From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 12:59:38


                       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 
in Africa. 
       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 
worst nightmares. 
     "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 
dwindling resources. 
     "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   Web page: 


Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home