Pastors Question African Debt Relief Policy

A group of prominent clergymen, including Bishop T. D. Jakes of the Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith in Dallas, Texas, and the Rev. Eugene Rivers, pastor of the Azusa Christian Community in Boston, Mass., question the depth of the White House's commitment on the issue of debt relief for African nations.

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A group of leading African-American pastors are at odds with the Bush administration over its Africa relief policy. Though the president has agreed to cancel the debt of some of the continent's poorest countries, the ministers still question the depth of the White House's commitment to Africa. NPR's Allison Keyes explains.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

During the last election, it was clear that President Bush's efforts to engage the black community were paying off big time. Pleased with the president's faith-based initiatives and his compassionate conservatism, many right-leaning clergymen of color threw their support behind Mr. Bush. Their efforts, along with the Republican outreach to the African-American community, nearly doubled the number of blacks who said they supported the president from 9 to about 18 percent. That's according to a Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies poll of black voters done just before the election. But the African aid issue could put a cloud over the increasingly positive relations the White House has had with some of those leaders.

For the last couple of weeks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been touting global warming and aid to Africa as the top priorities of the G8 summit coming up in Scotland in July. He has proposed that the leading industrial countries double their aid to Africa, which would mean an extra $25 billion a year. Britain and the US have recently agreed to forgive billions of dollars in debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest countries. Many are in Africa. But the White House declined Blair's aid proposal, saying that it's tripled aid to Africa since 2001. The president said the US will provide a smaller sum in famine relief funds that were already cleared by Congress.

Some pastors of color, fresh from a May 23rd meeting about US churches doing more to fight AIDS in Africa with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, sent Mr. Bush a letter expressing their concerns. The letter demands the president's ardent support of Blair's proposal. It also seeks meetings with both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair to discuss the issue further. The document suggests that failure to adequately support Africa is a failure to support our own national security. The letter also says US aid to Africa, quoting here, "pales in contrast" to the billions in aid given to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the $140 billion tax cut given to corporations last year. So far, the White House has declined to say whether the president plans to meet with the clergymen. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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