Bush plays down Chinese rivalry in Africa

On a visit to Ghana as part of his ongoing tour of Africa, US President George W. Bush said that no new American military bases were planned on the continent (Story: H. Papper)


ACCRA - President George W. Bush said on Wednesday that the United States was not planning to build new military bases in Africa and played down the risk of rivalry with China for influence on the continent.

Speaking in Ghana on the fourth leg of a five-nation African tour, Bush said the U.S. military command for Africa (Africom) created last year was intended to help African leaders solve the continent's crises, not boost the U.S. military presence there.

"We do not contemplate adding new bases," Bush said at a joint news conference with Ghana's President John Kufuor.

"I know there are rumours in Ghana: 'All Bush is doing is coming to try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. Or, as we say in Texas, that's bull," Bush said.

The Bush administration created Africom with the aim of bolstering security on the continent, already a major supplier of crude oil to the American market.

U.S. officials talked initially of plans to move the Africom headquarters to Africa, but African opposition led Washington to change course. Bush said the United States could still put "some kind of office" representing Africom on the continent.

"We haven't made our minds up. It's a new concept," he said.

A base for 1,800 U.S. troops already exists in Djibouti.

Bush said the United States and China could both pursue opportunities in Africa without stoking rivalry. China's growing influence on the continent is seen by some Western diplomats as undermining efforts to encourage good governance.

China has ramped up its investment across Africa in recent years in return for access to oil, metals and other raw materials to fuel its rapidly expanding economy.

"I don't view Africa as zero sum for China and the United States. I think we can pursue agendas without creating a great sense of competition," Bush said.

"Do I view China as a fierce competitor on the continent of Africa? No I don't."

Kufuor said engagement with China was the best policy.

"It's coming not as a colonial power, as far as we can see. It's coming .... as a guest and I believe on our terms, on the terms of the African nations," he said.


Bush met Kufuor in a former slave fort by the Atlantic Ocean, which millions of Africans crossed in chains on their way to the Americas. Thousands lined the streets to greet him, including children waving Ghana's green, yellow and red flag.

The imposing former trading fort was built by European colonists, is now more generally known as "The Castle" -- the seat of government in the former British "Gold Coast" colony.

Peacocks strutted and screeched in the background as Bush and Kufuor spoke on a dais in the castle gardens.

Ghana's thriving economy, built on gold and cocoa exports and the promise of oil production within three years, and its stable democracy that stands out in volatile West Africa, has made it a darling of Washington and other donors.

During his tour, Bush has backed efforts to solve crises in Kenya and Darfur. But his itinerary, taking in Benin, Tanzania and Rwanda, has sought to highlight success stories on a continent often portrayed as a morass of crises and conflict.

Bush's support for multi-billion-dollar anti-malaria and anti-AIDS projects in Africa has earned him an unusually warm reception despite widespread condemnation of his foreign policy toward Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

In Ghana, Bush unveiled a $350 million, 5-year plan to fight neglected tropical diseases on the world's poorest continent.

Ghana, stable for more than a decade after a period of military rule, is a leading recipient of U.S. aid in Africa, and gets $547 million in U.S. assistance under a five-year programme managed by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning