Geldof praises US AIDS plan

Posted: 29 May 2003

Bob Geldof has astonished the aid community by using a return visit to Ethiopia to praise the Bush administration as one of Africa's best friends in its fight against hunger and AIDS.

The musician-turned activist said Washington was providing major assistance, in contrast to the European Union's "pathetic and appalling"response to the continent's humanitarian crises.

The Live Aid founder, who was visiting Ethiopia for the first time in nearly 20 years to highlight the danger of another famine, hailed President George Bush's signature on a $15bn (£9bn) plan to fight Aids in Africa and the Caribbean, saying: "That is extremely radical and welcoming... and will take the fight against Aids to new heights."

Aid agencies have generally welcomed the $15bn US commitment against AIDS, but believe it does little to counteract the Republican administration's hard line approach to trade and debt questions.

Disparaging condoms

Dr Steven Sinding, Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), said: "Bob Geldof is right about Bush's radical approach to fighting AIDS, but only to a point. Bush's $15 bn pledge to fight HIV/AIDS shows a new level of commitment to an international health crisis. However, where it drastically falls short is in helping toprevent many of those men and women from getting the disease in the first place.

"Instead, 33 per cent of the money set aside for prevention must be reserved for abstinence-only programmes. To complicate things further, the legislation has a conscience provision giving any group the right to opt out of condom-related activities. This raises the question of whether faith-based or other abstinence-promotion groups may use their funds to actively disparage condoms."

Trade rules

Justin Forsyth, Oxfam's director of campaigns and policy, said: "The international trade rules are a major obstacle to developing countries andAmerica is a big impediment to resolving these.

"The harm that trade rules do to the developing world is worth much more to African countries than the American aid budget will ever be."

(According to a report in The Independent newspaper - published in the UK - the United States spends between $3bn (£1.8bn) and $4bn a year subsidising 25,000 US cotton farmers - more than its annual aid budget to the entire African continent - flooding the world market with cheap cotton, while in West Africa, 10 million people rely on cotton growing for their livelihood. A typical small farmer will make about $300 a year.

(It points out that the European Union is also guilty of undercutting African farmers, throughthe Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), turning Europe into the world's biggest exporter of white sugar, with disastrous results in countries suchas Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, which are in effect locked out of the European market. The EU also dumps subsidised milk and wheat on markets from Kenya to Senegal, while restricting imports of African produce.

(The French President, Jacques Chirac, has proposed a moratorium on all subsidies of produce that are sold in Africa, which could go a long way towards enabling African farmers to achieve self-sufficiency. But the plan has had a frigid reception in Washington, the paper says. The US says its export credits should be exempt.)

Undaunted by the controversy, Mr Geldof visited a feeding centre in the Awassa region of Ethiopia, one of the areas worst hit by more than two years of severe drought, where dozens of children lay waiting for high-energy food to keep them alive. He said it brought back memories of his first visit to Ethiopia in 1984, when nearly a million people starved to death.

"The situation is worse than I expected," he said, taking an emaciated child from the arms of its mother. "We are condemning these drought-affected people to death.

"Why do all this elaborate work in bringing all these people back to health if all we are going to do is send them back out to nothing? Itprobably isn't a famine yet. I keep going on about it, and I don't understand why we don't learn."

Independent, The Guardian and IPPF News (29 May and June 2,2003).