The Washington Post notes an overlooked part of the George Bush presidency, one that gets almost no attention despite the constant focus on the region. Under Bush, the US has tripled aid to Africa, with even more increases proposed for the next two years:
President Bush’s legacy is sure to be defined by his wielding of U.S. military power in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is another, much softer and less-noticed effort by his administration in foreign affairs: a dramatic increase in U.S. aid to Africa.
The president has tripled direct humanitarian and development aid to the world’s most impoverished continent since taking office and recently vowed to double that increased amount by 2010 — to nearly $9 billion.
The moves have surprised — and pleased — longtime supporters of assistance for Africa, who note that because Bush has received little support from African American voters, he has little obvious political incentive for his interest. …
Although some activists criticize Bush for not doing more to end the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, others credit him for playing a role in ending deadly conflicts in Liberia, the Congo and other parts of Sudan. Meanwhile, Bush has overseen a steady rise in U.S. trade with Africa, which has doubled since 2001.
I’m not a big fan of traditional aid programs. They tend to go to areas ruled incompetently by autocratic or oppressive regimes suffering from chronic, self-inflicted problems. The aid usually winds up propping up the governments that cause the problems, exacerbating them and making it more difficult to solve the real underlying issues.
In the case of the Bush aid, it has focused on supporting nations that already have reformed their political processes, making the aid both a real benefit to the people of the country and an incentive for other nations to reform themselves. Of course, it is precisely this strategy that attracts the only criticism in the article, this time from Africa Action, an advocacy group in DC. They complain about the requirement for privatization, a requirement that introduces the kind of market forces that will avoid famines in the future, rather than funding and endorsing the kind of government-run debacles that have killed millions of Africans from neglect or deliberate starvation.
And guess who the Post credits with the President’s resolve on this issue? Evangelicals, who have been demonized by the mainstream media ever since they helped elect Bush in 2000 and re-elect him in 2004. It turns out that all of those so-called “Christianists” want to do what they can to save Africa from its famines and pandemics and to stop the slaughter of African children from both. They have put their Christianity into action in a manner that has also gone mostly unnoticed by the American media.
Bush has another reason to prioritize African aid, which we have seen in the Horn region. The instability of Africa and its inability to feed itself has allowed radical Islamists to gain a toehold on the continent. Just like any parasitic infection, the weak state of African nations allow the radical Islamists to gain support by blaming everyone but themselves for their sorry state. Eliminating hunger and pandemics will help stabilize the continents, and the clearest manner in which to gain both is to promote market economics, private property rights, and representative democracy, all of which Africa has lacked.
Will it take ten years for people to appreciate this part of the Bush legacy? Perhaps it might take longer than that, if we have to rely on our own media. Kudos to the Post for noticing.