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Bush vows faster Africa aid

Nedra Pickler Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Bush said Monday the United States would speed delivery of funding to poor countries after African leaders complained one of his key aid projects was rife with red tape.

In March 2002, Bush said he would begin distributing foreign aid with the Millennium Challenge Account. Countries would be eligible for the proposed $5 billion in aid only if they were committed to democratic, economic and human rights reforms.

The idea was that little good comes from pouring aid into a country that has corrupt or unstable leaders, but U.S. dollars encourage good governance.

His plan was slow to get off the ground. Congress has not been willing to give him the funding he wants. He’s received $2.5 billion over the last two years – $1.3 billion less than he’s requested – and compacts have been approved for just four countries.

When Bush met with presidents of five African nations Monday, they said bureaucracy and fine print make it nearly impossible to access the aid.

“I assured the leaders we will work harder and faster to certify countries for the MCA, so that MCA countries, and the people in the MCA countries, can see the benefit of this really important piece of legislation and funding,” Bush said.

Bush invited the presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia and Niger to the White House because all five won democratic elections last year. He said they are an example to neighboring nations and said debt relief and liberalized trade can help spread freedom on the troubled continent.

The president touted a jump in trade with Africa last year he said is due to a pact he signed into law that offers duty-free treatment on some goods and other trade benefits. The pact also requires countries to show they are making progress toward a market-based economy, rule of law, free trade, protection of workers’ rights and policies that will reduce poverty.

He said the United States is helping Africans by working with the Group of Eight nations to eliminate more than $40 billion of debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest nations, including 14 in Africa.

The United States is the largest provider of aid to Africa. Critics say it is not doing enough because it has given a lower percentage of its gross domestic product in aid than other major industrialized countries.

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