Africa is easier than the Middle East. It’s not all about the oil. You don’t have to send the 1st Cavalry Division there. All Africa needs is money to become healthier, more democratic, friendlier—you name it.
That seems to be the conclusion of Barack Obama. In the Senate, the Democratic presidential candidate is pushing for passage of legislation that requires the U.S. government to cut global poverty in half by 2015. The bill’s mandate seems likely to force presidents to back expanded aid. Meanwhile, when he can at least, Obama avoids those dangerous Middle East topics.
Nor is Obama alone in his Africa interest. This month, President George W. Bush traveled to Tanzania, Benin, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia to celebrate past U.S. assistance and reinforce his administration’s promise that America will double aid to Africa. The President Bush handing out mosquito netting in the photos looked more relaxed than the President Bush who takes questions on Iranian uranium at press conferences back home.
You get the sense that politicians these days are racing to match Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and the rest of the private sector in charity spending. Historians talk about the old scramble for Africa. That was a scramble to get—European monarchs took land for colonies. Now we are witnessing a scramble to give.
The new scramble is as much a shame as the old one. Foreign aid can be the kiss of death for poor regions, as a former World Bank official, William Easterly, demonstrated in his recent book, “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.”