Of all the places on the globe for President Barack Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to meet, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, would seem to be an unlikely one. Their meeting last Tuesday, however, was not entirely shocking given the president's links with and interest in Africa and the former president's policy accomplishments on that continent.
Not surprisingly, President Obama's weeklong visit to Africa was dominated by moving tributes to the ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela and the drama of the arrival on the continent's soil of America's first black president, the son of a man born in Kenya. His efforts to trumpet the accomplishments of the "Feed the Future" anti-hunger program were lost in the glare, but this humanitarian effort is of great significance.
President Bush, along with his wife, Laura, were in Africa primarily to renovate a clinic in Zambia designed to help women confront cervical cancer. The clinic is an extension of Mr. Bush's successful efforts to combat AIDS in Africa, efforts that President Obama paid tribute to during the course of his visit. The two men got together to participate in a memorial ceremony for victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania.
President Obama paid tribute to his predecessor's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief which helped save thousands of lives and continues to pay dividends throughout the continent, as more than 5 million Africans now have access to HIV drugs. Mr. Obama has a similar initiative, the "Feed the Future" program which since 2010 has invested $3.5 billion in funds from America and other nations to help more than 3 million people in Africa increase their food production. Mr. Obama tweaked the press for its disinterest in hunger programs, observing that "I know that millet and maize and fertilizer doesn't always make for sexy copy," and he is right that programs, whether to combat AIDS or hunger, don't get the attention or praise they deserve.
Economically, the U.S. is playing catch-up ball with China, which has invested heavily in Africa. The president wisely said the U.S. wanted to help Africa build Africa for itself, an implied criticism of China which brings in its own workers for building projects and processes the valuable minerals it extracts back home. Africans should be sensitive about China behaving like the European colonial powers of old.
There is geopolitical logic in the United States helping Africans to help themselves. As importantly, from a purely humanitarian perspective, it is the right thing to do. We all share the globe, and those who are well-off -- which America is, in spite of all its problems -- must reach out to those who are not.