President Bush's current five-nation tour of Africa seems an appropriate occasion to laud him for doing more to benefit black people than any other leader in our history, including the so-called, "first black president," Bill Clinton.
During the Clinton administration, AIDS tore through the sub-Saharan continent, infecting an estimated 35 percent of the adults. Only a fraction had access to life-extending drugs. The rest had to simply wait and die. Despite the ballooning toll in human life and suffering in Africa, the U.S. budget for total nonmilitary aid, including the funding of AIDS prevention and literacy programs, health care, etc.- remained stuck during the Clinton years at $10 billion. Get it? Despite nice sound bites about how "Africa matters," Clinton barley lifted a finger to help the impoverished and war-torn continent.
President Bush, on the other hand, has tripled what our government previously expended on nonmilitary aid to Africa. Sadly, our civil rights leaders have steadfastly refused to praise the president's commitment to combat the African holocaust. In fact, an adviser to the Congressional Black Caucus tells me that the group convinced former South African President, Nelson Mandela, to snub Bush on his tour. The former South African president has since praised President Bush for dramatically increasing funding for AIDS research and treatment and moving "the debate from hundreds of millions of dollars to tens of billions."
This is at least somewhat surprising considering that the Congressional Black Caucus pledged "to support a comprehensive global policy aimed at ending the scourge of HIV/AIDS around the globe," in their legislative agenda for the 107th Congress. Jesse Jackson similarly observed that "The AIDS plague in Africa is the worst global threat since the bubonic plague." and acknowledged that "billions are needed." to fight the plague abroad.
Yet, these so-called leaders refuse to acknowledge the work President Bush is doing to save the lives of millions of Africans. "You would think this would be an opportunity for the African-American medical community to step up and say thank you and this is how we can make a difference," says former U.S. Ambassador, Harold Doley. "Instead there is deafening silence, and that is wrong."
The major implication is that the civil rights organizations in this country have become so partisan, so attached to the Democratic Party that they would rather be on the opposite side of the administration than support any good work that it does. This essential compromise reinforces the perception that Republicans are indifferent to the suffering of black people and that the Democrats have been somehow more sympathetic to Africa's plight.
Now to correct the misconceptions:
Myth: Fixed in the public's mind as a champion of black people, many Americans make the assumptive leap that President Clinton was a friend to Africa.
Fact: President Clinton shut his eyes to AIDS. Despite the ballooning toll in human life and suffering in Africa, the U.S. budget for nonmilitary aid during remained woefully static during the Clinton administration.
President Bush, on the other hand, recently pushed through Congress a $15 billion package to stem the spread of AIDS/HIV in Africa. The plan's goal is to cut the death toll in Africa from HIV infections by half and new infections by 60 percent over the next three years. With this one piece of legislation, President Bush will help save more black lives than all of President Clinton's legislation put together.
Myth: The Clinton administration actively worked to secure peace in Africa.
Fact: After the "Black Hawk Down" incident in Somalia, Bill Clinton tucked his tail and ran. Ever the paper tiger, Clinton then stood idly by as Rwandan tribes slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. As former Democratic congressman and chairman of the House Committee on International Relations subcommittee on Africa, Harry A. Johnston told the Washington Times, "For almost five years after Somalia, the Clinton administration did not have an Africa policy. It was almost immoral how we treated that continent."
By contrast, President Bush has met with 22 African leaders, increased economic and humanitarian assistance to Africa and strongly advocated for democratic change in Zimbabwe.
Myth: the Clinton administration took an active role in facilitating democracy in Africa.
Fact: Clinton turned his back on Africa. President Bush, however, is taking an active role in brokering peace in the Sudan and Liberia. He has also earmarked $5 billion for the Nepad Strategy, a pact that rewards South Africa with debt relief and economic reconstruction in exchange for good government. Bush appropriated another $100 million as part of his Post-Sept. 11 strategy designed to keep African states from becoming incubators for terrorist groups.
Get it? President Clinton did nothing for Africa. President Bush has worked to create a new sense of possibilities throughout the sub-Saharan continent. He has done so by tripling our economic aid to Africa, providing military support, initiating a bold plan to stem the tide of AIDS and - gasp - actually meeting with the African heads of state (Something Clinton failed to do with any regularity). It would be nice if the Congressional Black Caucus could lend their support.