates in roundtable on teacher training project at the University of Liberia. Return flight to Washington.