Yes, we can make a difference in Africa. And we are.
In 2002, I joined Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil on a fact-finding trip to Africa. During that trip, my eyes were opened to the plight of a continent and its people. It is impossible to travel across Africa and not realize the extent to which the incredible vitality and productivity of its people have been ravaged by colonialism, disease, and poverty.
It’s a noble mission that activists and advocates around the world have embarked upon to come to the aid of this forgotten continent where millions of people are losing their lives unnecessarily. Death stalks vigilantly while the world watches. Unfortunately, it’s hard enough to raise awareness and money for issues in our own backyards, much less those across the ocean. And it was difficult before the economic collapse, so just imagine how challenging it is now.
Moyo says that given Africa’s current economic state, it is hard to see how any growth registered is a direct result of aid. If anything, the evidence of the last 50 years points to the reverse—slower growth, higher poverty, and Africa left off the economic ladder.
So, it is incredibly discouraging to hear contrarian voices like Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid, suggest that these generous efforts are somehow ineffective and misguided.
Moyo writes, “One disastrous consequence [of foreign-aid efforts] has been that honest, critical, and serious dialogue and debate on the merits and demerits of aid have atrophied.”
Aid has played a part in cementing peace and fostering development after conflict in Rwanda, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. As Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the BBC’s David Loyn after a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, stability in fragile post-conflict countries will be threatened if aid is reduced at this crucial time because of the global downturn. She said that it made sense for the richer countries in the world to fund the poorest now, because it would cost much less than paying for peacekeeping operations later. There was a need to “sustain the gains made by African people over the years with such sacrifice,” President Johnson Sirleaf said.
Moyo makes the blanket statement that when aid has not been stolen, it has been unproductive. Facts suggest otherwise:
- HIV/AIDS: This funding has allowed for the number of people on critical antiretroviral drugs to increase from 50,000 in 2002, to 2.1 million in 2007. In Senegal and Rwanda, over half of the people in need of antiretroviral medication are receiving it, and in Botswana and Namibia, these coverage rates are above 75 percent. In 2002, the percentage of Africans in need who were receiving treatment was only 1 percent.
- Malaria: In Rwanda and Ethiopia, malaria cases and deaths were cut by more than 50 percent in two years thanks to the dramatic scaleup of bed-net delivery and expanded access to effective antimalarial drugs paid for by aid. In Ethiopia, malaria deaths were cut by 51 percent and cases by 60 percent between 2005 and 2007; in Rwanda, malaria deaths were cut by 66 percent and cases by 64 percent within a single year (2006-2007).
- Education: In the last ten years, 34 million more African children have been enrolled in primary school thanks to increasingly effective aid, improved African governance and targeted debt relief.
Moyo says that given Africa’s current economic state, it is hard to see how any growth registered is a direct result of aid. If anything, the evidence of the last 50 years points to the reverse—slower growth, higher poverty and Africa left off the economic ladder.
The reality is that aid is not a threat to Africa, but rather the global economic crisis is.
Already, the IMF has cut its forecast for growth in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 from 6.7 percent to 3.5 percent and this amount could be further reduced. Aid allows African nations room to grow, something that in these uncertain economic times, is critical to success of every aspect of government and infrastructure.
There is much debate about President George W. Bush and his legacy, but an issue over which there is little dissent is the significant contribution his administration made to save lives affected by AIDS, primarily in Africa.
In 2003, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was launched to combat global HIV/AIDS—the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history.
Through PEPFAR, the U.S. government has already provided $18.8 billion in HIV/AIDS funding. Additionally, the program has:
- Reached an estimated 58.3 million people through community outreach programs to prevent sexual transmission using the ABC approach.
- Has supplied more than 2.2 billion condoms worldwide from 2004 to 2008.
- Supported prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission during nearly 16 million pregnancies.
- Supported antiretroviral prophylaxis for nearly 1.2 million pregnant women found to be HIV-positive, allowing nearly 240,000 infants to be born HIV-free.
- Provided approximately $712 million to support prevention activities in fiscal year 2008. This investment represents 22 percent of focus-country program funding. If counseling and testing are counted as prevention, this share increases to 29 percent.
So, while it is certainly legitimate and important to debate the merits and effectiveness of foreign-aid assistance anywhere, including and especially Africa, in this case the facts speak louder than a U2 concert.
BBC News. 16 March 2009. “Downturn risks Africa conflict”. March 16
UNAIDS/WHO. 2008. Toward Universal Access: Scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector. (UNAIDS) and World Health Organization (WHO).
UNAIDS. August 2008. 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic. P. 193.
World Health Organization. 2008. “Impact of long-lasting insecticidal-treated nets (LLINs) and artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) measured using surveillance data, in four African countries.”
IMF. April 2008. World Economic Outlook 2008.
As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chairman of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.