- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008

President Bush’s trip to Africa tomorrow 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 say.

In what some are calling a “victory lap,” Mr. Bush’s trip will highlight the effect over the past five years of the $1.2 billion the U.S. has sent to fight malaria and the $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS, which the president wants to double over the next five years.

But the Bush administration also wants to “shine a light” on what they regard as a transforming 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. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which requires countries to take steps toward 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 president’s senior director for African affairs, to a gathering of nonprofit aid groups at the White House last week.

“There’s 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” for the programs, said Mr. Pittman, who helped in 2005 to negotiate the plan to forgive 100 percent of debt in some of Africa’s poorest countries.

Mr. Bush will leave tomorrow afternoon and travel to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia, in that order. He returns to Washington next Thursday.

Mr. Bush will give a speech today in the District highlighting how he has “fundamentally changed America’s approach to Africa,” the White House said yesterday.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, will be a 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 administration’s malaria program has distributed more than 6 million insecticide-treated bed nets.

“We’ve 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 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 MCA’s proponents admit that the disbursement of funds 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 J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, 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 MCA’s “future … hangs in the balance.”

“The trip is going to bring across that this has become predominantly an Africa initiative, that it’s a new model for bringing about assistance, and that it should be carried forward,” he said.

Mr. Bush will also have to address fighting in Africa and in the Middle East on his trip. Violence is continuing over a disputed election in Kenya, Tanzania’s neighbor to the north and the new chairman of the African Union.

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