As President Barack Obama wraps up a short tour of Africa, his predecessor, George W. Bush, and wife Laura journeyed to the southern African nation of Zambia, one year after the couple made a similar trek there. The Bushes arrived in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, on Friday and journeyed to Livingstone, a town about 300 miles to the southwest, to promote their cancer initiative, the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, and dedicated a new health clinic.
The Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative is designed to raise awareness of African women dying from cervical cancer, a disease usually arising from a sexually transmitted virus. Zambia has one of the world's highest rates of this affliction. In 2011, the Bushes formed the $85 million Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon campaign, which is also operating in Botswana, screening thousands of women and providing treatment.
"The Government of Zambia is beginning to spread the Pink Ribbon-Red Ribbon Campaign throughout the country. We need to make people aware of this clinic so that they come here and get screened," George Bush said. "We believe that all life is precious and we love coming back to Zambia. This facility was pretty run-down and it needed help -- hence it has been cleaned with love.”
Current first lady Michelle Obama will meet with the Bushes on Tuesday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to host the African First Ladies Summit. “This [Summit] will also speak to the bipartisan support … for sub-Saharan Africa,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security director. The George W. Bush Institute in Dallas and the White House both have declared that the concurrent trips to Africa by two U.S. presidents was simply coincidental.
The Dallas Morning News reported that while George W. Bush remains a polarizing figure in the U.S., he and his wife are widely admired in parts of Africa, particularly Zambia, a nation of 14-million, where 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. “George Bush is a president who’s supported Zambia with two hands,” a Lusaka taxi driver named Chipo Hamoonga told the News. Another Zambian, Sokio Gift, told the paper: “[Bush is] a good man.”
Even Obama, who has bitterly opposed many of Bush’s policies, praised the former president’s efforts in fighting AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and has continued those programs. “What we’re doing is transitioning so that it’s not just a matter of delivering antiviral drugs; it’s also how do we create a health infrastructure in these countries that’s sustainable,” Obama said on Air Force One on his way to South Africa.
The Bushes are also seeking to improve the lot of women in Africa by encouraging self-starters and entrepreneurship, particularly in the agricultural sector. “It’s really important, worldwide, that women have a chance to contribute to their economy,” Laura Bush said. “Once Africa really taps into the great resources they have for agriculture, there won’t be hunger.”