Most Americans Favor Humanitarian Aid to Africa, Poll Shows
A "strong majorit[y]" of Americans -- 81% -- want to either maintain or increase humanitarian aid to Africa, according to a new poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, the Chicago Tribune reports. In a "surprising" finding, the survey showed that most Americans calling for increased aid already overestimated the amount spent by the United States on foreign aid. Most respondents estimated that the government spends 20% of the federal budget on foreign aid, although the real allocation is only 1%. These findings indicate that lawmakers have "vastly underestimated the popular support among Americans for an active U.S. foreign policy," the Tribune reports. However, 81% of Americans would like to see foreign aid channeled through private charitable organizations or "other direct means" rather than through governments in order to keep "corrupt government officials" from stealing the money (Longworth, Chicago Tribune, 2/6). Both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have indicated that fighting HIV in Africa is an "area of concern" for the new administration. Last Sunday, Powell said he viewed AIDS as "a national security problem," adding that "we all need to do more" to combat the disease (Reuters, 2/6). However, their resolutions come at a time when foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa is falling and aid agencies are "growing weary of contributing money to a region besieged with social and health problems" (Zachary, Wall Street Journal, 2/7). To view the poll, go to http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/BFW/toc.html.
Correcting the 'Mendicant' Myth
While a large majority of Americans support allocating U.S. dollars to help humanitarian causes in Africa, many of them hold a "negative perception" of the continent and its people, an article in FOCUS magazine, a publication of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, states. While increased media coverage of Africa has helped counter some myths and stereotypes Americans have of Africans, it has also reinforced the "general perception that Africa is rife with unresolvable problems and remote from American interests," FOCUS notes (Henderson Tyson/Garber, FOCUS, January 2001). Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa touched on this issue in a speech at the World Economic Forum last week in Davos, Switzerland, stating that Africans "are often portrayed as mendicants" by foreigners. "We must correct this perception," he added (Wall Street Journal, 2/7). Rectifying Africa's image is especially important in the United States, as "public perception influences the willingness of the private sector to invest in the region and affects the priority that ... Congress places on legislation and appropriations toward Africa," FOCUS notes (FOCUS, January 2001). African leaders are already taking steps to improve the continent's image by strengthening ties among their own countries through resource sharing and other means. Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of international trade at Harvard University, said, "After 20 years of Washington-led nonsolutions, Africans want their own plan, and they are working on something serious" (Wall Street Journal, 2/7). The United States can also do its part in helping foster a beneficial partnership with Africa, FOCUS states. The Bush administration should craft a "balanced" foreign policy agenda that emphasizes HIV/AIDS, debt relief and poverty reduction, the article notes. In addition, the administration should seize the opportunity to "move the United States and Africa toward a fuller and mutually beneficial partnership," the article concludes (FOCUS, January 2001).