US President Obama, predecessor Bush team up in Africa

DAR ES SALAAM (AFP) - US President Barack Obama ends his Africa tour on Tuesday, with an unusual double act with his predecessor George W. Bush, whose HIV/Aids programme saved millions of lives on the continent.

Democrat Obama and Republican Bush will together lay a wreath at a memorial to those killed in a US embassy bombing here in 1998, in an appearance the White House says is proof that both feuding parties care about Africa.

Mr Obama will also visit the Ubungo power plant, after unveiling a new US$7-billion (S$8.9-billion) programme, a mix of private and public funds, loan guarantees and other instruments, to boost African electric power networks.

The initiative is designed to improve infrastructure to incentivise foreign firms to invest and to improve conditions for Africans seeking the kind of education that would help them compete in a global marketplace.

Mr Bush is in the country for a forum of regional First Ladies, hosted by his wife Laura, which will also be attended by Michelle Obama.

Mr Obama came to power lambasting the former president over the Iraq war and his economic policies, but White House aides say they now have a good personal relations - aided by Mr Bush's decision not to publicly criticise his successor.

But even Mr Bush's political foes praise him for his plan to fight HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, which is now a decade old.

"This is one of his crowning achievements," Mr Obama said on Monday.

"Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of people's lives have been saved," Mr Obama said.

Delighted crowds thronged Mr Obama when he arrived on Monday, free to drive home the message that he wanted to help "Africa to build Africa, for Africans" after days paying tribute to his ailing political hero Nelson Mandela.

As well as the power plan, Mr Obama is pushing initiatives to boost regional trade with America, to tear down customs and border logjams delaying exports and to save Africa's endangered elephants and rhinos.

Tanzania, the final leg of an three-nation continental tour, is the kind of African democracy, aided by US health and infrastructure programs, that Washington wants to see duplicated in a region scarred by poor governance.

"Ultimately the goal here is for Africa to build Africa, for Africans," Mr Obama said after talks with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

"And our job is to be a partner in that process, and Tanzania's been one of our best partners," Mr Obama said, saying that "we are looking at a new model that's based not just on aid and assistance".

It did not escape Washington's notice that Mr Xi Jinping included Tanzania on his first foreign trip as president of China in March.

Throughout his Africa journey, which also included South Africa and Senegal, Obama has implicitly touted US-style investment and partnership as superior to Beijing's own Africa push, arguing US firms do more to build local economic capacity.

When Air Force One touched down after a flight from Cape Town in Dar es Salaam, Mr Obama was serenaded by marching bands in red tunics and traditional dancers clapping as a guard of honor blasted off a 21-gun salute.

Huge crowds, perhaps the biggest of his presidency, save for a trip to Myanmar last year, packed the roads into town. Mr Kikwete said he had never seen such a welcome for a foreign leader.

"You are a true friend of Tanzania and a dear friend of Africa," he said.

The promenade separating Tanzania's State House from the glittering blue water of the Indian Ocean has been renamed Barack Obama Drive and proclaimed its name with a freshly painted sign.

"In Africa we have so many countries, so Obama choosing to come to Tanzania, it makes us feel happy," said Francis Gedyman, 26, a driver.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will inspect a new invention that places a generator unit inside a football, which can be taken home after a kick around to power up lamps or even mobile electronic devices.

"Even as this continent faces great challenges this is also a moment of great promise for Africa," Mr Obama later said in a speech on trade given to leading business figures from around the East Africa region.

"I see Africa as the world's next major economic success story and the United States wants to be a partner in that success.

Mr Obama and Mr Bush last met when the president attended the opening of the Republican's presidential library in Dallas in April.

The bombing of the US embassy in Tanzania which killed 11 people was timed to coincide with a separate attack on the US embassy in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that left 213 dead and several thousand wounded.

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