On what was likely his last day on this continent as head of state, George W. Bush wrapped up a five-day tour of Africa today with one final legacy push: a promise to help get the war-torn country of Liberia back on its feet.
"The United States stands with you. We want to help you recover from a terrible period. We want you to build lives of hope and peace," Bush said in a speech in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
Years of civil war have left the country in shambles. The United States has already given Liberia a reported $750 million in direct aid, and more through the United Nations, to help the country rebuild.
Today Bush promised more tangible contributions to Liberia, and perhaps to his legacy. The United States will provide one million textbooks books to one million Liberian schoolchildren, he announced.
Bush promised more than just books. The president also pledged money for school desks and chairs, and educational CDs, for another 10,000 children. He pledged millions to help rebuild Liberia's army, pay for U.N. peacekeepers and distribute 480,000 mosquito nets to help stop malaria.
The poor west African nation, which was founded by freed American slaves and happens to be the home of one of Bush's favorite world leaders, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, desperately needs the help.
"It is easy to destroy a country, it is hard to rebuild a country … our help is just beginning," Bush told Sirleaf, an American-educated woman with whom Bush was so impressed that he awarded her the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.
To demonstrate her country's gratitude, Sirleaf gave Bush not one, but two medals: one was pinned to his suit, one hung around his neck. The medals were so ornate that one reporter described them as serious "bling."
The latest donations followed four days in which Bush announced new grants for Africa to fight malaria and HIV/AIDS, and to build infrastructure.
In addition to Liberia, Bush visited Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana.
He was warmly greeted by flag-waving crowds at almost every stop —a far cry from his reception back home, where most surveys put his popularity rating at around 30 percent.