Monday, June 06, 2005

Prime Minister Blair on Throwing Pounds at Africa


In "Blair's Campaign for Africa," the Christian Science Monitor's Abraham McLaughlin delivers some surprising news about U.S. aid to Africa:

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—The U.S. was more generous last year than it has ever been toward Africa, giving $3.2 billion in foreign aid, or about $4.50 per sub-Saharan African. That's triple what it gave in 2000—and is the most given by any nation.

But tomorrow in Washington British Prime Minister Tony Blair will ask President Bush for more—lots more. Mr. Blair wants rich countries to double their total aid to Africa to $25 billion a year.

Blair's plea, and Mr. Bush's resistance to it, highlight key gaps in their approaches. Blair's is fueled by a strong sense of moral obligation for rich nations to help poor ones—and a public more willing to spend government money on far-away problems. Bush aims to help generously on AIDS, but otherwise target aid where it won't be swallowed by corrupt or inept officials. It's one reason Washington gives foreign countries just 16 cents per $100 of gross domestic product, one of the rich world's lowest rates.

So overall American donations are healthy while per-capita donation lags, which has been the rap on the U.S. since time began. But McLaughlin goes on to write that the British are more willing to simply throw money at Africa than demand results:

Britain and the U.S. diverge on the issue of corruption. The American view is that, given widespread corruption, "dumping a pile of cash on them isn't going to help," says Stephen Morrison with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The British view is that even if some new aid money is stolen or wasted, it's "better than not having more aid, which you know would do no good," says [Michael] Peel [of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London].

It sounds like the British government, which is no stranger to budgetary problems, simply wants to throw pounds at the wall until something sticks.

Although the U.S. is has been undisciplined in its domestic and military spending since 9/11, I'm happy that the Bush administration is at least demanding accountability in foreign aid disbursement. It's no good trying to put eye-catching foreign aid numbers up if the money heads to African officials' Swiss bank accounts, instead of Africans generally.

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