DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush stood side-by-side in Tanzania on Tuesday to commemorate the victims of the al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy 15 years ago – an attack that foreshadowed the United States’ present military build-up in Africa.
The two men bowed their heads in silence at a memorial stone in the new embassy compound in Dar es Salaam to the 10 Tanzanians killed and 85 Americans and Tanzanians wounded in the bombing on August 7, 1998.
They then briefly spoke to survivors. But there was little personal interaction between the two men.
The ceremony took place at a time when the United States is stepping up its role in the fight against Islamist militants in Africa.
Washington supports African forces in stabilizing Somalia and Mali, deploys dozens of training teams to African nations, provides intelligence and has struck at militants with drones.
With up to 5,000 personnel on the ground, the United States now has more troops in Africa now than at any point since its Somalia intervention two decades ago.
On the same day as the Tanzanian attack, al Qaeda also bombed the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. Those assaults proved a precursor to the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on U.S. cities and the subsequent U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq ordered by Bush.
Obama has spent his tenure winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reacting to an economic downturn that Democrats blame on Bush’s policies. Republicans in turn say Obama’s actions have been bad for growth.
But on his three-nation African tour, Obama offered praise for the former president and described Bush’s program to battle HIV/AIDS there as a “crowning achievement.”
Bush is highly regarded in much of Africa for his legacy of support, while Obama has disappointed many by paying it little attention, security concerns aside, despite his African heritage.