Has Bush Tripled Aid to Africa?

Susan Rice of the Brookings Institution runs the numbers on President Bush's claim that he has "tripled" aid to Africa thus far during his presidency:

We thought that was an interesting claim and decided to get behind the numbers, and we have looked at all "spigots," to use the State Department terminology, for aid. That means every possible program through which aid could flow to Africa, from child survival programs and development assistance in USAID to economic support funds which are State Department security—often security-related funds, foreign military, financing, peacekeeping, AIDS, narcotics, non-proliferation, refugees, Peace Corps, the multi-lateral institutions like the African Development Bank, the Millennium Challenge Account Debt Relief, and, of course, food aid.

And when you do that, the numbers paint a different reality than the administration has claimed.

In the first instance, the number for FY 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, is considerably higher than the [Bush] administration's numbers would suggest. The total for FY 2000 in nominal dollar terms, was $2,034,269,000–$2,034,269,000. The actual total for FY '04, the last completed fiscal year of the Bush administration was $3,399,416,000. That is an increase in nominal dollar terms of 67 percent, or more importantly, in real dollar terms of 56 percent, which falls substantially short of a tripling. In fact, it's not even a doubling, either in nominal dollar terms or in real dollar terms over the period fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2004.

What is also interesting is, when you get behind those aggregate numbers and you look at what they consist of, you'll find that more than 53 percent of the total increase between fiscal 2000 and fiscal 2004 consists of emergency food aid, which is important; obviously it meets a need. It meets a need that varies from year to year depending on the circumstances on the ground. But it is not development assistance; it is not the sort of resources that enables countries to embark on a path of sustainable development. In effect, it's important for life saving but it's, from a development point of view, a band-aid.

So the Bush administration hasn't even doubled aid, let alone tripled it—in fact, the increase has been exactly 56 percent. And half of that is emergency food aid, which is important, but not development assistance. So there's good reason to be skeptical of Bush's latest promise to "double" aid to Africa once again. This isn't to disparage the increases he's already pledged, and, among other things, his plan to double spending to fight malaria is surely welcomed. Still, as the president himself says, "Our greatest challenge is to get beyond empty symbolism and discredited policies and match our good intentions with good results."