Bush, a Friend of Africa

Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times
Published: July 5, 2005

Those who care about Africa tend to think that the appropriate
attitude toward President Bush is a medley of fury and contempt.

But the fact is that Mr. Bush has done much more for Africa than Bill
Clinton ever did, increasing the money actually spent for aid there
by two-thirds so far, and setting in motion an eventual tripling of
aid for Africa. Mr. Bush's crowning achievement was ending one war in
Sudan, between north and south. And while Mr. Bush has done
shamefully little to stop Sudan's other conflict - the genocide in
Darfur - that's more than Mr. Clinton's response to genocide in
Rwanda (which was to issue a magnificent apology afterward).

So as the G-8 summit meeting convenes this week, focusing on Africa,
it's worth acknowledging that Mr. Bush, and conservatives generally,
have in many ways been great for the developing world. At their best,
they bring a healthy dose of hands-on practicality to their efforts.

The liberal approach to helping the poor is sometimes to sponsor a
U.N. conference and give ringing speeches calling for changed laws
and more international assistance.

In contrast, a standard conservative approach is to sponsor a
missionary hospital or school. One magnificent example is the Addis
Ababa Fistula Hospital, where missionary doctors repair obstetric
injuries that have left Ethiopian women incontinent.

Liberals also often focus on changing laws, but in a poor country,
the legal system is often irrelevant outside the capital. Sudan, for
example, banned female genital mutilation back in 1957; since then,
the practice has expanded steadily. Sure, lobbying for better laws is
important, but it's usually much more cost-effective to vaccinate
children or educate girls. Nobody gets more bang for the buck than
missionary schools and clinics, and Christian aid groups like World
Vision and Samaritan's Purse save lives at bargain-basement prices.

Liberals may also put too much faith in aid itself. What Africa needs
most desperately are things it can itself provide: good governance, a
firmer neighborhood response to genocide in Sudan, and a collective
nudging of Robert Mugabe into retirement.

Plenty of studies have shown that aid usually doesn't help people in
insecure, corrupt or poorly governed nations. Indeed, aid can even do
harm, by bidding up local exchange rates and hurting local

All that said, in the right circumstances aid can be tremendously
effective, especially in well-governed countries - Mozambique is an
excellent example. And Mr. Bush's new push to help Africa is smartly
designed, targeting problems like malaria and sex trafficking, where
extra attention and resources will make a big difference on the

Mr. Bush's signature foreign aid program, the Millennium Challenge
Account, is off to an agonizingly slow start, but is shrewdly focused
on encouraging good governance and economic growth. The first grant
went to Madagascar, a well-run country, to clarify property rights
there. This isn't sexy, but nothing would help the poor in Africa
more than giving them clear title to their land so they could secure
loans and start businesses.

The divide I portray between the left and right is, of course, a
caricature. Some of the very best work to help the poor is done by
liberal-leaning groups, like the Carter Center, the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation, and Doctors Without Borders. They all use their
resources to make real changes on the ground.

And while Mr. Bush has done much more for Africa than most people
realize, there's one huge exception, because anything with a whiff of
sex in it makes some conservatives go nuts. Mr. Bush's decision to
cut off funds for the U.N. Population Fund means that more African
girls will die in childbirth. Even more tragic is the
administration's blind hostility to condoms to fight AIDS - resulting
in more dead Africans.

Mr. Bush has another blind spot as well: while he is right that aid
is not a cure-all, sometimes he seems to use legitimate concerns
about aid as an excuse for stinginess. Aid has shortcomings, but Mr.
Bush himself has shown that it can be used effectively to save lives
by the millions.

Yet Mr. Bush is resisting the G-8's calls for further help for
Africa; he thinks the sums are better spent on cutting the taxes of
the richest people on earth than on saving the lives of the poorest.
Come on, Republicans! You need to persuade Mr. Bush to be more
generous this week, because his present refusal to help isn't
conservative, but just plain selfish.