Bush's Role in Africa

By Julius E. Coles
Monday, August 8, 2005

A generation from now, when historians analyze the turning point in Africa's development, they may have to credit George W. Bush with playing a surprisingly important role in the continent's economic progress.

Bush came to the presidency without deep knowledge of the developing world, dismissive of nation-building and skeptical of the value of foreign assistance. Yet today he appears intent on being remembered as an American president who did much in real terms to secure Africa's future.

The recent Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, threatened to highlight the gap that has long existed between official American rhetoric on Africa and the reality. But while not fully responding at first to the proposal of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to increase African aid exponentially, Bush proceeded to use Gleneagles to announce significant new commitments to African health and education initiatives.

Bush has put the United States -- and its Treasury -- firmly behind African development. He has established an ambitious program to combat HIV-AIDS, created the Millennium Challenge Corp. to reward good governance and supported massive debt reduction. At Gleneagles he also unveiled a major campaign against Africa's leading killer of children: malaria.

While the United States, as the richest nation in the world, should do more to address poverty, it has already provided or promised substantially more financial assistance to developing countries than any other nation. When Bush first took office, this record appeared in jeopardy. When he leaves office, if he sustains his commitment to peace, health and development in Africa -- which was completely off Candidate Bush's radar in 2000 -- it could stand as one of his most important achievements.

The Bush presidency has coincided with two African-directed initiatives -- the creation of the African Union (which replaced the Organization of African Unity) and the New Economic Program for African Development (NEPAD). Both seek to promote Africa's political maturation. NEPAD in particular establishes standards of good governance that African states and their leaders are expected to honor.

There remains widespread doubt, nonetheless, about whether Africa will take full advantage of the new resources that are beginning to flow from the United States, Britain and elsewhere. There are bright spots, such as Ghana, Mali, Madagascar and South Africa. But there are also the Liberias, the Zimbabwes and others that reinforce the stereotype of Africa as a continent rife with corruption, conflict and incompetence.

In view of the renewed commitment by the G-8 countries to what South African President Thabo Mbeki describes as the "African Renaissance," Africa must demonstrate that these new resources will be used effectively to raise the continent's living standards and productivity in a substantial measure.

NEPAD promises the African peoples peace, economic growth and good governance. Bush promises to support this vision. In the bargain, he is also calling for the investment of tens of billions of dollars to stop HIV-AIDS and malaria from killing millions of Africans each year.

If NEPAD, the United States and its G-8 partners can keep these promises, the future of Africa looks decidedly brighter. If any of them falls short, all bets are off. What is clear, however, is that there will be no African Renaissance without strong moral and financial support from the world's most powerful nation -- and its most powerful leader.

The writer is president of Africare, a Washington-based humanitarian organization that supports development and relief throughout Africa.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company