The outgoing Bush administration considers its various foreign aid programs to be among its greatest achievements. USAID, the US Agency for International Development, provides much of that assistance. Besides supplying aid in times of disaster and conflict, the agency works to advance human rights, economic growth and democratic reforms.
Henrietta Fore is the USAID administrator, the first woman to hold that position. Fore is also director of US Foreign Assistance. She spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the Bush administration’s foreign aid successes.
“It’s been a very important time for USAID. In the past eight years, there has really been a watershed in our thinking and in our resources. The Bush administration has raised the profile of development in a way that we have not seen since the Marshall Plan (after World War Two) and the onset of the Cold War,” she says.
Fore says foreign assistance has tripled worldwide, but in Africa it’s increased four-fold.“That’s a very important legacy just in terms of our commitment as a nation and as a people,” she says.
She highlights HIV/AIDS and development programs, calling them “innovative.”
“The Millennium Challenge Corporation was begun, where we’re focusing on infrastructure and real accountability by countries. The president’s initiative on HIV/AIDS (PEPFAR), which has changed many lives and is the largest commitment we’ve made to a single disease by any country ever. So it is a very important change in looking at the chain of pharmaceuticals and help to people in villages in how to address HIV/AIDS,” she says.
The USAID administrator says the president’s malaria initiative has reached 25 million people in the last year alone. Fore also says the administration has responded to the ongoing food crisis.
“We are more than half of the world’s food aid. And as a result we bear a special responsibility and commitment to helping people in greatest need,” she says.
Asked why the United States bears a special responsibility, she says, “If you have an ongoing program, let us say it is in Darfur, there are three million people a day who are being fed because of the generosity of the American people. These people would starve, particularly women and children.… Food assistance -- this is an area that has great attention around the world because of the high prices, the lack of availability of food. And America is an enormous producer of food…. So we have the ability to be generous.”
Besides food aid, technical assistance is often provided in agricultural programs, for example. “We are focusing on doubling the production of staple food in Africa,” she says.
If Fore were to make recommendations to the incoming Obama administration, she says, “We have many things that still need to be done. But I would focus on the number of Americans overseas. We have just begun an initiative called the Development Leadership Initiative, which is doubling the number of Foreign Service officers that are out around the world doing our development work. And this initiative is probably the most important we have, which is to staff-up our programs.”
Those programs address democratic elections and governance, economic growth, health, education and disaster assistance. “All of these sectors need the Americans who are there talking about and sharing their experiences for how to improve those countries’ development,” she says.
Fore says there are about 18 elections in Africa alone this year and attention should be paid to helping ensure free and fair democratic process.