Mr. Bush and Africa

Friday, July 1, 2005

THREE YEARS AGO, the pressure of a looming international aid summit induced President Bush to launch the Millennium Challenge Account, an instrument for plowing generous aid into poor countries with uncorrupt institutions and good policies. Yesterday Mr. Bush responded to similar pressure ahead of next week's Group of Eight summit, which will have Africa high on the agenda. But whereas the Millennium Challenge initiative involved a promise of $5 billion extra for development per year, Mr. Bush's initiatives this time around are modest.

The most significant new effort announced yesterday was for malaria, a disease that kills about a million African children annually. Borrowing an idea from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which announced a plan last month to cut malaria deaths by 70 percent in Zambia, the administration proposes to finance similar efforts in three other African countries this year, six more next year and another six the year after. The idea is to identify and then plug gaps in a country's battle against the disease: Does everyone have access to bed nets? Is there a systematic use of insecticide to control mosquitoes? Are pregnant women getting preventive doses of malaria medicine? The Bush administration promises at least $1.2 billion over five years for its initiative. Success isn't assured: Health programs in Africa often falter for lack of nurses and doctors, and the best malaria medicines, which are based on plant extracts, are in short supply. But the possibility that malaria may be controlled for as little as $20 million or so per country per year illustrates the potential bargains in development.

While the sticker price for this initiative

is small, the commitment implied from Mr. Bush is even smaller. The president's budget request for 2006 actually cut malaria funding; he will be able to afford the first year of his new program only because Congress insisted on boosting the number. The money required in the next couple of years is modest, because the program's cost comes mainly in 2009 and 2010, and Mr. Bush may try to pay for his promise by skimping on U.S. payments to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- a possibility that development campaigners will rightly be watching for. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush promises to spend an extra $100 million a year on education in Africa and a token $55 million for women's empowerment.

This is small potatoes next to the $6 billion in extra aid that Mr. Bush should have pledged if he had wanted the United States to deliver its share of the $25 billion boost that is next week's G-8 target. It is also insignificant relative to the doubling of U.S. assistance to Africa that Mr. Bush called for yesterday. Achieving that doubling is going to depend not on yesterday's new programs but on realizing the pledges of his first term. The president's HIV-AIDS initiative, announced in 2003, aims to dispense $15 billion over five years and is firmly on track. But Congress's appropriations for the Millennium Challenge Account, which was supposed to be $5 billion per year, were only $1.5 billion in the current fiscal year.

In his speech yesterday, Mr. Bush rightly said that aid alone is not the key to Africa's progress: trade liberalization, military support for peacekeeping and the quality of African leadership are at least as important. But aid remains a useful tool, and the United States ought to do more for the world's poorest continent.


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