(WASHINGTON) — The George W. Bush Presidential Library dedication brought together five living presidents who have been at odds about much of the 43rd president’s foreign policy legacy, particularly the Iraq war. But they all agreed on, and offered effusive praise for, George W. Bush’s work in Africa.
From the historic peace agreement between Sudan and South Sudan in 2005, to Bush’s work on HIV/AIDS and malaria, all the presidents, regardless of party, thanked Bush for his involvement in African policies and issues.
Former President Jimmy Carter — who now runs the Carter Center, a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight for human rights, conflict resolution and global health in the world’s most impoverished countries — laid out Bush’s accomplishments, including increasing aid to the continent by more than 640 percent by the time he left office.
“Mr. President, let me say that I’m filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you about the great contributions you’ve made to the most needy people on Earth,” said Carter.
At more than $5 billion a year in humanitarian aid to Africa, Bush has given more assistance to the continent than any other president. His administration’s aid was largely targeted to fight the major global health issues facing the continent: HIV/AIDS and malaria.
In 2003, Bush founded the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which guaranteed $15 million to be spent over the course of five years on prevention, treatment and research on HIV/AIDS. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. was also a leader in contributing to the Global Fund on AIDS.
Though there was controversy over some of the qualifications for PEPFAR funds — up to 20 percent was to be spent on abstinence-focused prevention programs, and the funds could not be used for needle-sharing programs — most HIV/AIDS activists credit the program for being instrumental in turning the tide on AIDS.
Before PEPFAR, an estimated 100,000 people were on anti-retroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. By the time Bush left office in 2008, that number had increased to about two million.
In 2005, Bush started a $1.2 billion initiative to fight malaria. He defended the request for funding in 2007, saying, “There’s no reason for little babies to be dying of mosquito bites around the world.”
At Thursday’s ceremony, former President Bill Clinton said in his travels throughout Africa he had “personally seen the faces of some of the millions of people who are alive today” because of Bush’s policies.
Even some of Bush’s most ardent critics have admitted that his foreign policy legacy on Africa continues to have a lasting effect.
U2 front-man and activist Bono, who criticized Bush on the Iraq War, nonetheless expressed his admiration for the Republican president on an appearance on the Daily Show last year, telling Stewart that Bush did an “amazing” job in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
“I know that’s hard for you to accept,” Bono said to a surprised crowd and host, “but George kind of knocked it out of the park. I can tell you, and I’m actually here to tell you that America now has five million people being kept alive by these drugs. That’s something that everyone should know.”
Since leaving office, the former president and his wife, Laura, have continued to stay active in global health issues in Africa, now taking on cancer. The George W. Bush Institute has launched the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative to try and bring together both public and private investment to fight cervical and breast cancer in Africa and Latin America. The couple launched the program on a visit to Zambia and Bostwana in July of last year.
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John Newsome and Anne Woolsey, CNN