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Into Africa, NYT editorial

June 28, 2003

Into Africa

To the delight of its liberal critics, the Bush administration has taken a constructive interest in the problems of Africa. Mr. Bush's trip to South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Niger and Senegal early next month symbolizes that concern. So does the administration's promises of increased aid, its global H.I.V./AIDS initiative and its outspokenness for African democracy.

Africans now suffer more from war and H.I.V./AIDS than the inhabitants of any other continent. And they remain among the world's poorest people, even in resource-rich countries like Angola, Nigeria and Congo. The main reason is misgovernment and official corruption. Shamefully, though, American farm subsidies block the exits from poverty for some African countries by making it impossible for their crops to compete with ours. In contrast, Mr. Bush's commitment to spend $15 billion fighting AIDS worldwide over the next five years is welcome. Compared with the costs of war or farm subsidies, this investment, which can save hundreds of thousands of lives, is remarkably cost effective.

Africa's three main conflicts cry out for more effective intervention. More than three million people have been killed in nearly five years of fighting in Congo and some two million in two decades of civil war in Sudan. (genocide) Liberia's dictator, Charles Taylor, is responsible for wars that have killed hundreds of thousands. Mr. Bush is sending his special envoy to Sudan and has told Mr. Taylor to step down now. He also needs to work for a stronger United Nations peacekeeping force in Congo.

Another destructive African leader is Robert Mugabe, whose resort to fraud and thuggery undermined the legitimacy of his latest re-election as Zimbabwe's president. Washington rightly demands a return to democracy there. That needs help from South Africa, whose president, Thabo Mbeki, claims to champion democracy and better governance in Africa. But he has so far refused to press for those values where he has the most influence, in neighboring Zimbabwe. Africa's problems may still seem remote to some Americans. Mr. Bush recognizes that they are not.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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