Bush Policy Toward Africa
After a Nice Photo-Op, Is Africa "Left to Die"?
This commentary and analysis comes from Lindy Davies, president of the Henry George Institute, an educational institution providing courses on economics and human rights to students all over the world for more than 30 years.
by Lindy DaviesThe mainstream press reported that some Senegalese clapped and cheered when George W. Bush's motorcade went by on July 8th, but more of them — in a marked contrast to the warm welcome Bill Clinton received in 1998 — stood with their arms folded. The evening news represented Bush's Africa junket as a statesmanlike triumph. The reality of Bush's Africa trip was different, however, on many levels.
In Senegal, more than a thousand people were detained prior to Bush's visit. US warplanes flew noisily over Dakar, night and day. Several hundred US security personnel, and a huge flock of US press surrounded the Presidential entourage's every move; Senegalese security forces and press were allowed no access at all. Hundreds of trees, some over 100 years old, were cut down along the motorcade route (the cars, and, indeed, the very furniture Bush and his family used in Senegal, were flown in from the US). National high school exams were postponed for four days because of the general disturbance.
When Bush visited Goree island, the notorious slave-trade port, and made his moving remarks, Senegal's President Wade was not permitted to make a speech that day. Security forces required Senegalese living on the island to vacate their homes and leave them unlocked.
But perhaps the Senegalese should consider themselves lucky. Bush's planned stop in Uganda would not even take him out of the airport. He plans to meet with President Museveni in the airport lounge.
Some pundits are expressing surprise that Bush appears to care more about Africa than his predecessor. The Clinton Administration paid almost no attention to Africa at all after its failed intervention in Somalia in 1993. Progressives were heartened, if cautiously, by Bush's pledge of $15 billion over five years to fights AIDS in Africa. Some attribute his interest to the influence of two high-ranking administration officials who are African-American.
Nevertheless, the President needed a photo-op. Economic news continues to worsen; US troops keep getting shot in Iraq, and more and more troublesome questions are being asked about the Administration's rationale for its policy of pre-emptive war. A glance beneath the surface sheen of Bush's trip reveals its utter emptiness in policy terms. It may be that Clinton was smart to avoid Africa — for, if a US Administration were truly to make a positive difference there, it would have to break through a number of very firmly-planted political roadblocks.
The word “trade” is repeated, mantra-like, at every stop. But the fact is that the US policies on debt and trade force African nations into a cruel cycle of dependence and poverty. Nations must earn hard currency to service their foreign debts. To get it, they must export what they can. Nigeria has its oil, but other nations, lacking industrial development, must rely on agricultural exports. However, the United States and Europe block those exports with high tariffs and subsidies, which cost the African continent tens of billions of dollars every year in lost revenues.
An administration that cared about solving Africa's terrible problems would seek to end the African debt crisis, but Bush has said nothing about this at all. Every year, African countries are required to pay $15 billion to foreign creditors. This “debt service” in no way lowers their overall indebtedness; it is merely an interest payment to allow continued participation in the world financial system. The United States, as the largest shareholder in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, is in the position to address the African debt crisis, if it wishes.
The AIDS epidemic is causing an almost inconceivable amount of suffering and loss in many nations of Africa. In his State of the Union address, Bush promised an “emergency fund” of $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS. Yet this has not materialized. No money at all was appropriated for this program in 2003, and the Administration has requested only $450 million for it in 2004. Furthermore, delivery of this aid is contingent on the requirements of the “global gag rule” — that it not be used by any organizations that provide counseling or assistance with abortions, and that it only be used as part of a campaign that promotes abstinence as the primary defense against AIDS.
Even worse, US trade policy continues to emphasize patent protection for pharmaceutical companies, even when everyone — even President Bush — acknowledges that affordable antiretroviral drugs are utterly necessary to deal with the AIDS crisis. These drugs are available in inexpensive generic versions made in India, Brazil and elsewhere — and African nations can in some cases purchase the capacity to produce the drugs themselves — but the US trade representative insists on upholding a number of trade agreements which prohibit this.
Bush told a group of African journalists, “When the truth comes out — which is that we care deeply about the plight of the African citizen; that we're not only trading partners ...people, when they know the facts, will say, 'Well, this is a great country.'”
Meanwhile, after the Bush whirlwind left Senegal, a correspondent there reported, “We have the feeling that everything has been done to convince us that we are nothing, and that America can behave the way it wants, everywhere, even in our country.”
Jeffrey Sachs, economic advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was quoted as saying, “Africa is in the midst of a crisis of profound and unmitigated proportions in regards to public health and the environment. It is part of the world that has been left to die, essentially.”
Let's be sure we remind the Administration, after the President returns from his trip, how much he said he cared about Africa's problems.
Lindy Davies runs the Henry George Institute.
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