Wednesday, February 13, 2008

President Bush’s upcoming trip to Africa is motivated in part by fears inside his administration that the billions of dollars in aid to the continent, and a new approach to how it’s disbursed, will not be continued by the next president, top White House officials have said recently. In what is being called a victory lap by some, Mr. Bushs trip will highlight the effect over the past five years of $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS, which the president wants to double over the next five years, and $1.2 billion to prevent malaria. But the Bush administration also wants to shine a light on what they regard as a transformative shift in how foreign aid is distributed, from throwing money at a problem to performance-based monetary aid. They hope the next president continues debt relief efforts and Mr. Bushs Millennium Challenge Account, which requires countries to take steps toward stability and the rule of law to receive aid for things like infrastructure. A lot of us are stressing out about what is going to happen eight months, nine months from now, said Bobby Pittman, the presidents senior director for African Affairs, to a gathering of nonprofit aid groups at the White House last week. Theres a question of continuation, he said. The main focus of the trip is to highlight these policies … and really try to build U.S. domestic support to grow [them], said Mr. Pittman, who helped in 2005 to negotiate the plan to forgive 100 percent of debt in some of Africas poorest countries. Mr. Bush will leave Friday afternoon and travel to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia, in that order. The Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or PEPFAR, will be an obvious focus of the trip, having placed about 1.4 million people on life-sustaining drug treatments. PEPFAR is the single largest infectious-disease campaign in the history of the world, said Stephen Morrison, co-director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The administrations malaria program has distributed more than 6 million insecticide-treated bed nets. Weve literally wiped out malaria on the island of Zanzibar, Mr. Pittman said, referring to the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. But it is the MCA aid program that still faces some skepticism, due to a slow start after the $5.5 billion, 16-country program was first announced about six years ago. Mr. Bush will sign a $698 million MCA agreement with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, focused on building roads, clean water systems, and hydropower. Benin and Ghana signed agreements in 2006, for $307 million and $547 million, respectively. Even the MCAs proponents admit that the disbursement of funds, even after compacts are signed, has been slow. And the program did not really start moving until John Danilovich was placed in charge late in 2005. But the MCA represents a paradigm shift in foreign aid that the Bush administration would like to see stay in place as part of their legacy. We are measuring success by the number of lives that change, not the number of dollars that change hands, said Stephen F. Hadley, the presidents national security director, in a recent speech. We are using our assistance to encourage innovation and reform, not to subsidize governments that have failed to invest in their people, Mr. Hadley said. Mr. Morrison said that the MCAs future in a way hangs in the balance. The trip is going to bring across that this has become predominantly an Africa initiative, that its a new model for bringing about assistance, and that it should be carried forward, he said. Mr. Bush will also be forced to address instability in Africa and in the Middle East on his trip. Violence is continuing in Kenya over a disputed election. Tanzania neighbors Kenya to the south, but in addition, it just assumed the chair of the African Union. Further, Pakistans elections will be held on Monday, and there is potential for unrest there depending on results.

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