February 11, 2003 | Commentary on Africa
Africa used to be known as "the dark continent" because so
little was known about it. Increased knowledge (and political
correctness) has dated that description, but one can argue that the
situation the African continent finds itself in today is dark
Sub-Saharan Africa is stricken with pervasive poverty. In 2000, on average, each person in sub-Saharan Africa made only $568-many less than a dollar a day, according to the World Bank. For this "average" person to become as wealthy as an American (whose income averaged $31,996 in 2000), their economies would have to grow about 5 percent a year-for the next 80 years.
Then there's disease. As President Bush noted in his State of the Union address, nearly 30 million Africans have AIDS, including three million children under the age of 15. The United States should offer help to prevent the spread of this disease, Bush said, because "seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many."
He's right. But Africa's poverty should be just as big a foreign policy concern as the spread of AIDS. The administration recognizes this: A September 2002 Bush administration national security study said that in Africa, "promise and opportunity sit side by side with disease, war and desperate poverty." It went on to note that this situation "threatens both a core values of the United States-preserving human dignity-and our strategic priority-combating global terror."
Economic repression creates poverty and resentment that terrorists can exploit. Case in point: Five of the seven countries the State Department identifies as state sponsors of terrorism-Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria-were rated among the world's least free economies in the 2003 "Index of Economic Freedom," an annual survey The Heritage Foundation publishes with The Wall Street Journal.
But poverty isn't a matter of fate. It's largely imposed through ill-conceived and repressive economic policies. A major step toward alleviating poverty is to provide greater economic freedom and strengthen the rule of law. Most economic analyses conclude that these policies are the only way to create the opportunities that lead to greater wealth.
And, as noted in The Heritage Foundation's latest policy guidebook, "Agenda 2003," (agenda.heritage.org), America's strategy in Africa should focus on two priorities: expanding economic freedom and strengthening the continent's ability to address political instability. Congress can help the administration address these priorities in several ways:
The problem of AIDS is dire and the president is correct to
rally America's resources to address the problem. But Africa's
poverty kills as surely as AIDS. A lack of economic freedom and
rule of law contribute to the big, bleak picture of current African
life. Economic freedom and trade will help improve that picture and
create an African continent that lives in the light of liberty,
peace and prosperity and not in the dark of slavery, war and
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).