President Bush's sense of mission to improve the lives of the people of the Middle East has attracted so much attention that the Wall Street Journal called him "Bush of Arabia" the other day over an article by Fouad Ajami. Less widely appreciated are Mr. Bush's achievements in Africa, which are worth marking as the president embarks today on a visit that is scheduled to include trips to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia. Mr. Bush has committed $15 billion to fight AIDS and HIV in Africa, and the result is that the number of Africans benefiting from anti-retroviral drugs has soared to 1.3 million today from 50,000 a few years ago. A similar effort is under way to fight malaria, with similarly promising results.
Mr. Bush hasn't gotten much credit for this among the American public, but, as a BBC interviewer noted yesterday, his approval rating in Africa is in the 80% range, which is astonishingly high. The numbers are borne out by the Pew Global Attitudes survey. Critics of Mr. Bush seize on the low numbers in that survey for people's opinion of America in the Europe or in parts of the Arab world. But a 2007 Pew survey found 88% of those in the Ivory Coast view America favorably, 87% of those in Kenya, 80% of those in Ghana, and 79% of those in Mali. These numbers top the Pew charts.
Africa has plenty of problems, as we have recently written about in respect of Chad and Darfur. But with the contributions of the Bush administration and private philanthropy such as that of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, basic health conditions are on the way to improving for many residents of the continent. Asked about all this yesterday, Mr. Bush characteristically looked beyond the poll numbers to the broader principles. "I believe to whom much is given, much is required. It happens to be a religious notion. But, it should be a universal notion as well," the president said. "I believe America's soul is enriched, our spirit is enhanced when we help people who suffer."