Outlook 2005: Enhancing Africa's Visibility Key to Budget Challenges on Aid,
Debt Relief and HIV/AIDS

Hunger, poverty, conflict and HIV/Aids have not been driven from the African continent, but 2004 saw  progress  on several fronts. It is possible to look to 2005 with hope, and with the recognition underscored that U.S. policies, which we can impact, make a significant difference to millions of African women, men and children.

Even after the end of colonial rule and the achievement of independence, popular demands for democratic and accountable governments in many African countries have often been answered with persecution, imprisonment or death.  Repressive governments have not all been eliminated but significant change is taking place in a number of countries. Civil society is growing and applying pressure for better performance and the media are demanding transparency across all sectors. Presidents can no longer expect to hold onto their title for life; the example set by South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela- who chose to serve only one term - has reverberated widely. Long established ruling elites are being challenged and African states are beginning to build continent- wide bodies, such as the African Union (AU), which seek to increase both cooperation and accountability.

The African Union, established in 2002, incorporates 53 African states,  representing a population of 811 million people. It aims to achieve a better life for its people as well as defend their sovereignty and independence. It replaces the 39-year old Organisation of African Unity, (OAU), which was frequently criticized as ineffective, because of the reluctance of member states to condemn or act on human rights violations and conflicts in Africa.

African Union Action in Sudan

African Union responses in 2004 to the bloody crisis in Darfur in the Sudan provide a promising example of the determination of the new body to live up to its commitments in deeds and and words, but also illustrate the enormous problems facing the resource- poor organization. In a notable exception to the international reluctance to act against the violence -  sponsored by the Government of Sudan against the people of Darfur- AU engagement helped broker a ceasefire agreement early in 2004. Though frequently violated, that agreement laid the basis for the deploying international monitors and an AU force.  While continuing to seek a political settlement between the Government and the Darfurian groups demanding a greater say in  decision making, the AU sent the first observers, who  reported on Khartoum- sponsored violations and followed up by deploying  Rwandan and Nigerian soldiers (several hundred strong) assigned to  protect  the monitors. Logistical problems, basically flowing from a lack of resources delayed full deployment, and the force was too small to provide security to millions of civilians at risk. The vast territory involved (the size of Texas) soon led the AU to try to mount a much larger peacekeeping force (2,000-5,000 soldiers) mandated to protect civilians, but Khartoum continued to reject it. In any case the AU currently lacks the capacity to fund such a force. The US, while praising AU action, and  having itself declared that genocide was being perpetrated in Darfur by the Sudan government (on September 9) apparently lacks the political will to take any effective action to end the genocide or to support AU efforts to intervene.

Seeking Accountable Government

Across Africa, citizens are calling for more than multi-party elections, but are also demanding independent judges, effective parliaments, measures that address corruption and the devolution of power from central to local governments.  Local human rights activists are raising their voices. Women are mobilizing against traditions which deny them the right to inherit property, control their finances or choose with whom and how they will live. There is an increasing demand that proposed laws be subject to public dialogue and debate before enactment and that those representing the people regularly seek the people's views. Africans are demanding "good governance."

Yet despite U.S. policy makers often referring to the importance of good governance for any African country seeking aid and investment for development, the policy environment does not favour efficient or stable state institutions. The economic liberalization policies favoured by the U.S.- both directly and through the structural adjustment programs of powerful multilateral bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - have  cut the civil service and curtailed the ability of the state to deliver services,  including education,  medical and ante-natal care and other social services. U.S. trade policies, bilateral, and exercised through the World Trade Organization, erect further barriers to African economic development.

Free Trade is not Fair Trade

In June 2003 the U.S. began negotiations with the five members of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) to create the United States-Southern Africa Customs Union Free Trade Area (US-SACU FTA), the first U.S. free trade area in Africa. The Southern Africa Customs Union includes Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. Although the text remains officially secret, reports from African observers and the precedent of other U.S. trade agreements indicate that the agreement could threaten access to affordable medicines, critical for any success in Africa's battle against HIV/AIDS. Terms of the trade agreement also undermine small-scale or informal farming and appear to be in conflict with South Africa's Black Economic Empowerment initiative, which seeks to eliminate the enormous economic inequities imposed on generations of Black South Africans by the "whites only" apartheid system.

Drop the Debt in 2005?

Nearly one in every six African children dies before the age of five - no progress from a decade ago - and overall primary school enrolment is still below 60 percent.

Yet Africa's debt today stands at more than $300 billion. Each year African nations transfer $15 billion dollars paying back old debt to rich Western nations and to international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF which are controlled by these governments. This amount is five times more than is spent on education and health care and $2.3 billion more than is received in aid each year. Many of the loans being repaid were illegitimate or odious, made to corrupt or dictatorial rulers who oppressed their people; and made for purposes like the maintenance of apartheid rather than the provision of services or eradication of poverty for African populations.
The All Africa Conference of Churches says of this debt "Every child in Africa is born with a financial burden which a lifetime's work cannot repay. This debt is a new form of slavery, as vicious as the slave trade." Recognizing this reality an international campaign, under the banner "Jubilee 2000" has aimed to give a fresh start to debt burdened countries by calling for debt cancellation.

The energy mustered by the growing worldwide Jubilee campaign has won some victories, so that the world's seven wealthiest countries (known as the G7) have largely cancelled bilateral debt owed them by the most impoverished nations.  According to the World Bank and IMF, countries that have received debt relief have not spent the new resources on arms or luxuries but have doubled their spending on poverty reduction.  In Benin the debt relief went to education, to recruit health staff for rural clinics and increase immunizations and for battling HIV/AIDS and malaria. In Malawi it helped fund training for 3600 new teachers a year. But initial victories have been only partial, leaving many countries still heavily burdened both by debt and by the terms and conditions of so-called debt-relief.

Now 2005 will present a critical moment in the struggle for debt cancellation, as activists focus their attention on the largest remaining debt burdening the most impoverished nations.  This debt is owed to multilateral creditors like the IMF, World Bank and regional development banks. Calls for a repudiation and refusal to pay the debt are growing louder, with Jubilee South leading civil society groups across Africa, Asia and Latin America under the slogan "Don't Owe, Won't Pay."

The African Union and leaders like President Obasanjo of Nigeria support 100 % multilateral debt cancellation. Jubilee USA helped introduce a bill in Congress in 2004 which called for 100% multilateral debt cancellation for 50 countries. By the end of 2004 it was the official policy of both the US and UK governments to support 100% multilateral cancellation for the poorest nations although there were deep differences in approaches as to how the cancellation would be financed, and what conditions would be attached to such cancellation.

Debt cancellation activists  in the US and internationally see the next critical moment for a decision on debt cancellation  early in February  2005, when Finance Ministers from the seven wealthiest countries known as the G7 or Group of 7, are meeting to consider 100% cancellation for as many as 40 of the world's poorest countries, most of them in Africa.  Thus U.S. activist attention in the first weeks of 2005 is  focused on urging  Washington  to support this 100% debt cancellation.

Experience shows that the struggle for full and fair implementation of decisions will require constant mobilization through 2005 and beyond.

Development Assistance and Funds for HIV/AIDS

Advocacy in 2005 around US development assistance and funding for the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa will continue to revolve around the administration's principal policy initiatives in those areas, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
The Millennium account was launched by President Bush in 2002 and, on paper at least, promises to increase the amount of US development aid to poor countries by $5 billion annually  a 50 percent increase over past budgeting. But to date no MCA funds have been spent and the increase still leaves the United States  the stingiest aid donor among wealthy countries compared to the size of the economy  far below the international goal of 7/10s of one percent of national wealth.
PEPFAR, in contrast, made its first round of grants last year to US faith-based organizations that conduct anti-AIDS programs in the 15 target countries  12 in Africa 2 in the Caribbean and one in Asia. The five year, $15 billion plan aims to provide life saving drugs to 2 million people, prevent 7 million new infections through expanded prevention programs and provide care to 10 million children left orphaned by the disease  almost all of them in Africa.

The need is desperate. In December 2004 the UN AIDS agency noted that Africa, with  10 percent of the world's population, contained almost 2/3rds of the global number of people infected    25 million. Of the 3.1 million people who died of the disease last year, about 3/4s were African. Tragically, there were more new infections last year than ever, more than twenty years after the disease was first reported.
But the US plan remains under funded by Congress, hamstrung by Washington's abstinence-only approach to prevention and weakened by the undue influence of the pharmaceutical industry, which has ensured that PEPFAR will purchase only costly US brand new medicines instead of the cheaper, easier to administer and demonstrably effective generic drugs recommended by the World Health organization. Although the number of people in Africa and other poor regions with access to anti-retroviral drugs that attack the virus itself has slowly increased, the US and international response to the pandemic remains far below the urgent need.

At a time when reducing the cost of ARVs could save millions of lives in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, the administration has resisted efforts at the World Trade Organization to make the medicines widely available and used bad science to challenge the safety of generics and prevention technologies like condoms.

The coming year will see the US come under diplomatic pressure to increase its aid budgets and support international AIDS efforts. Great Britain has called for an international "Marshall Plan" for Africa to lift the continent out of poverty, and the United Nations will meet later this year to try to reach agreement on a plan to reduce world poverty by half in 10 years.

U.S. Interests; Oil and the War on Terrorism

But the go-it-alone Bush administration is unlikely to embrace these multilateral initiatives without sustained public pressure at home. US policy toward Africa is being shaped by the U.S. pre-occupation with the "war on terrorism" and the desire to consolidate U.S. access to African oil. Africa now provides about one in six barrels of oil imported into the U.S. and investment in the petroleum industry represents over 70 per cent of all U.S. direct investment in Africa.

When Washington chooses to engage with Africa it does so on a selective basis determined far less by the needs of recipients or efficiency of delivery agencies than by its own political agenda. Much of the current engagement centers around a military agenda which includes providing expanded training and weaponry to African countries with no regard for their human rights record.

Washington gives  almost derisory support to the multilateral Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) established as a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and affected communities, in an innovative attempt to dramatically increase resources to fight three of the world's most devastating diseases, and to direct those resources to areas of greatest need. The US prefers to operate through its own parallel US Global AIDS initiative, choosing to assist only some countries.

With the cost of the Iraq war soaring, deficits rising to unprecedented levels and the principal administration advocate for Africa, Colin Powell, out of office, the challenge for 2005 may be to keep Africa on Washington's radar at all, let alone raise its visibility.

About the Writer:
Jennifer Davis is the interim director of the Washington Office on Africa (WOA). WOA is a 30-year-old advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on issues of social, economic and political justice on the African continent as they are affected by the policies and programs of the U.S. government and other Washington-based institutions.

First Published in January 2005 in Stewardship for Public Life, Presbyterian Church (USA)
For reprint permission contact rhouston@ctr.pcusa.org