Just Do Something


New York Times

June 6, 2005

Next month could be a historic turning point for the more than 300 million Africans who live on less than a dollar a day. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has been busily lining up international support for his proposal to attack poverty in Africa by ramping up foreign aid. Serious studies commissioned by the British government and the United Nations have identified promising new paths toward economic and human development. The leading nations of Europe have pledged long-term financial support. Leading entertainers like Madonna, Bono, Will Smith and Elton John have announced a set of simultaneous concerts to take place in London, Rome, Berlin and Philadelphia to mobilize grass-roots enthusiasm.

Only one crucial element is still missing - the wholehearted support of the United States government. Unless President Bush joins this effort in the five weeks remaining before the summit meeting to be held in July in Scotland, Africa's hopes will be disappointed and America's image in the eyes of a world that once looked to it for enlightened leadership will be further diminished.

Mr. Blair will be in Washington this week trying to persuade Mr. Bush to do the right thing.

This really should be a no-brainer. At a time when the image of the United States abroad is at rock bottom in many parts of the globe, President Bush could go a long way toward re-establishing the world's richest country as the moral leader it was in the last century. He can do that by supporting his most reliable international ally in this crucial effort and taking to heart the world's poorest and most wretched place.

Two weeks ago, the European Union announced that its members would double their aid to poor countries by 2015. The announcement came after France, Britain and Germany - all members of the G-8 - had each laid out timetables for meeting the United Nations' target of increasing foreign assistance to poor countries to 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2015. The European announcements further isolated the American government, which gives only 0.18 percent, and has remained mute about getting to 0.7 percent.

Africans, after long years of accepting the rule of brutal and corrupt dictators, are finally dragging themselves to their feet to say, "Enough." But there are two paths they can take. With help, African countries can take the route of development and progress, and finally enjoy lives that are about more than just scrounging day in and day out for food in one's stomach and shoes on one's feet. Without that help, those same countries can take the path that cycles back into civil war, poverty and life expectancies so low that 13-year-old girls are considered old women.