Africa Action has launched a petition, supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, that calls on Secretary of State Colin Powell to name the genocide in Darfur and to support immediate intervention to stop the killing.
The Africa trip of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Irish rock star
Bono produced a bumper harvest of photo ops and articles about aid to
Africa. Unfortunately, media coverage was mired in the perennial and
stale aid debate: Should we give more? Does it work?
If the O'Neill-Bono safari resulted in Washington finally paying more of
its proper share for global health, education and clean water, that
would be cause for applause. But any real change requires shifting the
terms of debate. Indeed, the term "aid" itself carries the patronizing
connotation of charity and a division of the world into "donors" and
At the late June meeting in Canada of the rich countries known as the
G8, aid to Africa will be high on the agenda. But behind the rhetoric,
there is little new money--as evidenced by the just-announced paltry sum
of US funding for AIDS--and even less new thinking. Despite the new
mantra of "partnership," the current aid system, in which agencies like
the World Bank and the US Treasury decide what is good for the poor,
reflects the system of global apartheid that is itself the problem.
There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the
battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real
resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid
system will not do. Granted, some individuals and programs within that
system make real contributions. But they are undermined by the negative
effects of top-down aid and the policies imposed with it.
For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a
common obligation to finance international public investment for common
needs. Rich countries should pay their fair share based on their
privileged place in the world economy. At the global level, just as
within societies, stacked economic rules unjustly reward some and punish
others, making compensatory public action essential. Reparations to
repair the damage from five centuries of exploitation, racism and
violence are long overdue. Even for those who dismiss such reasoning as
moralizing, the argument of self-interest should be enough. There will
be no security for the rich unless the fruits of the global economy are
shared more equitably.
As former World Bank official Joseph Stiglitz recently remarked in the
New York Review of Books, it is "a peculiar world, in which the
poor countries are in effect subsidizing the richest country, which
happens, at the same time, to be among the stingiest in giving
assistance in the world."
One prerequisite for new thinking about questions like "Does aid work?"
is a correct definition of the term itself. Funds from US Agency for
International Development, or the World Bank often go not for economic
development but to prop up clients, dispose of agricultural surpluses,
impose right-wing economic policies mislabeled "reform" or simply to
recycle old debts. Why should money transfers like these be counted as
aid? This kind of "aid" undermines development and promotes repression
and violence in poor countries.
Money aimed at reaching agreed development goals like health, education
and agricultural development could more accurately be called
"international public investment." Of course, such investment should be
monitored to make sure that it achieves results and is not mismanaged or
siphoned off by corrupt officials. But mechanisms to do this must break
with the vertical donor-recipient dichotomy. Monitoring should not be
monopolized by the US Treasury or the World Bank. Instead, the primary
responsibility should be lodged with vigilant elected representatives,
civil society and media in countries where the money is spent, aided by
greater transparency among the "development partners."
One well-established example of what is possible is the UN's Capital
Development Fund, which is highly rated for its effective support for
local public investment backed by participatory governance. Another is
the new Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, which has
already demonstrated the potential for opening up decision-making to
public scrutiny. Its governing board includes both "donor" and
"recipient" countries, as well as representatives of affected groups. A
lively online debate among activists feeds into the official
Funding for agencies like these is now by "voluntary" donor
contributions. This must change. Transfers from rich to poor should be
institutionalized within what should ultimately be a redistributive tax
system that functions across national boundaries, like payments within
the European Union.
There is no immediate prospect for applying such a system worldwide.
Activists can make a start, however, by setting up standards that rich
countries should meet. AIDS activists, for example, have calculated the
fair contribution each country should make to the Global AIDS Fund (see
Initiatives like the Global AIDS Fund show that alternatives are
possible. Procedures for defining objectives and reviewing results
should be built from the bottom up and opened up to democratic scrutiny.
Instead of abstract debates about whether "aid" works, rich countries
should come up with the money now for real needs. That's not "aid," it's
just a common-sense public investment.
Whether measured by numbers killed or nations wounded, by economies upended or families crushed, the AIDS pandemic is a deadlier global threat than that posed by terrorist groups. But almost no one draws the logical conclusion: The war on AIDS is more important than the war on terrorism.
The concept captures fundamental characteristics of today's world order.
Four days into the new Administration, President George W. Bush in effect declared war on Africa and Africans (though the corporate media failed to notice). Bush's very first foreign policy action was to defund international public health and family planning services by withdrawing US money from providers who also offer reproductive health education and abortion services using money from other sources. Bush's next action was to place under review an executive order signed by President Clinton that supports African countries' right to import or produce generic versions of HIV/AIDS medications that are still under US patent. The reversal of this order--done in the name of American pharmaceutical companies--would be the moral equivalent of imposing the death penalty on 25 million Africans.
These actions constitute an assault on Africans' health at a time when the continent faces the world's greatest health crisis, and they suggest a return to the blatantly anti-African policies of the Reagan era, which were characterized by a fabricated perception of Africa as a social welfare case. During the campaign, Bush and his advisers repeatedly stressed that Africa did not fit into the strategic interests of America, and Bush said during the debates that Africa was not a priority. (He did, however, announce his qualified support for debt relief for poor countries.)
Vice President Cheney's perspective on Africa is epitomized by his support for keeping Nelson Mandela in prison and his opposition to sanctions against apartheid South Africa while he was a member of Congress. More recently, as CEO of Halliburton, the world's largest oil services company, he was complicit in lining the pockets of the dictatorship of the late Gen. Sani Abacha in Nigeria. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was, until this year, a director of Chevron, another oil company that buttressed military rule in Nigeria and even hired the regime's soldiers, who fired on unarmed protesters at the sites of its operations. (A Chevron oil tanker bears her name!) With Bush himself coming from the oil industry, as do so many in his Cabinet, oil is likely to top the list of US interests in Africa as defined by the Bush "oiligarchy."
Neither Rice nor Secretary of State Colin Powell, both African-Americans, has demonstrated a particular interest in or special knowledge of Africa (General Powell's recent courtesy calls with generals Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of Congo notwithstanding). Moreover, both Powell and Rice are loyal Republicans with a shared orientation toward international affairs that derives from a narrow militaristic understanding of security. They are also unilateralists at a time when the need in Africa is for multilateral support for peace and security. Meanwhile, the basic illegitimacy of the Bush Administration in the eyes of the vast majority of African-Americans will make it more difficult for it to be taken seriously on democratization in Africa, support for which should be central to US policy toward the continent.
In the context of a Bush Administration and a divided Congress, breaking through the systemic US disdain for Africa will not happen unless there are dramatic shifts in public perceptions comparable to those of the 1980s regarding apartheid in South Africa. Public pressure will make the difference, just as it did then. AIDS must be seen for what it is: a consequence of global apartheid, in which basic human rights, including the right to quality healthcare, are denied along the color line. On debt cancellation, activists may find support in unexpected places: They can look not only to large segments of the religious community with close ties to the Republicans but also to Republicans skeptical of multilateral institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF.
The real foreign policy priority for the United States is the threat presented by the structural inequities that perpetuate war and poverty in a world where race, place, class and gender are the major determinants of people's access to the full spectrum of human rights. It will take democratizing the US foreign policy to make Washington understand this and public pressure to get government to act upon it.