Slow Start to Providing Aid to Africa

Robert Guest talks about President Bush's efforts to assist Africa through the Millenium Challenge. Guest is the author of The Shackled Continent — Power, Corruption and African Lives.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Just days after President Bush met with leaders of African nations, the head of the president's major foreign aid initiative aimed at Africa resigned. Paul Applegarth quit as head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. It was designed to channel billions of dollars to countries that are controlling corruption, encouraging trade and investing in health and education. So far funds have been committed to just four countries, two of those in Africa, and only $120,000 has actually been given to the country. Robert Guest is the author of "The Shackled Continent: Power, Corruption and African Lives."

Good morning.

Mr. ROBERT GUEST (Author, "The Shackled Continent"): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now the Bush administration started its first term saying Africa would be a priority. The Millennium Challenge account was part of that effort to help the continent, but almost no money's been distributed. Is this all lip service by the Bush administration in your opinion?

Mr. GUEST: It's a little bit hard to say whether it's lip service or not. Certainly the criticism you would hear from Europeans is that America is much less generous about giving aid to the very poorest countries than the Europeans are and that, although Mr. Bush has promised a great deal more money, it's been very slow to hand it out. The counterargument to that is that the Bush Millennium Challenge account is supposed to make aid more effective by making it much more rigorously conditional by saying that countries have to come up with their own plans for how to spend the money. They have to demonstrate that they're committed to sensible economic policies and reasonable standards of human rights before they get the money. It's much too early to say whether that approach is going to work.

MONTAGNE: Well, five African presidents who visited President Bush earlier this week said the fine print and the US bureaucracy made it difficult for them to qualify for Millennium Challenge funds. They were complaining about this. Is is that difficult?

Mr. GUEST: Certainly I think the aims of what they're trying to make the African countries do are very sensible. The difficulty, as you say, is the bureaucracy of that. There's a lot of form-filling to do, and they're forms that are very much couched in American ways of talking. And it takes a long time for these guys to dot all the I's and cross all the T's.

MONTAGNE: Do you have an example that you can give us of a particular country, for instance, that, you know, should be benefiting from this fund but can't somehow get through the hoops?

Mr. GUEST: There are places such as Mozambique, for example, which has really put in place a democratic system, business-friendly or market-friendly economic reforms, which is a very big deal, considering it used to be a fairly homicidal, Marxist state. But they just don't have the capacity to quickly fulfill all the requirements. And it may be that with a bit of advice that they will get there, but we haven't seen the results yet.

MONTAGNE: What do you make of this sudden resignation of Paul Applegarth, who had headed up the Millennium Challenge and resigned just days after the president spoke with some of the leaders of countries which should benefit from it?

Mr. GUEST: Well, I think it's a little strange that he doesn't seem to have given any reasons for it. I mean, normally one would at least give some kind of explanation. So it's not clear whether it's because he's dissatisfied with the way the organization is run, whether he perhaps agrees with the criticisms that it's being too slow to hand out the money. I don't know.

MONTAGNE: Next month President Bush meets with other leaders of the G8 meeting. How much money do you think that they will come up with for Africa, and do you think whatever they come up with will be well spent?

Mr. GUEST: Well, the Europeans have for the most part committed themselves to doubling the amount of aid that they're going to give to Africa, and most of them are ultimately aiming for an arbitrary target of .7 percent of their own GDP. Now that's one way of going about it, and that creates the risk that you simply have pressure to get the money out of the door and spend it on any old thing. The Bush approach is pretty much the opposite of that, which is to tie the money very closely to how much the individual countries are on the right track, and that obviously carries the opposite risk, that you're not going to give enough money and that countries that fail to leap through the bureaucratic hoops are not going to qualify.

MONTAGNE: Robert Guest is the author of "The Shackled Continent: Power, Corruption and African Lives."

Thanks for joining us.

Mr. GUEST: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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