Bush Has Quietly Tripled Aid to Africa

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 31, 2006

President Bush's legacy is sure to be defined by his wielding of U.S. military power in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is another, much softer and less-noticed effort by his administration in foreign affairs: a dramatic increase in U.S. aid to Africa.

The president has tripled direct humanitarian and development aid to the world's most impoverished continent since taking office and recently vowed to double that increased amount by 2010 -- to nearly $9 billion.

The moves have surprised -- and pleased -- longtime supporters of assistance for Africa, who note that because Bush has received little support from African American voters, he has little obvious political incentive for his interest.

"I think the Bush administration deserves pretty high marks in terms of increasing aid to Africa," said Steve Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Bush has increased direct development and humanitarian aid to Africa to more than $4 billion a year from $1.4 billion in 2001, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And four African nations -- Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Uganda -- rank among the world's top 10 recipients in aid from the United States.

Beyond increasing aid to Africa, Bush has met with nearly three dozen African heads of state during his six years in office. He visited Africa in his first term, and aides say he hopes to make a return visit next year.

Although some activists criticize Bush for not doing more to end the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, others credit him for playing a role in ending deadly conflicts in Liberia, the Congo and other parts of Sudan. Meanwhile, Bush has overseen a steady rise in U.S. trade with Africa, which has doubled since 2001.

"He should be known for increasing -- doubling development assistance and tripling it to Africa after a period in which U.S. development assistance was essentially flat for decades," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "He should be known for the largest single investment in AIDS and malaria, the biggest health investment of any government program ever."

To many longtime Africa supporters, all of this is surprising for a president who is often criticized as lacking curiosity about much of the world and who heads a political party traditionally skeptical of the efficacy of foreign aid.

But attacking African poverty has become a growing priority of some of the religious groups at the core of Bush's political base, and some lawmakers credit them with stoking the president's interest in the subject.

"The evangelical community raised the awareness of HIV and AIDS to the president," said Rep. Donald M. Payne (N.J.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa. "When the Bush administration came in, HIV and AIDS were not an overwhelming priority. Now we have seen a total metamorphosis."

Current and former White House aides and independent analysts say Bush's interest in Africa is rooted in the numerous humanitarian crises that continue to bedevil the continent, as well as in the growing importance of Africa in a world increasingly linked by economics and terrorist threats.


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