Africa at the Summit
New York Times Editorial
Published: July 3, 2005
"There can be no excuse, no defense, no justification for the plight
of millions of our fellow human beings in Africa today. And there
should be nothing that stands in our way in changing it." That
ringing summons was issued by Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair,
earlier this year, when he presented the compelling findings and
lucid recommendations of his Commission for Africa. Later this week,
we will see whether President Bush has the vision and compassion to
meet those challenges, and grasp a historic opportunity to radically
improve the life prospects of millions of those fellow human beings.
An unusual and mutually reinforcing set of possibilities is
converging around this week's summit meeting of the world's richest
countries in Scotland. If Mr. Bush is truly the compassionate
conservative he says he is, he will not let the moment pass with the
United States continuing to contribute far less than its share to the
international effort to include Africa in the prosperity of the 21st
Africa is not looking for handouts. It is looking for help in
nurturing the human capital, physical infrastructure and governmental
capacities that are indispensable to modern development. Africa's
poor are asking the world's rich countries for an admission ticket to
the modern world. America, the world's richest country, would betray
its values and its humanity by holding back.
To his great credit, Mr. Bush has been more attentive to the problems
of Africa than his recent predecessors. He has increased overall
assistance, stepped up spending on H.I.V./AIDS programs and created
the Millennium Challenge Account to reward Africa's best-governed
countries. Last week he promised further increases, including a
program to fight malaria, and new teacher training and scholarship
money to help girls attend school.
But so far there has been a discouraging gap between Mr. Bush's
generous declarations and the money Washington has actually made
available to Africa. The White House has failed to push the
Republican-controlled Congress to fully finance Mr. Bush's aid
programs and failed to spur its own aid appointees to get the money
flowing to where it is most urgently needed.
At this point, America's total worldwide spending on all forms of
foreign aid still amounts to only a relatively stingy 0.16 percent of
this country's gross national income, one of the lowest proportions
in the developed world. Most European countries represented at this
week's summit meeting are already giving substantially higher
percentages of their smaller national incomes. Many have promised to
double those percentages between now and 2010. Mr. Bush needs to
commit Washington to a substantially faster rate of increase to make
America once again a leader in global development.
A brighter future for Africa will require more than just increased
aid. The other recommendations made by Mr. Blair's commission are
just as important. Rich-world agricultural subsidies make it possible
for high-cost American, European and Japanese farmers to undersell
efficient African producers even in their home markets; they must be
phased out. Attention and money must be devoted to strengthening
peace agreements and preventing conflicts before they erupt - a far
cheaper and more humane approach than waiting to send help only after
genocide and other atrocities start appearing on international
Donors must also make certain that African governments are held
accountable for how the money is spent. Western countries can fight
corruption by urging their own companies to be more transparent about
the money they pay to African governments for oil, diamonds and other
valuable commodities and by pressing Western banks to better monitor
and police suspicious deposits and fund transfers.
There is a desperate need for greater policy coherence in a period
when many national governments, including Washington, are sensibly
exhorting African governments to spend more on primary health care
and education while international financial institutions largely
controlled by those same Western governments have been pressing
African countries to shrink their government payrolls, including
teachers and health care workers.
Africa comes to this week's summit meeting proclaiming its commitment
to be a responsible and constructive partner in its own development.
It has made significant accomplishments over the past decade or so.
These include a rising trend of multiparty elections across the
continent (tyrannies like Zimbabwe's are now the exception, not the
rule), an important reduction in the number and scope of destructive
civil wars (Darfur being a tragic counterexample), the spread of
enlightened economic management (notably in South Africa, Uganda and
Ghana) and brave governmental forays against corruption in places
Nurturing these positive trends and providing hope for Africa's
millions, is, as Mr. Blair unflinchingly put it, "the fundamental
moral challenge of our generation." We beseech Mr. Bush to embrace
that challenge on behalf of the American people.