2005-06-07-Bush treads his own path on Africa

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2005-06-07-Bush treads his own path on Africa

The United States can argue that it has been pursuing the goal of African development well before the British initiative for the G8 summit.

As Tony Blair goes to Washington for talks with US President George W Bush on the agenda for the G8 summit of world leaders, significant differences have emerged over aid to Africa.

Britain wants rich countries to pledge to double aid to Africa in order to ensure that the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are reached by 2015 .

Britain's Chancellor Gordon Brown has suggested that the money might be raised by borrowing against future aid flows, the so-called International Financing Facility.

President Bush has already made it clear that he will not support such a proposal, and he is even less likely to back French proposals for a tax on international air travel to fund such expenditure.

Nor will the US endorse a goal of increasing its aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP, which Britain has pledged to meet by 2012.

And talks about multilateral debt relief are stuck over the question of how it would be funded.

9/11 Effect

However, it would be wrong to characterise the US administration as uninterested in sub-Saharan Africa.

Six months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the US unexpectedly pledged to double its foreign aid spending at the UN development summit in Monterrey, Mexico.

There was a catch, however.

The US wanted to put the additional funds in a separate fund, called the Millennium Challenge Account, which would be administered by the US State Department.

The idea was to make sure countries met strict conditions regarding corruption and efficiency of government before any money would be released.

Tackling Aids

One year later, in his 2003 State of the Union address, Mr Bush recognised the need to tackle the growing global HIV/Aids crisis, and called for a tripling of the US Aids budget to $3bn per year over five years.

In July 2003 Mr Bush travelled to five countries in Africa, most of which were models of effective Aids programmes (Senegal and Uganda) or countries facing a severe Aids crisis (Botswana, South Africa).

Again, however, Mr Bush preferred to act unilaterally, with most of the money bypassing the UN Global Fund.

Slow progress

However, both of Mr Bush's African initiatives have made slower progress than expected - partly because of the reluctance of Congress - stuck in the middle of the budget crisis - to fund them and because of problems of implementation.

The Millennium Challenge Account has only certified eight countries in Africa as qualified for aid, and only one (Madagascar) has received any funds.

The US Aids fund has been partly stymied by a debate over whether in order to qualify countries have to teach abstinence, rather than condom use, as the key means to prevent the spread of Aids.

Its donations can only be used to buy drugs approved by the US drugs authority, the FDA, which excludes many cheaper generic drugs and favours American manufacturers.

Unilateral not multilateral

The US penchant for unilateral not multilateral action has also affected a possible deal on debt relief.

The US has agreed in principle to allow the World Bank, now headed by former US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, to write off the debts of highly-indebted countries, but only by reducing its own lending programme.

It has no stomach for increasing World Bank resources, which would require another bruising Congressional battle.

Nor can it support UK proposals to fund debt relief by selling off some of the IMF's gold reserves, which US and Canadian mining interests believe would depress the price of gold.

There is more hope of a global deal on trade, although this will come at the world trade talks in Hong Kong in December if it happens.

Even here, the US has begun pursuing its own unilateral agenda - although focusing at the moment more on Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Bush administration extended the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which gave textile trade advantages to low-income African countries.

But the current opposition of sugar growers in the US to a Central American free trade deal shows how difficult it still may be in the US political system to tackle agricultural subsidies.

Political difficulties

It has to be remembered that there is a lot less political support for foreign aid in the US Congress - unless it is to support political allies like Israel.

Many Republicans are deeply sceptical of the UN institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whom they suspect of inefficiency and corruption.

And with the growing fiscal deficit, many Democrats would argue that any spare cash should be spent on displaced US workers, not helping workers get jobs abroad.

And now that Mr Bush is essentially a lame-duck President, no longer facing re-election, he has even less clout with Congress, as both sides are positioning themselves for possible Presidential contests in 2008.

During the Cold War, US supported generous foreign aid, including the Marshall Plan, because it was seen as vital for US interests to strengthen its anti-communist allies.

Despite the war on terror, it is no longer clear that the US has the political will to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor countries.


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