A spate of announcements and appraisals in the run-up to the rich countries' summit in Scotland is sending mixed messages about the scope and effectiveness of aid to Africa.
Among the new initiatives was a move by President George W. Bush to pre-empt criticisms that the United States is doing too little to alleviate poverty in Africa.
Mr Bush promised in a June 30 speech to double US development assistance to Africa by 2010. A portion of that envisioned increase would be of direct benefit to Tanzania and Uganda, which are slated to share in a $30 million anti-malaria programme. This proposed initiative will be highlighted when First Lady Laura Bush visits Tanzania next week following the Scotland summit of the Group of 8 (G8).
The US president's proposals contained no similar prospect of additional assistance for Kenya. But Mr Bush did offer praise for Kenya in his speech, citing it as one of three African countries, along with Nigeria and South Africa, that have helped strife-torn neighbours move toward peace.
At the same time, a few indep-endent analysts are expressing scepticism in response to Mr Bush's latest pledges. They note that the American leader has made similar promises and claims in the past that have not been fulfilled.
The International Monetary Fund is meanwhile challenging the very premise of development aid, suggesting there is no evidence that it promotes sustained economic growth, even in well-governed countries. And as part of its new set of African Development Indicators, the World Bank points out that Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have each received several billion dollars in aid from all donors over the past 25 years. The report does not comment on the efficacy of aid, but the persistence of severe poverty in all three countries suggests that the money has not brought the desired results.
Assistance to Kenya actually declined in real-dollar terms during the period, dropping from $644 million in 1980 to $430 million in 2003 (as measured in constant 2002 prices). Aid to Kenya from all donors fell an average of 4.7 per cent a year during the past decade, according to the World Bank =D0 a drop in keeping with donors' dismay over rampant corruption during the Moi era.
Donors have been much more generous to Tanzania, which saw its aid allotments increase from $1.06 billion in 1980 to $1.45 billion in 2003. Aid to Tanzania has increased an average of 6.2 per cent for each of the past 10 years.
Uganda has experienced only a negligible 0.6 per cent rise in aid receipts in the same period, perhaps reflecting growing donor disillusionment with President Yoweri Museveni's rule. Long-term increases have been enormous, however, with aid to Uganda climbing from $188 million in 1980 to $844 million in 2003.
This week's G8 summit is unlikely to focus on historical aid patterns but will instead present the rich countries as generous benefactors committed to Africa's future prosperity.
President Bush set the tone, declaring in his recent speech, "The United States has tripled overseas development aid to Africa during my presidency. And we're making a strong commitment for the future. Between 2004 and 2010, I propose to double aid to Africa once again, with a primary focus on helping reforming countries."
The reference to countries im-plementing reforms suggests that Mr Bush will seek to channel additional funds through the Millennium Challenge programme that rewards progress in fighting corruption, removing trade barriers, and investing in health and education.
In unveiling his Millennium Challenge initiative more than three years ago, Mr Bush indicated that it would involve allocations of $1.7 billion in 2004, $3.3 billion in 2005 and $5 billion in 2006. The programme has actually been funded at a much lower level =D0 $1 billion for 2004, $1.5 billion for the current year, and a probable sum of about $1.7 billion next year.
A Washington-based think tank is meanwhile disputing Mr Bush's claim to have increased US aid to Africa three-fold during the past four years.
A report written by Susan Rice, the State Department's top Africa official for part of the Clinton presidency, finds that US aid to Africa has risen about 75 per cent , rather than 300 per cent , since 2000. "The majority of that increase consists of emergency food aid, rather than assistance for sustainable development of the sort Africa needs to achieve lasting poverty reduction", says Ms Rice's report, published by the Brookings Institution.
Even the president's critics generally acknowledge, however, that Mr Bush's global Aids programme has begun to produce significant benefits in selected African countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
But advocacy groups such as Washington-based Africa Action are focusing not on promising achievements but on potential shortcomings in Mr Bush's latest set of promises.
Accusing the Bush administration of "compassionate showmanship", Africa Action warned that the new aid pledges "rely on specious projections of future funding." Ann-Louise Colgan, an Africa Action analyst, added, "None of the claims and promises of new funding for Africa from the White House have fully materialised, and the president's G8 agenda falls far short of a bold commitment to supporting African efforts to fight poverty and promote development."
Two new IMF policy papers co-authored by Raghuram Rajan, the fund's chief economist, meanwhile argue that aid serves to undermine a recipient country's export competitiveness and thereby helps stymie economic growth.
The IMF analyses draw a distinction between disaster relief and development aid.
"Humanitarian aid to save lives is right regardless of the macro effects", Mr Rajan said. "But when the aid is focusing on growth, you need to take into account the macro effects." The actual workings and impact of aid remain mysterious, the papers imply. "We know far less about what makes aid work than the public or governments would like", Mr Rajan said. "By acting like we know all the answers raises false expectations."
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