Why Africa is important (and what the US is doing about it)

Tuesday, a panel of speakers from inside and outside ND came to speak about DATA, the problem with AIDS in Africa, and US policy toward the African countries that are being the hardest hit by AIDS and the ubiquitous problem of starvation. I just wanted to give a brief run-down of what they said is going on and what we can do about it. The stats, as always, are horrendous: 6,500 people die of AIDS or HIV-related problems every day in the six worst countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda). $14.5 billion a year is being accrued in debt to the G8 nations every year. Compared to non-African developing countries (those in Asia, Latin America, etc.), Africa lags behind in public health spending, paved roads, and in pupil to teacher ratio in schools. In the area of public health, for instance, the six countries mentioned above spend $6 per person per year. The average non-African, third-world country spends $87. (We're not talking developed countries like Japan and the US, we're talking countries like Columbia, Laos, and Yemen--not hotbeds of industrial growth themselves). Certainly, you've heard of America's promise to (1) drop the debt these countries owe the US--part of the Jubilee 2000 plan--and (2) respond to the Millennium Challenge by giving 0.7% of every first-world country's GNP to the countries with the highest need. You've probably also heard that, while the US promised that aid like the majority of the world in 2000, after the 9/11/01 attacks, it did not give the money promised or entirely drop the debt. In fact, the US now ranks last among developed countries in the percentage of its GNP it gives to Africa. Why does it matter? I mean, aside from a humanitarian reason, why should the US (or voters in the US) care about Africa. If we have to lay out pragmatic concerns (as opposed to ethical ones), maybe we should talk about these: oil and natural gas reserves off the west African coast, retroviruses like parvo and the dreaded Ebola endemic in central Africa, and the presence of al-Qaida recruiters from the South African diamond mines to Libya and Morocco. Without burdening you with too much detail, I would like to point out that the US has taken the terrorist recruitment threat in Africa seriously, committing $100 million to the East Africa Counterterrorism Initiative and 2,000 US troops to the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa in Djibouti and special forces to Sahel. But the panel members and other experts on these crises in Africa, like Jeff Sachs at Columbia (special advisor to the U.N.) believe that the majority of the money and resources the US is spending on African "security" is backfiring. The underlying problems of hunger, wide availability of automatic weapons, disease, unemployment, and growing numbers of young people without goals or education are not going away. Instead, the presence of US military--now seen as police or colonizers, rather than peacekeepers--is actually increasing the likelihood of young men to take up arms against the US. When faced by shows of American force, African youth have, by and large, been responding by joining local, alternate forces, like al-Qaida whose recruitment rates in Muslim east Africa have never been higher, according to the U.N. and State Dept. reports. Even in relatively stable countries like Kenya, American "aid" has been of one not-particularly-helpful type. In 2002, elections there unseated the corrupt government long in power. Unfortunately, once the new, democratic government took office, the State Dept. issued travel advisories regarding unsubstantiated "terrorist threats." The new government, having lost huge amounts of tourist revenue from traveling Americans, found itself in an economically precarious situation once again. So, what do these experts propose we do?
  1. Keep up our commitment to the Millennium Challenge signed by the US in September 2000 by giving 0.7% of the US' GNP to rigorously administered relief in Africa--not ineffective policing techniques.
  2. Stop selling arms to African countries, most of which are used by rebel groups to destabilize governments.
  3. Take the lead in international coalitions to fight AIDS/HIV globally.
  4. Deal openly and honestly with developing countries by allowing them to hold Western citizens accountable to the International Criminal Court if they violate international law while in these countries (currently, the US will not allow citizens to be tried in the ICC).
  5. Drop all debt owed to the G8 by African countries.
Do you agree that Africa is somewhere we should be spending our time/money/resources?


Blogger Seth said...

Yes. Absolutely.

10/29/2004 8:08 PM  

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