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U-S Congress / Africa - 2002-06-28

As the G-8 group of industrialized nations concluded a summit with a focus on aid for Africa and debt issues, a senior U-S official was testifying before Congress on the same subjects. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says the Bush administration will insist that aid to African countries be driven by tangible results in reform and free market policies.

Mr. O'Neill visited Africa in May, and says he returned from his trip believing firmly that investment is vital in three specific areas: clean water, primary education, and the fight against AIDS.

He told the House International Relations Committee he was shocked to see what he called the "disconnect" between expensive international aid bureaucracies, and the existence of more practical local solutions.

Mr. O'Neill reviewed steps the Bush administration is taking to help Africa: doubling to 200-million dollars funds for an Africa education initiative, and an additional 500-million dollars for preventing the transmission of AIDS between mothers and children.

But as he did during his visits to African countries, the U-S Treasury Secretary makes clear his personal view, and that of the Bush administration, that the developed world has a right to demand results from African leaders in exchange for new levels of assistance:

He says, "With leadership, honest, accountable, and committed to progress, everything is possible. Without leadership, nothing is possible. In the right environment, focused on growth, enterprise, human development, aid does work. Knowing that it can work, we have a moral duty to demand as much.

But Mr. O'Neill says success in Africa, driven by entrepreneurs and other risk-takers, has no chance without real action by African leaders against corruption, human rights violations and trade barriers.

U-S lawmakers agree. They believe Africa's crushing debt burden needs to be addressed, but say African governments must make headway toward reform.

Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Africa subcommittee, points to the plan of action (NEPAD, or New Partnership for Africa's Development) on which agreement was reached Thursday by African leaders and industrialized nations at the G-8 summit in Canada.

Under the plan, African governments commit to democratic reform, rule of law, and promotion of human rights in exchange for more aid from the developed world.

However, Congressman Royce says the confidence of donor nations in the plan is undermined by what he calls the failure of African leaders to speak out forcefully about problems among themselves, and he singled out as an example the problems in Zimbabwe.

Congressman Royce says, "During this G-8 process, I hope the international community will discuss with African leaders, that if they are committed truly to election reform, the rule of law, to human rights, that they speak out about what's happening right now, in Zimbabwe, that should be part of the peer review process."

The Bush administration has proposed a five-billion dollar increase in assistance to developing countries through 2006, through what is called the Millennium Challenge Account. African countries committing to reform would benefit from this program.

Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House International Relations committee, supports new aid. But he says U-S foreign aid must in the future be based on results.

He says, "U-S foreign economic assistance including all development assistance, should be provided in support of key U-S national strategic objectives. And certain types of economic assistance should be continued only to those governments that demonstrate results."

Treasury Secretary O'Neill, told the congressional panel (Thursday) that forgiving debts of developing countries by itself will not solve Africa's development problems. He says a trend toward replacing loans with grants will ease pressure on African governments trapped in an endless cycle of debt servicing.