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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coherent Policy, Not Handouts

There can be no excuse, no defense, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow human beings in Africa today. And there should be nothing that stands in our way in changing it." That ringing summons was issued by British Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this year, when he presented the compelling findings and lucid recommendations of his Commission for Africa. Later this week, we will see whether U.S. President George W. Bush has the vision and compassion to grasp a historic opportunity to radically improve the life prospects of millions of those fellow human beings.

An unusual and mutually reinforcing set of possibilities is converging around this week's summit meeting of the world's richest countries in Scotland. If Bush is truly the compassionate conservative he says he is, he will not let the moment pass with the United States continuing to contribute far less than its share to the international effort to include Africa in the prosperity of the 21st century.

Africa is not looking for handouts. It is looking for help in nurturing the human capital, physical infrastructure and governmental capacities that are indispensable to modern development. America, the world's richest country, would betray its values and its humanity by holding back.

To his great credit, Bush has been more attentive to the problems of Africa than his recent predecessors. He has increased overall assistance, stepped up spending on HIV/AIDS programs and created the Millennium Challenge Account to reward Africa's best-governed countries. Last week, he promised further increases, including a program to fight malaria, and new teacher training and scholarship money to help girls attend school.

But so far there has been a discouraging gap between Bush's generous declarations and the money Washington has actually made available to Africa. The White House has failed to push the congress to fully finance Bush's programs and failed to get the money flowing to where it is most urgently needed.

At this point, the United States' total worldwide spending on all forms of foreign aid still amounts to only a relatively stingy 0.16 percent of the country's gross national income, one of the lowest proportions in the developed world. A brighter future for Africa will require more than just increased aid. The other recommendations made by Blair's commission are just as important. Rich-world agricultural subsidies make it possible for high-cost American, European and Japanese farmers to undersell efficient African producers even in their home markets; they must be phased out. Attention and money must be devoted to strengthening peace agreements and preventing conflicts before they erupt -- a far cheaper and more humane approach than waiting to send help only after genocide and other atrocities start appearing on international television screens.

Donors must also make certain that African governments are held accountable for how the money is spent. Western countries can fight corruption by urging their own companies to be more transparent about the money they pay to African governments for oil, diamonds and other valuable commodities and by pressing Western banks to better monitor and police suspicious deposits and fund transfers.

There is a desperate need for greater policy coherence in a period when many national governments, including Washington, are sensibly exhorting African governments to spend more on primary health care and education while international financial institutions largely controlled by those same Western governments have been pressing African countries to shrink their government payrolls, including teachers and health care workers.

This comment originally appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.