Africa’s Good Friend
Posted on Feb 27, 2009
President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania signed a five-year, nearly $700 million Millennium Challenge Compact with President Bush in February 2008. The compact is designed to help build Tanzania’s infrastructure. During the signing ceremony in Dar-es-Salam, he told Bush that the compact is a “source of pride … making it possible for the people of Tanzania to chart a brighter future.”
Bush launched the Millennium Challenge Account in 2004 as a new model to support governments that commit to rule justly, invest in people and encourage economic freedom. The Millennium Challenge Corp. seeks to reduce poverty by increasing economic growth in recipient countries through a variety of targeted investments.
Of MCC’s original 16 grant agreements, nine are with African countries—Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mozambique, Madagascar, Morocco and Tanzania—and total approximately $3.8 billion. This represents 70 percent of the agency’s total grants to date. Malawi and Mauritania were added in February 2008. Liberia, Namibia and Burkina Faso are on the threshold of MCC compacts.
MCC’s compacts are beginning to change and shape lives across Africa. In Madagascar’s agricultural cooperatives, farmers are learning new techniques to make transitions to higher-value crops like geraniums, which are sold to produce high-value oil for use in soaps and perfumes. Such products are allowing farmers to access new markets and take advantage of the tariff-free provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
Square, Site wide
A Madagascan named Jaona lost his job in the aftermath of the 2002 political and economic crisis that resulted from a disputed presidential election in Madagascar. The impact of the crisis was such that 80,000 workers in the export processing zone alone were laid off. Jaona’s wife succinctly recounts the hardship brought about by the crisis: “We used to cook three meals a day, but now we can only afford one, and poor quality cassava is replacing rice.”
The new government of Madagascar began a series of actions to put the country back on track, one of which was to attract international investment to the island. USAID began working with a group of Malagasy entrepreneurs to promote the nation’s products and improve trade ties to the United States. They formed the Madagascar-U.S. Business Council, which in turn led to the formation of an American counterpart, the U.S.-Madagascar Business Council. The U.S. trade mission was a catalyst for the signing of 12 commitments with the government of Madagascar to explore investment opportunities.
Madagascar’s trade ties to the U.S. are part of the benefits of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a U.S. law designed to spur African trade development. Even though the act was approved in 2000, Bush worked with Congress to extend and reauthorize it in expanded form in 2004. It provides trade benefits with the United States for 40 African countries that have implemented reforms to encourage economic growth. Since 2001, U.S. exports to Africa have more than doubled to $14 billion a year, while African exports to the United States more than tripled to $67 billion.
The top five beneficiaries of the act are Nigeria, Angola, South Africa, Chad and Gabon. Other leading beneficiaries are Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Kenya, Cameroon, Swaziland and Mauritius.
Critics of Bush’s African largesse argue that it is not totally altruistic. They argue that Washington’s real interest is Africa’s natural resources. Africa produces 90 percent of the world’s cobalt (used in aircraft jet engines), 80 percent of coltan (used in computers and cell phones) and 20 percent of petroleum. The United States imports 18 percent of its crude oil from West Africa, against 17 percent from the Persian Gulf, and expects to export 25 percent from West Africa by 2015.
Other critics point to China’s growing influence in Africa, which they say America is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. Chinese-owned companies have built factories, roads and other infrastructure across the continent. Still, others point to AFRICOM, the U.S. military’s African regional command, with one critic describing it as “the militarization of U.S. aid to Africa.”
Critics of PEPFAR are also not happy with the requirement that one-third of the prevention funds be spent to teach sexual abstinence even though there is little if any scientific evidence that such programs reduce the spread of HIV. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Washington-based advocacy group Global AIDS Alliance, says the Bush program has been inhibited by “ideologically driven policies.”
However, ordinary Africans whose lives have been touched by Bush’s programs respond to critics of his efforts in Africa with a simple proverb: Before a man refuses to eat at the table of his enemy, he has to be sure his friends have food to offer him; otherwise he will end up with nothing.
HIV-positive Linda, the recipient of anti-retroviral drugs, is free in praising the former president and his country. “George Bush has helped us live,” she says. Kunene Tantoh, the South African mother, took her son Baron to the Rose Garden at the White House in 2007 to show President Bush and his wife, Laura, “an HIV-free baby.” Says Edward Phillips, a Catholic priest who oversees the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs in Nairobi, Kenya: “This is the best thing that ever happened to the poor people I work with. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen U.S. government money really reach down to the poorest of the poor. It’s kept a hell of a lot of people alive.”
Senegalese mother Rougiatou Diallo is grateful for the mosquito net that came from “the Americans.” It helps her to keep her children malaria-free. Rakiatou Touré of Mali could not afford the lifesaving $10 insecticide-treated mosquito nets until she got a new net through the President’s Malaria Initiative. She says that “without this program I would never have been able to afford a net. Now I sleep well, and my kids aren’t bothered by mosquito bites.”
Because of the books he got from the Textbooks and Learning Materials Program (a component of the Africa Education Initiative), Sadio Gueye, a primary school student in Senegal, is happy “to have my own books at home” because he believes having his own textbooks will help his studies. “What I don’t learn at school, I can learn at home,” he says.
Tanzanian President Kikwete told President Bush in February 2008 at the signing of Tanzania’s MCC Compact, “all that I can say, President, is words of appreciation and thanksgiving. You have done a tremendous job.”
The Millennium Challenge Corp.’s $698 million aid package will help Tanzania build better roads and increase access to safe drinking water.
Kikwete said recently: “Of course, people talk with excitement of Barack Obama. For us, the most important thing is, let him be as good a friend of Africa as President George Bush has been.”
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