Conventional wisdom — here, and elsewhere — has been that, while President Bush has fallen woefully short in supporting UN peacekeeping in Africa, he has at least done a fairly good job providing humanitarian aid to the continent, particularly in combating HIV/AIDS and malaria. Not so fast, argues Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Homi Kharas; the raw numbers of the Bush administration’s aid to Africa look impressive, but a closer look reveals that even these sums pale, in proportional terms, to the amount given by European countries. Moreover, even the aid provided by the U.S. is often subject to bureaucratic delays and does not necessarily go into the areas identified by Africans as the most important.
Kharas urges that the U.S. enact an explicit policy to increase the amount of aid it provides for Africa:
The United States can do much more to increase the level and effectiveness of its aid to Africa. It can allocate a greater share of aid to Africa which is the poorest continent and which faces the greatest development challenges. A target of at least 40% – about what the Europeans give – would be reasonable. It can shift resources from food-aid, which has above-market pricing and caters as much to domestic farm interests as to development, towards priority funding for infrastructure, agriculture and economic improvements. In programs like the Millennium Challenge compacts, which do respect local priorities, it should focus heavily on implementation and develop more realistic timeframes so that countries can actually use the promised money. That would be a legacy of assistance that the whole world would welcome.
As I’ve argued here previously, increasing humanitarian and development aid to Africa is helpful in more than just a feel-good way; by improving the U.S.’s image in the world, it can also actually contribute to a stronger national security policy. An even higher priority, though, is to make sure that the aid being sent is effective; this means, for example, relenting on abstinence-only programs and increasing contributions to concrete development programs — not to mention anteing up the money for the peacekeepers crucial to the safety of millions of Africans.