DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Unpopular at home and in much of the world during the last year of his presidency, George W. Bush is basking in rare adulation on his African tour.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete poured praise on Bush in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, the second day of his five-nation African tour, each compliment applauded warmly by members of the east African country’s cabinet.
Although around 2,000 Muslim demonstrators protested against Bush on the eve of his visit, many thousands more cheering, waving people lined his road from the airport on Saturday.
Banners across the route, decorated with Bush’s image against a backdrop of Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, read: “We cherish democracy. Karibu (welcome) to President and Mrs Bush.”
Others read: “Thank you for helping fight malaria and HIV.” Dancers at the airport and at Kikwete’s state house to greet Bush on Sunday, wore skirts and shirts decorated with his face.
Back home, Bush is suffering some of the lowest approval ratings in his seven-year tenure and has been buffeted by criticism of his handling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ailing economy.
Not surprisingly he is enjoying the different reception in Africa.
Beaming repeatedly during a press conference with Kikwete, he made a point of referring to his welcome on the streets, which he described as “very moving”.
Bush opened his remarks by saying “Vipi Mambo!” before turning to U.S. journalists and adding: “For the uneducated, that’s Swahili for ‘Howdy Y’all’” —a typical Texas greeting.
Kikwete told Bush: “The outpouring of warmth and affection from the people of Tanzania that you have witnessed since your arrival is a genuine reflection of what we feel towards you and towards the American people.”
In a reference to Bush’s domestic problems, Kikwete added: “Different people may have different views about you and your administration and your legacy.
“But we in Tanzania, if we are to speak for ourselves and for Africa, we know for sure that you, Mr. President, and your administration have been good friends of our country and have been good friends of Africa.”
Although many Africans, especially Muslims, share negative perceptions of Bush’s foreign policy with other parts of the world, there is widespread recognition of his successful humanitarian and health initiatives on the continent.
Bush has spent more money on aid to Africa than his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and is popular for his personal programs to fight AIDS and malaria and to help hospitals and schools.
Bush has stressed new-style partnerships with Africa based on trade and investment and not purely on aid handouts.
His Millennium Challenge Corp. rewards countries that continue to satisfy criteria for democratic governance, anti-corruption and free-market economic policies.
Bush signed the largest such deal, for $698 million, with Kikwete on Sunday.
Because of the U.S. anti-malaria program, 5 percent of patients tested positive for the disease on the offshore islands of Zanzibar in 2007 compared to 40 percent three years earlier, the Tanzanian leader said.
Bush’s legacy in Africa would be saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of mothers and children who would otherwise have died from malaria or AIDS and enabling millions of people to get an education, he said.
“I know you leave office in about 12 months’ time. Rest assured that you will be remembered for many generations to come for the good things you’ve done for Tanzania and the good things you have done for Africa,” Kikwete said.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles; editing by Robert Woodward)
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