U.S. President George W. Bush's current African tour may reveal Washington's calculations about its long-term strategic interests in the continent, analysts say.
Bush arrived in Benin on Saturday, the first leg of his week-long five-nation African tour which also includes Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia.
Bush's current visit is his second to the continent since he took office in 2001 and probably his last before he leaves office next January.
The White House said Bush's main focus was on the development agenda. But analysts believe the ultimate goal of the visit is to promote U.S. long-term strategic interests in Africa.
SHOWING CARING SIDE OF U.S. POLICY
U.S. officials have said Bush's trip is aimed at showing the caring side of the U.S. policy toward Africa.
"The trip will be an opportunity to demonstrate America's commitment to the people of these countries and to Africa as a whole," White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters Thursday.
"The trip will highlight how the United States has partnered closely with the people of Africa to address the challenges of disease, poverty and security. Together, we've really made remarkable progress," Hadley said.
Bush is expected to use his trip to spotlight U.S. efforts to help eradicate diseases, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria and sign a pact on granting 698 million U.S. dollars to Tanzania as part of his Millennium Challenge Corporation, an initiative that ploughs money into countries that adhere to democratic principles and sound economic principles.
ADDRESSING VIOLENCE ON AFRICAN CONTINENT
The five African nations are either strategically located or in hot spots of violence and turmoil. Analysts said that steering clear of troubles on the continent especially in Kenya, where more than 1,000 have died in post-election violence, will offer an opportunity that the U.S. is trying to seize to advocate its interests in Africa.
Just before his departure, Bush announced he would dispatch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to help put an end to the crisis and support former U.N. chief Kofi Annan's mediation efforts in Kenya.
"In Kenya, we are backing the efforts of former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to end the crisis," Bush said in a speech at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on Thursday, "And when we are on the continent, I have asked Condi Rice to travel to Kenya to support the work of the former secretary general and to deliver a message directly to Kenya's leaders."
"There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse, and there must be a full return to democracy," Bush said.
STRATEGIC INTERESTS CANNOT BE IGNORED
The United States has for years maintained a tiny troop presence in just a few African countries, in sharp contrast to its strong military presence in the Middle East.
In February 2007, the United States has announced plans to establish an Africa Command (Africom) to oversee military operations on the continent. Subsequently, U.S. officials have become increasingly active in Africa.
During her visit to Ethiopia last December, Rice not only met with the leaders of the country, but also held meetings with heads of states from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the conflict in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.
No substantial progress has been made in choosing a site to locate Africom despite nearly a year of diplomatic efforts. Only one country, Liberia, has showed interest in playing host to the Africom HQ. Other major countries in Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria, have refused to neither host Africom nor provide permanent military bases for U.S. troops.
In an interview with foreign media on Thursday, Bush said Liberia might be chosen as the new location for the U.S. military command in Africa.
"If there is going to be a physical presence on the continent of Africa in the forms of a headquarters ... obviously we would seriously consider Liberia," Bush said.
Besides, the U.S. is increasingly eyeing Africa's substantial oil reserves. It is estimated over 10 percent of U.S. oil imports are from Africa. Local media reports say one quarter of its oil imports will come from Africa by 2015.