By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
June 09, 2005
While the president has publicly rejected calls to double U.S. aid to the region - a commitment that would cost the Treasury more than $6 billion a year - he vowed that the world's richest nation will do more to "help Africa get on her feet."
"At a time when freedom is on the march around the world, it is vital that the continent of Africa be a place of democracy and prosperity and hope, where people grow up healthy and have the opportunity to realize their dreams," Bush told the people of Africa in an address broadcast over the Voice of America network on Wednesday. "Africa is a continent of promise. And the United States wants to help the people of Africa realize the brighter future they deserve."
There's no question that more help is needed.
While traditionally poor regions like South Asia have exhibited growth over the past several years, sub-Saharan Africa is losing ground.
According to the Chronic Poverty Research Center, a clearinghouse organized by the British government, about one-sixth of those living in sub-Saharan Africa are considered chronically poor - and the number is expected to rise from the 315 million reported in 1999 to 404 million by 2015.
About 34 percent of the continent's population is malnourished, almost double the figure for the rest of the developing world. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that two-thirds of all deaths among children in Africa are related to hunger - a greater cause than all the continent's infectious diseases combined. The World Bank found that the average life expectancy in Africa is 46 years.
The Commission for Africa, created by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in February 2004, found that in most sub-Saharan countries, the social and physical infrastructure necessary to recover from a crisis, natural or manmade, just doesn't exist. In Ethiopia, 10 years after a devastating famine, people owned only one-tenth the livestock than before the tragedy hit.
UNICEF maintains that as many as 14 million people, half of them children, are at risk of starving in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, according to the Commission for Africa, people talk of a "poverty that lays eggs."
Worsening the plight, the spread of HIV and AIDS is creating a health crisis of unimagined magnitude.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 24 of the 25 countries (Haiti is the other one) with the world's highest levels of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The continent has seen 25.5 million cases of HIV, according to the United Nations, with 13 million people having succumbed. The United Nations reports that 12 million African children have lost at least one parent as a result of AIDS, and that more than 10 percent of pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 24 living in capitals in 11 countries are HIV positive.
"Emergencies come and go, but we are now in an acute phase of a chronic problem and the effects of this are going to be with us for generations to come," said James Morris, the U.N. special envoy for humanitarian needs in southern Africa. "This is not about one issue or one country. Many factors are converging to undermine livelihoods of millions of people in southern Africa."
The continent's continued slide can be attributed to a variety of factors. The Commission for Africa cited "difficult geography and poor governance" as the major obstacles to development.
While evidence indicates that governance has improved in recent years, the commission said the continent "has suffered from governments that have looted the resources of the state; that could not or would not deliver services to their people; that in many cases were predatory, corruptly extracting their countries' resources; that maintained control through violence and bribery; and that squandered or stole aid."
War and other conflicts have extracted an enormous toll.
Africa has experienced more violent conflicts than any other continent in recent decades, causing as many deaths each year as disease epidemics. Between 1998 and 2002, for example, 4 million people died as a result of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The New York-based International Rescue Committee says that there are 13 million people internally displaced in Africa and 3.5 million refugees.
Some observers attribute the problems to a history of colonization, noting that most of the independent nations are relatively new and still experiencing growing pains. Africa today has 53 countries. Ghana was the first to gain independence, and that didn't occur until less than 50 years ago -1957.
"We are talking of a continent of young states, of young nations," said Graca Machel, president of the Mozambique-based Foundation for Community Development.
"You may say, 'Yes, we had nations before colonialization.' But I don't want to describe here how colonization has exactly tried to crush what would be our way of being, not only in political terms, in economic terms, but more importantly, culturally. So this period did leave scars in Africans, which we are still struggling to heal and to get rid of them."
Blair currently holds the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight economic powers - the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Russia and Japan. He is heading the international effort to double aid to Africa to about $80 billion a year by 2010. The money would be channeled through the International Finance Facility, with governments floating bonds on global markets to raise extra money for development.
The United States sent about $3.2 billion in aid to Africa in 2004.
Blair is pushing a plan by Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, to erase the debts African nations owe to institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The plan also would direct aid payments, sell bonds on the international market to fund immunization programs and eliminate trade barriers.
Brown likened the proposal to the Marshall Plan, created by the United States to help rebuild Europe after World War II.
In a White House meeting on Tuesday, Bush told Blair that he is amenable to debt relief, but made it clear that Washington is unlikely to double its financial aid to Africa - a move that would cost the United States more than $6 billion a year.
Still, the president noted that America has tripled assistance to sub-Sahara Africa over the past four years, meaning the nation accounts for nearly a quarter of all aid to the region. Bush said he is "committed to doing more in the future," and announced plans to provide about $674 million for humanitarian emergencies in Africa - money that had already been approved.
In an address broadcast over the Voice of America on Wednesday, Bush expressed a continued commitment to the continent, maintaining Africa is benefiting from the spread of democracy.
"For too many years, our assistance to Africa was sent without regard to results," he said. "Under my administration, U.S. development aid to African nations has increased. But we're not just giving more aid, we're being wiser about how it is spent. The idea is based on common sense. Aid works best in countries that are proving their commitment to govern justly, respect the rule of law, invest in their citizens and open up their economies."
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