Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Aid policies push reforms

By Fran Quigley on June 29, 2009
© IndyStar

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Too many people here struggle to get food to eat, medicine to treat their illnesses, and shelter or education for their families. They need our help, and Hoosiers have stepped up.

Our AMPATH program associated with Indiana University School of Medicine was built in large part on the generosity of Hoosiers reaching out to Kenyans. Many others in Indiana support small relief or education programs here.

But more ambitious efforts need the kind of support that only governments, acting at scale on our behalf, can accomplish. Indeed, AMPATH's exponential growth has been fueled in large part by U.S. government grants.

The record of U.S. aid flowing to Africa is mixed. During the Cold War, the United States used Africa as a proxy for our struggle with the Soviet Union. If African leaders reliably denounced communism, we sent cash and looked the other way when they oppressed their people and looted their nations' coffers. Too often, U.S. dollars paid for Mercedes cars for a few, not medicine for all.

U.S. foreign assistance strategy still has not escaped from the influence of geo-politics, as evidenced by Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Egypt receiving hugely disproportionate amounts of aid dollars.

But the well-run President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) provides life-saving treatment for more than 2 million people in some of the world's poorest countries, and one of the smartest developments in U.S. foreign assistance is the Millennium Challenge Corporation, launched by President George W. Bush in 2004 and supported by President Barack Obama.

Countries can get MCC financial support for vital self-identified needs, like better roads, student scholarships, and sewage systems, if they can first make the grade in 17 indicators proving they respect the rule of law and transparent government, and are investing in priorities such as health, infrastructure and the education of young girls.

So, under the MCC, Burkina Faso gets U.S. support for new elementary schools and Honduran farmers get fertilizer. But when the Nicaraguan government is found to be manipulating elections and suppressing free speech, as it was last month by the bipartisan MCC board chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, its support is cut.

Sadly, Kenya's government does not meet the Millennium Challenge Corporation benchmarks.

As our Moi University colleague Dr. Lukoye Atwoli recently wrote in his "Kenyan Psychiatrist" column in The Daily Nation here, "With corruption at all levels of government, armed militias freely roaming the countryside, and invisibility of government in large swathes of this country, the indicators of a failed state are all in place. Kenyans need to ask themselves some really hard questions if we are to emerge from this phase of our history with some lessons learnt."

Dr. Atwoli is correct that the lead for reforming Kenya has to come from Kenyans. By dangling the carrot of MCC assistance as a reward for good governance, the U.S. can help those reformers push Kenya in the right direction.

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