The G-8 Summit in Scotland in early July will bring together the political leaders of the richest countries to consider the plight of the poorest countries. So far, President George W. Bush has resisted Prime Minister Tony Blair’s call for a doubling of aid to Africa by 2010. This is a tragic mistake, one that results from a misunderstanding of the challenges facing Africa and of America’s responsibilities.
American policy is based overwhelmingly on the idea that Africa can lift itself out of extreme poverty through its own efforts, that aid is largely misused because of corruption, and that the United States already gives generous amounts. This is wrong on all counts: Africa is trapped in poverty, many countries are well poised to use aid effectively, and America’s contribution is tiny relative to Africa’s needs, America’s promises, and America’s wealth.
Africa suffers simultaneously from three challenges that trap it in poverty. First, Africa does not grow enough food. Unlike Asia, Africa did not have a Green Revolution in food production. In 1965, India averaged 854 kilograms of grain per hectare in use, while Sub-Saharan Africa averaged almost the same, 773 kilograms per hectare. But, by 2000, India was producing 2,293 kilograms per hectare, while Africa was producing only 1,118.
Second, Africa suffers from disease unlike any other part of the world. Africa’s AIDS pandemic is well known; its malaria pandemic, which will claim three million lives and a billion illnesses this year, is not. India controlled malaria after the 1960’s, while Africa did not, one reason being that Africa’s malaria-bearing mosquitoes are particularly adept at transmitting the disease.