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June 10, 2005

A Head Start
Pupils listen to their teacher at a school in Lagos, Nigeria

Pupils listen to their teacher at a school in Lagos, Nigeria, May 24, 2005. The 53-member African Union (AU), then called the Organisation of African Unity, decided in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to commemorate every May 25 as Africa Day with this year's theme being "An Efficient and Effective African Union of a new Africa." (AP/George Osodi)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to Washington this week, hoping his strong support for President Bush on Iraq would pay off. Blair wanted help on his pet project: a massive increase in aid from rich nations to poor nations, particularly in Africa. He did not get what he wanted. The disagreement between the two men is about how to help. There is no dispute about the need.

The crisis can be summed up in two words: poverty and AIDS. Two hundred million Africans go hungry every day. Five hundred million live without access to clean water. Poverty also disables education, breeds crime, and denies health care. Twenty-eight million Africans are infected with HIV, including a million and a half children. Most of those infected can neither afford nor find medication or treatment. As a result, two million Africans will die of AIDS this year alone. Another million will die of Malaria.

Celebrities such as U2's lead singer Bono and actor Brad Pitt have tried to help focus world attention on the human misery by backing worldwide campaigns to encourage richer nations to boost aid. Bono, along with other rock stars, will launch a concert tour next month on behalf of more African aid. But whether because of corruption and inefficiency or too little money, the infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars in international aid so far have done little good.

Blair and Bush agreed this week on a plan that would cancel about $17 billion in debt owed by 18 of the world's poorest countries. But Bush rejected Blair's proposal that the United States double the amount of money it sends to Africa -- an increase of at least $5 billion.
Paul Gigot
Paul Gigot
"One of the debates here is about loans versus performance grants. Grants are the thing that President Bush has wanted foreign aid to move to. What is he talking about when he says performance grants and does this make sense?"
Kim Strassel
Kim Strassel
"I think there has always been a tendency toward loans in part because I think there's a sense of fairness. People say, 'Well, you're getting this money, you should pay it back.' But what we know is that it tends to go down a rat hole. There is no accountability. The thing about performance grants is that they specifically ask for economic reforms and also for government changes."
Daniel Henninger
Daniel Henninger
"Can incentives work? We have two good examples, Taiwan and South Korea, two countries which after World War II were flat on their back broke. They are great success stories today because they got the market incentives right. It can work."
Bret Stephens
Bret Stephens
"We can repeat a cycle of handing out loans to these countries and see them in 10 or 15 years time becoming, again, highly-indebted, poor countries. Or, we can change our approach to development and start focusing on the things that President Bush has been talking about: good governance, rule of law, democracy, trade, free market, and above all property rights."

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ARCHIVE: WSJ - Paul Gigot Commentary


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