Last night I woke up in the middle of the night tossing and turning with troubling thoughts of Laura Bush. A few days earlier I’d read an AP article from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, with the headline, Mrs. Bush Seeks to Empower African Women. My first thought was, "Really....Laura Bush?" How is a privileged white woman, who is neither Muslim nor African, going to empower “African women”? And, what a big assumption it is to imply that all African women are the same!
The First Lady was traveling in Africa with her twin daughters, giving speeches and visiting hospitals, schools, and orphanages in Rwanda, Tanzania, Capo Verde, Zanzibar, and South Africa. The article said that she would visit a Muslim school in Zanzibar that had received one thousand US dollars in seed money from the President’s $15 billion in aid package (Oh, look, world, the US will even support Muslims).
In her speeches, Mrs. Bush stressed the importance of equality for women in such things as voting rights, involvement in politics/government, and improved literacy for girls and women. All good things, I agree. Yet, troublesome coming from a woman whose life experience bears little resemblance to that of “the African woman.” Laura Bush has a ‘here’s-what-you-need-to-fix-it’ approach (the strong helping the weak, broken one) rather than a service approach that sees the other as equal and identifies with the other’s suffering and joy. Even so, I am glad that the G8 meetings produced billions of dollars in pledged aid and debt forgiveness for Africa.
In another article I read of Mrs. Bush’s visit to a Rwandan cemetery to 'pay tribute' to the hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and Hutus who were killed (eight hundred thousand, I think). Though the report said she hardly showed emotion, she said she was “moved.” She later asked Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, what we could do to prevent other genocides from happening. Good question and an ironic one. She also never publicly mentioned Darfur. Cherie Blair, wife of British PM Tony Blair, accompanied Laura Bush to Rwanda. She was quoted as saying, "I am very moved by what I have seen, also distressed that the world looked on while it happened.” It seems that we are all looking on while people are being killed and raped in Darfur. It could turn into another Rwanda.