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Africa: Former Envoy Says US Policy On Africa Aid Has Been Consistent

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Source: United States Department of State (Washington, DC)

Even though the American public's attention to Africa has wavered at times, help provided by the United States for the continent's many humanitarian and development challenges has been remarkably consistent, says former U.S. Ambassador David Shinn.

Shinn, an adjunct professor at George Washington University in Washington, made his comments at a meeting of the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAFIU) in Beijing. The organization was established in 1981 by social and political activists to promote international understanding though civil society contacts and receives some Chinese government funding.

The former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia in the mid-1990's, was in China as part of a research project on China-Africa relations. His speech in Beijing focused on past and present interaction between sub-Saharan Africa and the United States.

The result of the United States' stated goals of democratic and economic reform for the continent may be "mixed," he told his Chinese audience January 8, "but the commitment of total financial resources devoted to Africa is surprisingly good."

In 2005, the United States provided more than $1.2 billion in food assistance to Africa. Altogether, the Bush administration tripled humanitarian and development aid to Africa from $1.4 billion in 2001 to more than $4 billion in 2006, which is "a significant achievement," Shinn said.

The Bush administration's focus on Africa is not unique, he added. Since the end of World War II, he said, the United States has "consistently been the first with the most emergency food aid for Africa." Now, of the 20 nations receiving the bulk of U.S. aid, half are in Africa, Shinn said.

Much of the most recent development aid has focused on business-driven programs like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which extends duty-free and quota-free access to U.S. markets for African textiles. Thirty-seven of the 48 sub-Sahara African countries now are eligible for AGOA.

Since signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, AGOA's favorable tariff provisions were expanded twice by the Bush administration. That helped spur trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa to more than $60 billion in 2005, a 37 percent increase over the previous five years, Shinn said.

Another private-sector approach to spurring homegrown development is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), "an innovative and well designed" mechanism for awarding grants based on the willingness of countries to institute open-market reforms, Shinn said.

Over the past few years, MCC has signed agreements (called "compacts") worth a total of $1.5 billion with five countries in sub-Sahara Africa: Madagascar, Cape Verde, Benin, Ghana and Mali. The most recent compact is with Mali -- a five-year, $460 million effort to reduce poverty and increase economic growth by supporting irrigation, airport improvements and an industrial park.

On the health front, Shinn said efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are also essential aspects of America's assistance program to Africa. The President's Emergency Plan for HIV and AIDS Relief provides "substantial" funding -- $15 billion over five years -- for this purpose, he told the Chinese audience.

While challenges remain in foreign policy -- especially in the area of conflict resolution -- Shinn said the Bush administration "deserves enormous credit" for playing a key role in brokering an end to the north-south civil war in Sudan and then supporting efforts to implement the comprehensive peace agreement. The United States also has devoted "considerable financial resources to the continuing conflict" in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, he added.

The point to remember, Shinn said, is that these programs along with "increased foreign aid and cancellation of debt," are examples of a pattern of aid to Africa that has been steady and consistent and most likely will move in the same direction regardless of which political party is in power in the United States.

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