He has done well with health and foreign aid, but his vision for a new US military role still needs defining.
President Bush can safely claim a positive legacy in Africa, which he tours starting Feb. 15. He increased funds for health and tied foreign aid to reform. But one legacy hangs in the balance: a new American security arrangement there.
It's called AFRICOM, a United States military command center for the continent. It replaces a cold-war setup that viewed Africa as secondary to larger security concerns. That's why its oversight was long divided among three US command centers that focus on other global regions.
A year ago, the White House announced one central command for the continent. Africa had become too strategically important to be divvied up and filed away in various military portfolios. It deserved its own four-star general, watching over Africa as a whole.
AFRICOM's mission isn't to wage war, but to prevent it. To that end, its deputy commander is a diplomat from the State Department – a unique arrangement.
It looks like the administration has learned a critical lesson: Africa is important.
The US has a strategic stake in this part of the world, in part because of its natural resources. African oil is projected to account for 25 percent of US oil imports by 2015. Certainly China recognizes the potential and has been busily investing in Africa's energy sector.
At the same time, failed and failing states in Africa can breed terrorists, and anti-US sentiment among Muslims on the continent is rising.