Bush's Wasted Trip to Africa
In Botswana, President Bush told his audience that the U.S. was not only a powerful nation, but a compassionate one as well. That may be true of American citizens, but not for their government. Remember, this is the same man who told the world that Saddam Hussein was about to launch doomsday weapons upon it. Let's look at the facts of our official giving to see if it rises to the level of compassionate.
1. The US's annual foreign aid is .12% of its GNP--note the position of that decimal. Foreign giving is right around $12 billion and the Gross National Product is just shy of $10 trillion. That level of compassion puts the US at the bottom of the 22 industrialized nations in foreign aid as a percentage of economic output.
2. The US does top the list in the sale of weaponry. Most of our foreign aid is for defense-related equipment. The top three recipients are Russia, Israel, and Egypt. Columbia, Peru, and the Philippines are in the top 10 because they are all fighting insurgencies of one type or another. No African country is in the top 10.
3. Bush stated in his speech that the US wants to help African countries to be able to feed themselves. That is a flat-out lie. Our policies are designed to keep them dependent on us so we have markets for our grain surpluses. We want them to grow crops for export to raise hard currency to be able to retire their IMF and World Bank debt, all while privatizing any public assets our corporate transnationals may be interested in.
4. Our compassion is not much in evidence when our oil companies employ private security forces who shoot to kill when unarmed protestors complain about inadequate wages and broken promises made by the oil barons. These African workers continue to be sold into virtual slavery and exploited by the dictators and illegitimate monarchs who profit handsomely from the oil deals, and will eventually escape to their Mediterranean villas with all that they have looted. Meanwhile, no investigations and not much reporting of the killings of these innocents will happen, which could spoil the fun at annual shareholders meetings back in the states. Only when the widows threaten to disrobe (the ultimate insult in Nigeria) does some publicity leak out. Mr. Bush may agonize over whether to commit a thousand troops to help avoid a bloodbath in Liberia, but where were we while 3 million have died as a result of conflicts in the Congo since the end of the cold war?
5. By upholding patent laws on essential drugs, we have prolonged and exacerbated disease and the AIDs pandemic. They shouldn't even apply beyond our borders. Patents allow monopoly a large window, and always lead to price gouging. How else can a company like Microsoft have cash in excess of $46 billion, and a company like Pfizer make a $3 billion profit on sales of $8 billion during the last quarter alone? Meanwhile, half the population of Botswana is infected with the HIV virus.
6. We have yet to release even $2 billion of the promised $15 billion in AIDs relief for all African countries. Congress debates and is hung up on budget deficits, caused in part by tax cuts for the rich, and billions a week for the Iraqi occupation. But there is also the critical issue of how much of the AIDs money should go towards counseling abstinence to assure the religious right in America that we are not encouraging immoral behaviors in Africa.
7. Bush spoke of the importance of Japan and Europe dropping their agricultural subsidies ( It doesn't appear that he mentioned U.S. subsidies in the tens of billions ). But he tied this to the objective of enabling African countries to become self sufficient in food. What does dropping subsidies have to do with self sufficiency? We want them to grow for export, not for their own use. In fact, if their exports become more competitive, there will be less incentive to grow for local use and the prices will be driven up for local consumption.
8. Bush has urged Europe to drop its ban on genetically modified crops. This would encourage African nations who sell to Europe to accept GMO's from the U.S. which would, in time, probably pollute the gene pool of their homegrown crops and eliminate the market for organic foods, which is a growing and lucrative niche market. Why would we encourage genetically engineered crops for Africa? We say it is to solve hunger, but they are no more productive, and they have not been adequately tested long-term to know if there will be unintended consequences. We do know they will not own their seed when they use patented seed, and some seed is designed to have a built-in terminator gene, so it cannot be used for the next year's planting. Such seed should be banned to begin with. What kind of perverse mind thought that one up? One suspects that the only winner in this scenario is Monsanto. I'd check their record as a campaign contributor. Besides, we could do a lot for Africa by doing our share to curb global warming. This is at least partly responsible for desertification in the northern parts. In the Southern parts, they can't bring in the crops due to a workforce decimated by AIDs, and armed conflicts. Maybe we should give them tractors and seed instead of guns.
It is not surprising that U.S. Presidents have not made a habit of visiting Africa. There is not much of a record to stand on and face Africans without great shame. Of course, we know Mr. Bush is shameless (if not clueless), but he has been careful to visit only the most successful and stable countries in isolated, well-protected sanctuaries guaranteed to keep him away from the kinds of people he purports to want to help. He looked good in the Toyota jeep with Laura on the photo safari, but that is irrelevant to the problems he faces. Nonetheless, the questions he gets during photo ops are mostly about why he invaded Iraq. Africa also has oil, and they are not oblivious to the big hint that we sent, with our "demonstration" wars in the Middle East.
Actually, American individuals, mostly through NGO's, give about three times the amount of charity as our penurious foreign aid budget. One could easily draw the inference that we really do not need the official government. They are not running the world well, and when they use words like compassion and liberty and democracy, they are just mouthing empty abstractions with no beef on the bone. If we could keep them from making war, and keep the corporate beasties from getting their mitts on the throats of weak third world nations, we might have less to worry about from external terrorism. The money we would save on homeland security and national defense could be put into benevolent foreign aid so that people beyond our shores would really like us, not merely envy us. So, we would have a vicious cycle evolving towards world peace, world harmony, and the defeat of poverty and racism around the world. Now there is a scary scenario for the military industrial critters.
J. Russell Tyldesley is an insurance executive who lives in Catonsville, Md.
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This story was published on July 14, 2003.