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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
America's generous aid to Africa
Stephen Evans
By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Nairobi Aids orphans
Americans give money to Africa through voluntary donations

There is a smug view in Europe that the United States is particularly mean when it comes to helping poor countries. Whatever list you make of generosity to those less fortunate than themselves, the Americans will be near the bottom of it.

But it's not quite as simple as that - and certainly not the way the Americans see it.

There's no question that there's a search for America's role in the world and for its heart and soul in how it relates to the world.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University

It's true that United States "official development assistance" is less than 0.2% of its gross national product (way below that of Luxembourg, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, all of which exceed the 0.7% target set at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992).

But when non-governmental generosity is included, the US moves up the list - not to the top, but way above the bottom.

Private aid

Americans will tell you that they are generous but in different ways.

President Bush
President Bush is not alone in wanting a role for private charity

According to Carol Adelman, who was one of the top officials in the American aid effort, the measure used by many in the global community to gauge a country's generosity only counts government foreign aid "and the United States has for many centuries given a lot of private aid overseas".

She calculates that US businesses give $2.8bn every year; American charities give $6.6bn; the country's colleges give scholarships to foreign students worth $1.3bn.

And this last way of helping, runs the argument, is particularly effective on the old premise that the best way to cure hunger is not to give food, but to teach people how to grow it.

It's Dr Adelman's contention, moreover, that this aid is much more effective than government aid which may get skimmed by bureaucrats.

Open door policy

On top of that, America does not exhibit the xenophobia evident throughout much of the rest of the developed world.

America is these communities - people on every street corner who are writing cheques, giving millions and millions of dollars
Rev Herb Lusk

In Europe the door to the poor is locked; in America, it's true the door is guarded but it is open to many more people, particularly from Latin America.

And this means that huge sums are remitted to poor countries by immigrants to the United States, and this too is effective because it's direct people-to-people aid

"It's going directly to them to start up businesses, buy medicines, build clinics, build schools, buy food", says Dr Adelman.

Churches also give generously. It's true that they donate bibles and religious instruction - but also medicines and agricultural advice which have no theology.

Church aid

Talk to the Rev Herb Lusk of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia who has launched a campaign to help Aids victims in Africa, a campaign endorsed by President Bush who called Herb Lusk a "social entrepreneur who can make things happen".

"You can't look at America and look at what the State Department gives and say that's how much America gives," Rev Lusk told the BBC.

George W Bush flanked by Niger's Mamadou Tandja and Namibia's Hifikepunye Pohamba
The US is increasingly engaged in African reform efforts

"America is these communities - people on every street corner who are writing cheques, who are giving millions and millions of dollars".

Herb Lusk is not pastor to a people overflowing with money yet they dig deep.

"My church gives 10% of its income to Africa. The problem is a problem that has to be solved not by governments but by people - people giving to people."

Americans do not give like other people do.

They don't assume the government knows best and leave generosity to politicians and officials.

The figures do not show America as the world's most generous people, but nor do they show Americans as the meanest.

Change of mood

And whatever the statistics say, there does seem to be a change of mood in the country, a retreat from a harsh isolation where the world could go hang.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs who runs the Earth Institute at Columbia University thinks his country's government needs to do much, much more - but the change is coming.

"There's no question that there's a search for America's role in the world and for its heart and soul in how it relates to the world," he told the BBC.

"There's a lot of anxiety; a lot of confusion - and openness right now to consider the peaceful and development approaches to the world."

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