Wednesday, June 29, 2005

[US Aid] Bush Exaggerates Increase in U.S. Aid

Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 27 (IPS) - U.S. President George W. Bush has been significantly exaggerating the amount of money his administration has provided in aid to sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new study released here Monday.

Instead of a tripling of U.S. aid to Africa between 2000 and 2005, as Bush has frequently insisted, Washington has increased aid by only 56 percent in real terms, according to the report by the Brookings Institution.

The report, entitled ”U.S. Foreign Assistance to Africa: Claims and Reality”, is almost certain to increase pressure on Bush to announce a major new initiative to bolster development in the world's poorest continent in the run-up to the Group of Eight (G8) summit meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, to be hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair Jul. 6-8.

The pressure on Bush to be more forthcoming toward Africa has grown steadily despite his agreement to join a debt cancellation plan with other G8 nations that should benefit about a dozen of Africa's poorest nations. The G8 represents the world's most industrialised nations: the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

During his visit here earlier this month, Blair stressed that increased aid and other support for Africa will be among the top agenda items at Gleneagles. Along with the United Nations and the World Bank, he has called on industrialised countries to double aid to Africa over the next few years as part of a series of measures, including debt relief, to substantially reduce poverty and sustain economic growth in the region.

After Blair's visit, the leaders of several African nations who had been invited to the White House publicly criticised the administration for not disbursing aid from Bush's new Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) more quickly to needy nations. Several days later, several influential conservative black clergymen who had been wooed by the administration sent a letter to Bush calling for him to offer full support for Blair's Africa-related initiatives, including comprehensive debt relief and a doubling of official development assistance (ODA) to Africa to 50 billion dollars a year.

”Some were confused by the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair, who stood with the president on Iraq at enormous political cost to himself, did not appear to be receiving the same level of concrete support from the president when it came to Africa,” Rev. Eugene Blyers, a Boston pastor who backed Bush's re-election last year, told the Los Angeles Times. ”It is our hope that the president will stand with the prime minister as strongly as the prime minister stood with him at the height of the controversy over the Iraq war.”

Blair's call for increased aid has been well received elsewhere, leaving Bush increasingly isolated. In late May, EU leaders agreed unanimously to almost double assistance to the world's poorest countries over the next five years. One week later, Japan promised to do the same in three years' time. In addition, key EU members, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, have also committed to increasing their official development assistance (ODA) for poor countries to 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015.

But Bush has been far less forthcoming, insisting that his administration has already tripled U.S. aid to Africa and that a promise to provide 0.7 percent of U.S. GDP -- nearly five times what Washington provides today -- ”doesn't fit our budgetary process.” ”Over the past four years, we have tripled our assistance to Sub-Sahara Africa, and now America accounts for nearly a quarter of all the aid in the region,” he told Blair at a joint White House news conference Jun. 7. According to the Brookings study, however, aid to Africa under Bush ”has not 'tripled' or even doubled.”

The report finds instead that between fiscal year 2000, the last full year for which Bill Clinton was president, and FY 2005, total U.S. aid for Africa increased only 56 percent in real terms, with the majority of the increase consisting of emergency food aid, rather than traditional ODA that is used to promote long-term development. During the same period, Washington's ODA for Africa increased only 33 percent in real terms, according to the report, which was written by Susan Rice, who served as Clinton's top Africa aide from 1993 to 2001 and is currently with the Centre for American Progress. If funds earmarked for FY 2005 are considered, total aid to Africa will have increased by 78 percent in real terms since 2005, and ODA by 74 percent, according to the study. ”The administration has made some assertions about spending levels that are not accurate,” Rice told reporters in a teleconference Monday. ”The rhetoric has been more compelling than actual performance.”

U.S. foreign aid in general reached its nadir in the mid-1990s after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, according to Rice, who noted that it began rising again in the late 1990s. Even with the increase in assistance, Washington has been the most miserly of the major industrialised nations, contributing only about 0.16 percent of its GDP to ODA. Rice described Bush's overall record on aid to Africa as ”mixed.”

On the positive side, Bush's Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is supposed to provide 15 billion dollars over five years in support for AIDS initiatives in 15 countries, 12 of which are in Africa, has been a major advance, she said, even if it is ”flawed” both by substantial restrictions on how the money can be spent and the fact that most of the money has been channeled through the administration's own bilateral programme rather than through the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. At the same time, another major Bush initiative that also primarily targeted Africa, the MCA, has so far failed to gain any traction and now faces sharp budget cuts by Congress precisely because it has been so slow in disbursing aid.

The MCA, which Bush announced with great fanfare at a major U.N. summit on development finance in Monterrey, Mexico, in March 2002, was supposed to have provided 10 billion dollars in additional assistance to countries committed to far-reaching economic, anti-corruption and political reforms over three years beginning in fiscal 2003 and five billion dollars a year as of FY 2006. While Congress has appropriated 2.5 billion dollars for the MCA over the past two years, the new agency has so far approved just four projects, in Honduras (215 million dollars), Nicaragua (175 million dollars), Cape Verde (110 million dollars) and Madagascar (108 million dollars), as well as 400,000 dollars for administrative expenses. ”The MCA exists in name only,” according to Rice, who stressed that the agency, whose director, Paul Applegarth, announced his resignation earlier this month, illustrated the gap between the administration's rhetoric and what it was actually doing.

Aside from emergency food aid, which has increased by 184 percent from 2000 to 2005, the Africa aid accounts which increased the most over the five-year period in percentage terms, according to the Brookings Report, were mostly security-oriented. Contributions to peacekeeping operations grew 263 percent in 2005 compared to 2000, while foreign military financing -- which is used to buy training and equipment -- rose 163 percent. The costs of weapons non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, demining, and anti-drug programmes in Africa doubled over the period.