Ugandan’s Key to White House: AIDS
President Bush today embraced the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, for his success in fighting AIDS, but said nothing publicly about what the White House views as Uganda’s less inspiring role as a weapons supplier to militias in Congo’s five-year-old civil war.
The White House used Mr. Bush’s meeting with Mr. Museveni to showcase a central part of the president’s agenda, a $15 billion bill that Congress approved last month to fight AIDS on the global level. Mr. Bush is hoping to use the bill to highlight what his advisers say is the human side of his administration’s foreign policy.
”Mr. President, you have shown extraordinary leadership on a lot of issues, but the one that’s really captured the imagination and the hearts of the American people is your extraordinary leadership on HIV/AIDS in your country,” Mr. Bush said at the start of a meeting with Mr. Museveni in the Oval Office.
Mr. Bush is to travel to Africa next month, although it is not clear whether he will make Uganda part of his trip. Either way, administration officials say Uganda’s ability to turn around its AIDS epidemic — 5 percent of Ugandans now have AIDS, compared with 15 percent a decade ago — served as inspiration for Mr. Bush’s AIDS bill.
Uganda’s success also helped persuade him, officials say, that money on AIDS in Africa could be well spent.
The bill was largely based on Uganda’s A.B.C. campaign, which promotes, in order, abstinence, being faithful and condoms. In the United States, the A.B.C. program has also been politically palatable to Mr. Bush’s conservative base because of its emphasis on abstinence.
”It doesn’t use the distribution of condoms as the first line of defense,” said Ken Connor, the director of the anti-abortion Family Research Council.
Privately, Mr. Bush pressed Mr. Museveni on Uganda’s involvement in the Congolese civil war, according to a senior administration official. The fighting, massacres, famine and disease have caused an estimated 3.3 million deaths as the armies of neighboring countries — and their proxy militias — have run rampant through Congo.
Although Ugandan troops pulled out of Congo last month under a negotiated peace agreement, the country has still been supporting militias and political groups in the region.
According to the official, Mr. Bush was adamant that Mr. Museveni disengage.
”He was tough on him,” the official said. ”He said, in essence, ‘It’s a tough enough neighborhood; don’t make it tougher.’ ”
Mr. Museveni told the president, according to the official, that ”we’re out of it and we’re done with it.” The official said he took Mr. Museveni’s remarks to mean that he would no longer support Congolese militias.
Africa specialists said it was essential for the White House to put some pressure on Mr. Museveni, despite his success in fighting AIDS.
”I would hope they’re saying ‘Let’s get this seething subtribal and interethnic problem off the boil,’ ” said Chester A. Crocker, who was the assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Reagan administration. ”It’s very messy, and we need responsible behavior by the Ugandans.”
Mr. Bush and Mr. Museveni also talked about African trade with the United States.
”I don’t believe in aid as an end in itself,” Mr. Museveni said in his public comments at the start of the meeting. ”I believe in trade.”
In addition, the two presidents talked about textiles and combating terrorism, the administration official said. ”They kind of got into the weeds a little bit,” the official said.