More than One Way to Look at Africa

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A coalition of celebrities hope to keep Africa in the view of the G8 leaders. Commentator Clarence Page suggests there's more than one way for those leaders to look at the continent. Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Chicago Tribune.

ED GORDON, host:

Chris Tucker and other celebrities hope to keep Africa in the view of the G8 leaders. Commentator Clarence Page suggests there's more than one way for those leaders to look at the continent.


Who, I ask you, could find anything bad to say about a movement to aid Africa, a movement that brings together luminaries as diverse as President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Brad Pitt and Madonna? Well, there's always Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi. While the Live 8 concert lit up stages around the world, Gadhafi was hosting his fellow African union leaders, all 53 governments, and telling them to get their own acts together and stop begging. Turns out, Gadhafi has always opposed any kind of outside involvement in Africa. `That's where neocolonialism starts,' he would say. Besides, Gadhafi would like to be Africa's big man himself and he has plenty of oil money to back up his ambitions.

But on the record, Africa's other leaders do not embrace Gadhafi's view. They've got more urgent problems, like AIDS, malaria, poverty, unemployment and, of course, wars and warlords, major causes of the mass starvation we so often see on the news. But these days, a new debate is emerging over how to handle Africa's problems. The question is not whether to provide foreign aid, but what kind of aid works best. In many ways, this discussion resembles America's welfare reform debate. In both cases, the best reform tries to help people help themselves, to move them from dependency to true independence. Aid should not undercut local economies. It should do what it can to strengthen them.

In my own Africa travels since the 1970s, I've seen a lot of misery and corruption. I've seen despots, like Robert Mugabe, turn Zimbabwe from an economic breadbasket into a basket case. But I've also seen Mozambique and Ghana, among others, use foreign aid to turn the corner on stability and investment. I also find a new generation of educated, enterprising African professionals. Increasingly, they seem to be asking the right questions about how Africa can duplicate the success of China, India, and South Africa, for that matter, in improving employment and exports.

Through the Millennium Challenge Account, the Bush administration offers more aid than any previous American president has, although it has gotten off to a painfully slow start. It also falls way short of the tiny percentage of GNP that Britain's Blair has asked the G8 nations to donate. To their credit, Bush and Blair are focused on more than the short term. Their plans offer aid, as they should, but they also demand accountability, as they also should. The wealthy nations have a moral duty to help the poorer nations. The leaders of those poorer nations have a duty to be accountable to the world and most of all to their own people.

GORDON: Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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