By Jeremy W. Steele
The Cincinnati Enquirer
There's hope in David Howard's voice. Hope that has survived 14 years of self-imposed exile from a homeland plagued by conflict. Hope that endured after the death of a 32-year-old son, who too had fled but was never able to escape refugee camps to join his father, mother and two sisters in America.
And hope that African leaders will persuade President Bush - who is headed to five African nations in the next five days - to send U.S. troops into Liberia, a nation founded in the 19th century by freed U.S. slaves and now engulfed in a bloody civil war.
"We have that close tie to America, and it has been aching us that America has taken so long to come to our aid," said Howard, vicar of Forest Park's Holy Spirit Episcopal Church. "When Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast were experiencing difficulties, France and Great Britain went in and tried to bring about some peace.
"We were wondering if the U.S. had forsaken us."
Like many other African natives living in the Cincinnati area, Howard now has hope that the United States is making Africa's problems a priority. There are more than 3,500 African-born residents of Greater Cincinnati, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Bush is only the fourth president - and first Republican president - to visit sub-Saharan Africa. His Africa plan, which he is expected to promote heavily on the trip, includes $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS, which is devastating the continent, $200 million in famine relief and $100 million to fight terrorism.
"It's remarkable. There's no doubt about it," said Ian Yeboah, an associate professor of geography and black world studies at Miami University.
"The question, though, is to what extent is this particular president going to engage the issues that he's been talking about."
Yeboah, who is from Ghana and has written about the politics, history and culture of the region, said he was surprised by Bush's move. The president had indicated in the presidential debates that Africa would not be a priority of his administration.
"I hope it's not just a photo op," Yeboah said. "Increasingly we're living in a global community and if we're not solving problems together, it's going to come back to haunt the United States."
Africa needs American help, said Joseph Takougang, a University of Cincinnati African history associate professor. But Takougang, who emigrated from Cameroon in 1978, said it's important the U.S. plan includes more than Bush's financial aid.
"It can't be enough," he said. "If you take Afghanistan, for instance, we can't just give $200 million and say that's enough. We have to make a long-term commitment."
Lovingson Mtongwiza, a Northern Kentucky University graduate student and Zimbabwe citizen, hopes to see the United States commit to actively helping grow African economies, improve the continent's infrastructure and build democracies.
Otherwise, Mtongwiza said, the United States is in danger of "throwing money in a pocket with holes."
"No matter how much money is pumped out, it won't help unless you address the underlying problems," he said.
At the moment, experts say, all eyes are focused away from Africa's other problems and onto the crisis in Liberia.
Even a hemisphere away at Cincinnati's VITAS Hospice, where Howard serves as chaplain, it's impossible to escape the pain from the West African nation's war.
Howard wants help to come soon for his nation, and he's hoping President Bush can bring it.
"He's a man of prayer," Howard said of the president, "and so we are praying for him."
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