From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
CONGRESSIONAL PROPOSALS TO CUT AFRICAN AID
05 May 1996 12:59:38
95099 CONGRESSIONAL PROPOSALS TO CUT AFRICAN AID
RILE CHURCH LEADERS
by Alexa Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Proposed Republican raiding of now protected
developmental funds for Africa is eliciting anger from church leaders, who
argue that cutting dollars to what they call the most impoverished
continent on earth is only "a recipe for tragedy."
This debate bursts into the middle of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.)'s "Year With Africa ... Walking With Africans: A Healing
Journey" just when congregations and presbyteries are committing to prayer
and unity with African Christians.
"The journey of healing is going to be a much longer journey, a more
difficult journey," says the Rev. Jon T. Chapman, coordinator for southern
Africa, who is alarmed by a bill (S-422) introduced into the U.S. Senate by
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). This bill redefines criteria for foreign
aid in a way, critics say, that hurts prospects for long-term development
The bill would make U.S. military and economic interests the top
criteria for foreign aid along with how well aid preserves political and
regional stability. McConnell is chair of the Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. A similar proposal in the Senate is
expected from Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations
Using such criteria, critics say, is a moral wrong that will only
cause suffering to the most innocent and further destabilize Africa's still
fragile democracies -- nations already strapped with huge debt to the West
and weighed down by disillusionment at home after decades of chaos and
violence, drought and famine.
But those in Congress who disagree say U.S. foreign aid needs reform
in an era when resources only continue to decline.
"Like it or not, resources of Christian churches in America are not
even a drop in the bucket in terms of the great need in Africa," said
Chapman. "A [government] cutoff is a recipe for tragedy. ...
"And why would you want to argue over less than 1 percent of the
[current foreign aid] budget?" Chapman countered, citing the $1.3 billion
earmarked for Africa's more than 50 nations in 1994. "Is that somehow
going to help us get our economic house in order as a nation? Is that
amount of money going to make a difference here? There, it makes a lot of
Proponents argue for cuts
McConnell, however, has a different point of view.
In a March 28 Capitol Hill hearing, McConnell said records of both the
current administration and African leadership are mixed -- that "sizeable"
unrestricted funds, such as the $802 million Development Fund for Africa
(DFA), have not succeeded in developing preventive disaster programming and
"problems alone do not compel or justify a commitment of dwindling American
The DFA is one of several sheltered funds (consisting largely of
grants) established in the late 1980s to assure a stable source of funding
for Africa -- with restrictions against diverting them to other causes.
McConnell's bill proposes eliminating the DFA, the African Development
Foundation (funded at $16 million), and restricting or cutting the $133
million now committed to the Africa Development Bank.
Doing so, critics say, puts Africa in competition with other nations
-- including more strategically significant ones -- for U.S. dollars.
The senator is also critical of "anecdotal" evidence of increased
stabilization and democracy in Africa. "For every success story, such as
Namibia, there is a dismal failure, like Zaire; for every South Africa, a
Kenya," he said, stressing that reforms are needed so that subsidizing
failure is avoided.
Aid furthers hopeful future, critics say
"If you throw Africa into the pool based on strategic or economic
value ... only two or three countries would be entitled to compete," said
Mike Fleshman, coordinator for human rights at the Africa Fund, a research
and humanitarian aid agency in New York City, who argues that transition
and renewal is happening in Africa -- slowly but surely.
Citing existing multiparty democracies in South Africa, Zimbabwe and
Mozambique and fledgling democracies in Zambia and Malawi, Fleshman argues,
"There are reasons to be optimistic about Africa. ... And if the U.S.
wants Africa to become a continent of democracy and development, it has to
make those resources available," he said.
Chapman agrees that African nations would not fare well in a
competitive aid pool based on proposed criteria. But he argues, too, that
in the past U.S. military priorities have helped create some of Africa's
"It's pay now or pay later," said Chapman, who cites Somalia as an
example of a post-Cold War military policy gone bad. "Now we have a
million people on the brink of starvation with guns in their hands."
Instead of military assistance, aid needs to bolster African
economies, beginning long-term development of the 12 new multiparty
democracies that have emerged there since 1993, according to Chapman.
Chapman says the U.S. already ranks per capita behind other nations -- such
as Canada, Germany and Japan -- in foreign aid and that poor continents
like Africa and all of Latin America combined get less assistance than the
$3 billion pumped into Israel alone.
Neither Fleshman nor Chapman dispute McConnell's argument that some
aid to Africa has been administered poorly. But groups like the Africa
Fund, Fleshman says, would welcome public debate on how to avoid more
mistakes. "But that's not what's on the table," he said, saying
Republicans are pushing for cuts, not conversation.
Church leaders say aid is biblical imperative
"We in the church are concerned, in biblical terms, about the least of
these," says the Rev. Willis Logan of the Africa Office of the National
Council of Churches. "Africa represents, in many ways, the least of
Mark Harrison of the Board of Church and Society of the United
Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., shares that criticism -- and his fear
personally, though it is not Methodist policy, is that racial bias
undergirds not only cuts to Africa, but cuts to America's inner cities,
which are largely popoulated by African Americans.
"We [the church] evaluate by looking at what is good for God, God's
creation, God's people ... and that is helping the neediest," he stressed.
Though employed by a secular agency, Fleshman says now is the time for
churches to raise questions about caring for the neediest in a world of
"Churches have an absolutely central role to play in education, in
worship, in speaking about the human implications of cuts on the table.
Not just on Africa ... but on school lunches. Look at the issue of justice
and [ask]: What does justice require?" he said.
Worldwide Ministries Division vice-chair the Rev. Sandy Peirce of
Placerville, Calif., says advocacy is part of Presbyterians' commitment to
African people if proposed legislation will increase suffering. "I hope
Presbyterians will envision the next part of their walk with Africans to be
advocacy on behalf of Christ who is hungry, Christ who is the refugee,
Christ who suffered ... and that our healing journey together will be
politically realized as well as spiritually shared," Peirce told the
Presbyterian News Service.
Chapman said the debate on proposals to cut aid has not yet included
PC(USA) church partners in Africa. The debate now is here -- but not for
too long. The effects of cuts, however, he says, will "trickle down. ...
It will take time, but it will have an impact.
"The debate just hasn't gotten to them yet."
An effort by McConnell to divert promised monies to Africa in the
current budget into building homes for Russian soldiers returning from
Eastern Europe was squashed in committee earlier this month, according to
# # #
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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