WASHINGTON — Aid groups blasted President George W. Bush for refusing additional development aid for Africa, branding his offer of $674 million during a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair “crumbs.”
Salih Booker, executive director of the Washington-based Africa Action, pointed out that most of the money Bush offered is famine relief that had already been approved. Bush, he said, “seeks to promote a ‘compassionate conservative’ image by repackaging old money for Africa and — once again — greater scrutiny reveals this image to be disingenuous.”
Jonathan Glennie, senior policy analyst for London-based Christian Aid, said, “The $674 million is a drop in the ocean compared to what Africa really needs.” His comments were echoed by Action Aid spokesperson Ramilly Greenhill, also based in the UK. “Africa deserves more than crumbs from the richest country’s table,” Greenhill said.
Blair, on a visit to Washington, was asking Bush to double U.S. aid to Africa. Blair, for his own political reasons, hopes to double to $100 billion the combined aid provided to the 34 nations of Africa, most of which are struggling with enormous debt and poverty.
But Bush gave Blair a stiff arm. “It doesn’t fit in our budgetary process,” Bush said.
The Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston was one of hundreds of African American pastors who signed a letter to Bush asking him to agree to Blair’s request. “If we can give a $140 billion tax cut to the richest of the rich, who are not infrequently white, we can give $25 billion to the poorest of the poor, who are not infrequently Black,” Rivers said. He pointed out that Blair backed Bush’s war on Iraq “at enormous political cost to himself” but “did not appear to be receiving the same level of support when it came to Africa.”
As a consolation prize, Bush did agree to debt relief for 18 African nations totaling about $16.7 billion. European nations agreed to cancel $40 billion in debt a few days later. But critics said debt relief, while needed, is no substitute for development assistance.
Debayani Kar, a spokesperson for Jubilee USA Network, a group that advocates debt cancellation, told the World the Bush-Blair deal is only “a first step.” She said grassroots pressure must be exerted to force wealthy nations to vastly expand debt cancellation with “no strings attached.’
Bush and Blair spoke of their plan providing “100 percent debt cancellation.” But it “cannot be called 100 percent cancellation if it does not include debts owed by impoverished nations to the International Monetary Fund,” said Jubilee USA National Coordinator Neil Watkins. Thirty percent of the debt of poor nations is owed to the IMF, he said.
Poor nations devote as much as 50 percent of their national income to interest on these debts. Collectively, they have repaid hundreds of billions and are still mired in unpayable debt.
Speaking at the Take Back America conference here, the day after the Bush-Blair meeting, economist Jeffrey Sachs said, “There are 750 million Africans, the poorest people on this planet. And of the $2 billion in U.S. aid for Africa, more than half goes for U.S. consultants. Our aid is less than a dollar per person per year in Africa.”
Sachs had just returned from Africa where he saw children dying from preventable diseases. “If we made the slightest effort, we could do so much to end the suffering and waste of human potential,” he said. “The profoundest irony is that for $50 per person, their lives could be turned around, medicine, food, fertilizer, seed. Seventy cents per child to provide nets to protect children from malaria as they sleep [and] Bush says it ‘does not fit the budgetary process.’ What a disgrace!”
Touching on Iraq, Sachs said, “We are a militarized society crazed with fantasies of military empire. People do not want to be colonized. They will not be colonized. The people of the world do not want to be occupied by the United States or any other nation. We can’t run the world.”
The U.S., like other developed nations, signed a pledge to increase aid to 0.7 percent of GDP to provide aid to the poorest nations, Sachs said. “We are paying one-fifth of that. We sign pledges and ignore them. That 0.7 percent is exactly equal to what we are spending in Iraq right now.”