For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 15, 2006
Press Briefing by the First Lady En Route Accra, Ghana
In Focus: Africa
2:35 P.M. (Local)
MRS. BUSH: Well, first, of course, we're going for the inauguration of the first woman president on the African continent. Dr. Rice will be joining us. We're really, really excited to be at such a historic inauguration. Her election followed a very competitive, but from all international observers, said free and transparent election, which was really great, especially under the circumstances of the recent history of Liberia. She ran on a platform of reconciliation and reconstruction, and it's going to take the help of a lot of countries, including the United States, which has a special relationship with Liberia, for her and the people of Liberia to be able to do the reconstruction they need.
And so I'm really thrilled to be able to bring the best wishes of the American people to her as she's sworn in as their President, and also to bring her the commitment from the United States government to stand with her, to stand with the people of Liberia as they rebuild their country.
So the centerpiece, really, of this trip is women's empowerment, with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as an example, a shining example for all of us, for women around the world, not just women on her continent, but for women everywhere. And we will continue, when we go to Ghana and then Nigeria, to talk about education, to talk about the treatment of HIV/AIDS, all the ways that boys and girls can be educated so that they can protect themselves from deadly diseases, so they can make an economic impact in their countries, and so that they'll be able to live successful lives.
The problems that we'll see in each of these countries are problems that we also have. One problem in Liberia is there's so many unemployed young people, and the young people were overwhelmingly for George Weah, the soccer player, the American soccer player, even though Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf won by 59 percent of the vote. So she, in her country, and her colleagues will have to do what all of us are doing in countries around the world, where we're reaching out to young people, especially boys, to help them find employment, help them find a successful way to live, and then, on the continent of Africa and around the world, reaching out to girls to make sure girls are educated and that girls get basic rights.
Liberia recently passed rape legislation, anti-rape legislation. It was the first time they'd had legislation like that. And violence against women is a problem across the continent, just like it is around the world. But it's a problem that they're starting to address. And we all know that if girls are educated and empowered, they also are able to avoid violent situations easier than if they're not educated and vulnerable.
Then we'll go on to Ghana, and in Ghana, we'll be doing an event with six university presidents from the United States. They're minority-serving universities, and they will each adopt a specific country -- and in the speech, when I give it day after tomorrow, I'll introduce those presidents and talk about the countries they're going to work with. They are getting funds from USAID, the American universities are, to work with African countries so they can write and develop their own curriculum and their own textbooks for K-8. It's a way for countries to develop curriculum that's traditional, that's insidic to their own traditions, and that meets the needs the needs of their own children.
So I think it's a very, very exciting project, and I know the American university presidents that are involved are really excited about it, as well. So we'll hear more about that when we get to Ghana.
Then in Nigeria, we're going to visit a hospital, St. Mary's Hospital, that was one of the first hospitals that PEPFAR had a strong association with, and we'll deliver, actually deliver antiretroviral drugs as part of the PEPFAR program that they -- drugs they've already been receiving, as well, for their patients.
But overall, our themes are women's empowerment, girls' education, as a way to treat HIV/AIDS, as well as to let boys and girls develop into successful adults.
So now I'll take your questions.
Q I was wondering if I could ask you about Liberia. You mentioned the U.S. -- bringing the commitment of the United States to stand with Liberia. Are you bringing any specifics with you? You talked about the unemployment problem and the incredible reconstruction that has to happen. What can the U.S. do to help?
MRS. BUSH: Well, the United States has already invested a lot of money -- Jendayi can probably tell you exactly how much -- over the last two years through the election period -- actually over many years, but specifically through the election period as they establish free elections in a democracy. And then we have a commitment for the year 2006, as well, to help them in their reconstruction as they start to try to have electricity again and potable water and all the things that are so crucial for basic survival in Liberia.
MS. FRAZER: It's $1 billion from 2004 to 2006, and $840 million last year.
Q Mrs. Bush, I'd like to get you on another subject, the NSA program, the National Security Agency eavesdropping program. Your husband seemed upset when that was disclosed. And I was just wondering if you could tell us what his initial reaction was to that disclosure, and whether you think that disclosure is undermining or will undermine the effectiveness of that program.
MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, that was his initial reaction, and that was -- of course, the problems that might come when you're in the situation that we're in, where we're constantly on the alert for an attack like what happened on September 11th. And I think the American people expect the United States government and the President to do what they can to make sure there's not an attack by foreign terrorists.
Q Was he initially worried that it would have to be eliminated -- stopped, because --
MRS. BUSH: I think he was worried that it would undermine our efforts by alerting terrorists to what our efforts are.
Q Can I ask you another unrelated question? I wanted to ask you about Vice President Cheney. Do you think that he's going to be here until the end of the administration? And do you think that --
MRS. BUSH: Absolutely. I think Vice President Cheney's in great health and he's doing great.
Q You don't think that he -- the President would be upset if he decided to step down at this point?
MRS. BUSH: Yes, I'm sure the President would not like for him to step down, obviously. The Vice President has been an excellent Vice President, he's solid as a rock.
Q So you think he'll stay.
MRS. BUSH: Yes.
Q Mrs. Bush, I'd like to ask you about the President's global AIDS initiative. There's been some criticism that it focuses too heavily on abstinence rather than condom use, and some people have equated this with Christian moralism. Do you think there's a fair divide, unequal? Do you think there should be more emphasis on condoms?
MRS. BUSH: I think it's a very fair divide. The whole plan all along has been Uganda's plan, which is the ABC -- abstinence, be faithful, and correct and consistent use of condoms. In a country or a part of the world where one in three people have a sexually transmitted deadly disease, you have to talk about abstinence, you really have to. And in continents, on a continent, and in many countries where girls feel obligated to comply with the wishes of men, girls need to know that abstinence is a choice. It's really very, very important to have all three -- abstinence, be faithful, and the consistent use of condoms.
But when girls are not empowered, when girls are vulnerable, they have very -- their chances of being able to negotiate their sexual life with their partners and to encourage or make their partners use a condom are very low. So it's really important for all three to be part of a successful eradication of AIDS, and that is to be faithful -- abstinence, be faithful to your partner, and then use condoms, correctly and consistently.
So I really -- I'm always a little bit irritated when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is absolutely 100 percent effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted disease.
Q How do you think the American women view this Liberian inauguration? Do you think that they're --
MRS. BUSH: Even know?
MRS. BUSH: I do think so, I hope so. I hope you all will spread the word in your papers.
Q Why should they feel it's important?
MRS. BUSH: I think it's really important worldwide. I think it's particularly important on the continent of Africa, because traditionally women have been excluded in many African cultures -- not all of them, but in many. And I think it's important to -- that she serves as a very important role model for little girls on the continent, as well as around the world. And I'm really, really thrilled to have the opportunity to be the one that gets to represent the United States, along with Dr. Rice, at her inauguration.
Q Did you ask to go?
MRS. BUSH: I asked to go. No, I asked to go.
Q Quick follow on Liberia. What, if anything, does it tell us, that this country that was founded by freed American slaves is now electing its first woman president, and in our country we haven't gotten to that point yet? Is there anything that could be drawn from that?
MRS. BUSH: I don't know that there is. I mean, I can't -- I don't think you can extrapolate something from one to the other. But we'll have one sometime.
Q Did you hear from Dr. Rice about your comment?
MRS. BUSH: I'm probably going to have to take over her correspondence department, when she gets all the letters -- (laughter.)
END 2:47 P.M. (Local)