- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2005

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Washington-area and other Christian groups are deeply involved in a wide-ranging coalition that is pushing world leaders to do more to address AIDS and poverty in Africa.

Participants in the effort — encouraged by the support of prominent figures ranging from the Rev. Pat Robertson to actor George Clooney and rock star Bono — say they see this week’s Group of Eight meeting in Edinburgh as an unprecedented chance for the world to unite in support of its poorest nations.

But, in a series of interviews in the past three days, they also insisted that African nations must return the favor by creating responsible government.

“This is the big one,” said Jamie Drummond, executive director of Washington-based DATA, which stands for Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa.

Mr. Drummond said the weekend’s Live 8 concerts and a coordinated international campaign had served as never before to put Africa’s needs before the leaders of the Group of Eight nations meeting this week in Edinburgh.

Applauding President Bush’s recent commitment to double U.S. aid to Africa by 2010, he said it is up to the eight leaders to commit themselves to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s request for an increase to $25 billion per year of assistance to Africa.

He said his organization, founded in 2002 with U2 lead singer Bono, is at the same time asking for “democracy, accountability and transparency” from African nations.

That theme was seconded by Djimon Hounsou, an Academy Award-nominated actor born in Benin and now a spokesman for Washington-based Oxfam America. Oxfam is a worldwide development, advocacy and relief organization.

With any assistance from the West comes a responsibility to use the resources wisely, said Mr. Hounsou, who called for strict measures to track where financial aid goes.

Mr. Hounsou said he was saddened in the past to see relief money go into the pockets of corrupt dictators while children go hungry.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Washington-based Bread for the World, said, “There is a generation of people who don’t want our only legacy in the world to be war.”

Although money can’t always buy solutions, 82 percent of likely American voters say that it is important for Congress to increase money to reduce hunger, poverty and disease worldwide, he said.

So far, members of the pro-Africa coalition have managed to set aside differences over issues such as whether condoms ought to be distributed as part of the battle against AIDS.

“You have every kind of political viewpoint,” said the Rev. Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” and founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

“There are different opinions on how it should be done, but we all believe poverty should be eliminated.”

Alternative Christian rock band Jars of Clay focuses on digging wells for “clean blood and clean water.” Band members say a better water supply addresses the underlying poverty issues, including AIDS.

Since March, 42 wells have been constructed through the group’s efforts, bringing clean water to more than 34,000 people.

Opportunity International in Oak Brook, Ill., sees the solution in microfinance, in which small-business loans are given, mostly to poor women, in the developing world. The 30-year-old global Christian organization wants to offer people a way to generate income and work their way out of debt.

Mr. Warren said Africa doesn’t need pity, but partnership. He said the continent’s problems will never be solved solely by governments, instead, arguing that many of Africa’s problems, including corrupt governments, are matters of the soul.

“You’re only throwing money at a problem, if you don’t have a change in heart,” Mr. Warren said.

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