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Panel discusses U.S. foreign policy in African countries

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A range of speakers addressed various issues concerning the relationship between the United States and Africa in an “Africa, Trade, Debt & the U.S. Presidential Elections” panel Tuesday evening.The first speaker, Brian Davis, the Midwest Field Coordinator for Debt Aids Trade Africa (DATA), analyzed the Bush administration’s actions with regard to Africa. Davis said that as Africa has grown in importance with regard to the United States’ foreign policy, presidents have been more willing to pass legislation and discuss African issues.President George W. Bush has done more than any other president to aid and address African issues, according to Davis, with initiatives like PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and the Millennium Challenge established in March 2002. However, Davis added that even though the Bush administration has done this, it has not given its initiatives high importance. While the administration aimed to spend $5 billion per year by 2006 for the Millennium Challenge, this year’s budget has allocated a mere $1.12 billion. And though Bush has spent more than any other leader, with regard to relief aid as a percentage of a nation’s wealth, Davis said the United States “ranks dead last in the wealthiest 22 countries.”Father Robert Dowd, assistant professor of political science, said the kind of attention paid to Africa is more important than the amount of attention. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the administration has focused more on Africa, because some in the administration have come to view Africa as “a potential breeding ground for terrorism,” Dowd said.He also emphasized the importance of fair and free trade, as well as commended the African Growth and Opportunity Act and Millennium Challenge Act. However, Dowd was wary concerning the strengthening of militaries and police forces through aid in certain African countries.”If these [military and police] initiatives focused on consolidated democracies, that would be one thing, but they’re not,” he said. Dowd said he would be “concerned about a second Bush administration without Colin Powell,” who Dowd views as the strongest advocate for African issues within the current administration. Dowd stated that he believed it is important to look at who will be in the prospective administrations surrounding the victor on Nov. 2.Isaac S. D. Lappia, an M. A. student in Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and former director for Amnesty International Sierra Leone, focused on three key issues: the death penalty, the small arms trade and the ICC. Lappia spoke of “the blind following” by many African countries of the United States and their policies. With regard to the death penalty, Lappia said, “as long as America continues to kill, they [African countries] will not abolish killing.” While the United States conducts trials for criminal acts and then sentences the guilty to death, in some African countries the death penalty is used to obliterate political opposition, he said.Lappia also warned of the problems with the United States’ policy of small arms trade with African nations, where many small arms find their way into the hands of rebels and guerilla armies. He called for an International Trade Treaty with more strenuous regulations for small arms trading. Lastly, Lappia touched on the topic of the ICC, International Criminal Court. He stated the case of his home country, in which the United States offered Sierra Leone $25 million to agree to a bilateral impunity agreement protecting United States nationals from being surrendered by Sierra Leone to the ICC. “[It was] unfair to use money to buy freedom for Americans,” he said.The last speaker, Dolores T. Connolly, CEO of Sterling Engineering, Inc. and a board member of Concern USA, spoke of the disconnect between Americans and the citizens and problems of the Third World. “Obesity is our major health problem and I’m here to talk about hunger,” she said. With the Millennium Challenge Act the United States signed on to gradually increase aid up to .7 percent of its GNP in the next couple of years, but is “dragging in this area,” according to Connolly. Of the eight Millennium Challenge goals, she emphasized the importance of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and the development of a global partnership for development. “The Millennium Challenge is building bridges that have never been built before,” she said.Dowd summarized by saying that it is important to stay true to the standards the countries have set.

jprivat@nd.edu