July 7, 2005

July 7, 2005 | Commentary on

U.S. Aid to Africa

Americans are accustomed to being clobbered on the issue of foreign aid. The G-8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, which meets today and tomorrow, is likely to bring us more of the same. But sometimes you do find strange allies. It came as a surprise, for instance, that none other than pop-star-turned-Africa-aid promoter and organizer of this weekend's Live-8 concerts, Bob Geldof, recently defended President Bush's record on aid to Africa.

Speaking to Time magazine, Mr. Geldof made some interesting observations. "America doesn't have a lack of empathy," he said. "They just don't know the issues very well. Actually, today I had to defend the Bush Administration in France again. They refuse to accept, because of their political ideology, that he has done more than any other American president for Africa. But it's empirically so."

The French and other Europeans who pride themselves on their international generosity may not like to hear what Mr. Geldof had to say, but he is right, up to a point at least. The American record on foreign aid and disaster relief far from the disaster zone it is often claimed to be. It would be good if Mr. Bush manages to press home this point with his fellow heads of state and with the world media.

In terms of the immediate agenda for the summit, the Group of Eight industrialized nations last month agreed to wipe out much of the debt burden of some of the world's poorest countries, to the tune of $60 billion. This relief will only be beneficial to the "highly indebted poor countries" in question if they at the same time embrace good governance.

Yet, at the same time, debt relief that is outcome based is at least a step in the right direction, as opposed to the arbitrary target of 0.7 percent of Gross National Product of the world's industrialized nations, which has been supported by various European politicians. When you come right down to it, very few countries have found a way to reach the 0.7 percent target.
It is time not only for the United States to promote a results-oriented philosophy of giving, as exemplified by the Millennium Challenge Account, but also to set the record straight. American generosity both public and private needs no excuses.

  • Fact: The United States donates more than any other country in Official Development Assistance, to the tune of $16 billion. That is up from $10 billion in 2000. For fiscal 2006, Mr. Bush has requested an additional $3 billion. American increases in official development assistance over the period of Mr. Bush's presidency have far outpaced those of the European Union.
  • Fact: The United States is the largest single donor to international organizations, paying $362 million (or 22 percent) of the U.N. budget. We contribute more than $1 billion to the World Food Program. We contributed $194 (or 19 percent) to the U.N. Development Program and $288 million to the U.N. Children's Fund.
  • Fact: The U.S. government counts less than half of its foreign assistance as development aid. Excluded is aid to Israel, to the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, peacekeeping and military aid, educational and cultural exchanges, the National Endowment of Democracy, educational and cultural exchanges, funding to the Export-Import Bank, the Inter-American-Foundation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. All of this amounted to $12.7 billion in 2002.
  • Fact: The United States has a great tradition of private giving, unequalled in most of the other countries with whom we are regularly compared. In 2004, private assistance flowing from the United States totaled $48 billion. This includes charity from private foundations, corporations, colleges and universities, religious organizations and NGOs, as well as individuals. It also includes personal remittances, about $28 billion. The U.S. government, of course, has no role in directing remittances, but facilitates these transactions through immigration and commerce legislation.
  • Fact: Americans donated nearly $700 million in tsunami relief to the stricken people of the Indian Ocean.
    In total flows of international aid, the United States far and away leads the world. It is only in terms of an arbitrary percentage of GNP that our numbers look inadequate. Americans have nothing to apologize for when it comes to giving. Mr. Bush ought to hammer that message home when he speaks to the world leaders today in Scotland. In fact, his administration has set a standard for others to emulate.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies of the Heritage Foundation. 

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times