Keeping Promises

Will the world do the right thing by Africa?

When President Bush announced during this year's State of the Union speech two major initiatives to fight AIDS and poverty in poor countries in and outside Africa, the promise of such bold proposals from the world's wealthiest nation surely meant a respite for thousands who live and toil in this grimmest of realities. But as with many pronouncements, positive though these are, the proof lies in whether the cash hits the streets, and that, in turn, depends an awful lot on political will.

In May Bush signed into law an act—officially titled the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003—that authorized $15 billion to fight AIDS over five years, $3 billion per year. Three months earlier, he had requested $1.3 billion for what's called the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which is designed to give more money to countries that can demonstrate they've fought poverty and corruption effectively, at least by Bush administration standards.

But the opportunity "to do so much for so many," in President Bush's words, is shrinking. Congress only allocated $2 billion for the HIV/AIDS bill, $1 billion less than was authorized, and considerably less—$800 million by the House and $300 million by the Senate—for the MCA. Why?

The Bush administration says the limited infrastructure in many poor countries would make it impossible for the money to be spent effectively. Many disagree. DATA, a group that works to reduce poverty in Africa by raising awareness of the debt, AIDS, and trade crises there, argues that the world's poorer countries could effectively use $8.2 billion for AIDS costs in 2004 and that Africa alone could spend more than $3.1 billion—using programs and facilities that already exist.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2003
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