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Democrats Seek More US Food Aid for Africa - 2003-01-16

Democrats in Congress are introducing legislation to increase food and other aid to Africa. The move comes as the Bush administration proposes extending trade concessions for African countries.

As the new 108th Congress got underway earlier this month, lawmakers concerned about the lack of U.S. focus on Africa pledged to push hard for new aid to the continent.

At a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday, Senate and House Democrats gathered to announce a proposed new initiative, the Africa Famine and Relief Act.

It would provide nearly $900 million in food and disaster relief to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including $100 million to help families devastated by AIDS.

Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, says Africa faces what he calls an "accelerating, downward spiral" from food shortages and AIDS. He linked U.S. assistance with the war on terror.

"Countries that are starving and dying provide fertile ground for one thing terrorists," he said. "People who have little real to live for, are the ones who are the most likely to find something false to die for. We simply cannot hope to be successful in our efforts to fight global terror, if this suffering continues."

The Africa Famine and Relief Act has key support from African-American lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus, with its chairman Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings.

"Today, it is my hope that we are marking the start of a full-scale campaign to end the famine, poverty, disease and war which have been plaguing sub-Saharan Africa," he said.

Two other Senate Democrats, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Joseph Biden of Delaware, said the Republican-controlled Congress should not delay a vote on the aid package.

"This is doable, this is the right thing to do. This sends a message that we are concerned about not just ourselves, in a significant way," Mr. Biden said. "And lastly, and maybe most importantly, it is something that is of a humanitarianly urgent need."

Language in the Africa Famine and Relief Act calls on President Bush to formulate a strategy to address medium and long-term needs of Africa, and more effectively coordinate and oversee U.S. assistance.

The Democratic-sponsored legislation would have to be approved by both houses of the Republican controlled Congress and signed by President before they could become law.

Introduction of the bill comes as the Bush administration signals its commitment to extend preferential trade arrangements with 38 African countries under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Congress approved the Act in 2000 under President Bill Clinton, and President Bush says he wants it to continue beyond its scheduled expiration in 2008. This would require congressional approval.