July 7, 2003
Bush, Soldiers Go to Africa
President George W. Bush is visiting five African nations July 8-12 to demonstrate what his administration calls the United States' commitment to helping the continent address its pressing problems, including regional conflicts, economic development and effective promotion of democracy. Bush will visit Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. Human rights groups such as Global Witness are calling on Bush to add the exploitation of Africa's natural resources like diamonds to the list of problems he must address.
Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers landed July 7 at the United States Embassy compound in Liberia, the first contingent of a military assessment team that will evaluate humanitarian conditions in this war-ravaged West African country, reports the New York Times. The 13-soldier group, the advance team of what will be a force of 32, touched down in a military helicopter at the embassy compound. The contingent, which arrived from a staging point in Freetown, Sierra Leone, was scheduled to visit several camps of internally displaced people around the city.
The group's leader said there is a security component of the soldiers' mission, but their primary task was to make a humanitarian assessment rather than determine whether the United States should deploy a peacekeeping force. He declined to answer questions about the security component of the trip. Bush has been weighing the possibility of sending a peacekeeping force to Liberia to help end years of war.
The arrival of the U.S. assessment team came a day after President Charles Taylor of Liberia announced that he would leave his country and accept refuge in nearby Nigeria. Taylor is a former guerrilla leader who was recently indicted in Sierra Leone as a war criminal for trading guns and diamonds during its war. Taylor did not say when he would go, but he dangled his earlier promise to step aside once an international force arrived in this country to monitor a cease-fire between his forces and the rebels who have sought to topple him. Taylor has warned of bedlam if his sudden departure leaves a power vacuum.
A White House spokesperson said Taylor's announcement had not caused Bush to decide about sending a peacekeeping force to Liberia. The Bush administration, under pressure to sort out the mess in this country founded by U.S. citizens more than 150 years ago, has said it will consider sending troops as part of a multinational force to restore security in Liberia.
Human rights organization Global Witness released a statement in advance of Bush's African trip, saying the misappropriation of Africa's natural resources must be top of Bush's agenda. "Timber, oil, diamonds and other natural resources have financed brutal civil wars in Africa, and currently fund ongoing conflicts in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo," the press release stated.
Recent evidence confirmed by Global Witness shows diamonds have been used by terrorist organization al Qaeda to finance its activities and launder money, threatening global as well as regional security, said the organization. In addition, combating the trade in conflict diamonds is critical to maintaining consumer confidence in diamonds, Botswana's main export. Diamonds constitute 33% of Botswana's gross domestic product and account for 79% of export earnings.
"President Bush must use his trip to take a leadership role in encouraging African governments and multinational companies to disclose payments made for access to natural resources owned by the citizens of producer countries," the statement said. "Transparency is the key to creating accountable government and fighting corruption," said Simon Taylor, Global Witness director.