Africans Press Bush to Speed Aid Program
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
WASHINGTON, June 13 - The leaders of five African nations confronted President Bush on Monday about what they said was the slow pace at which the United States is releasing aid to poor nations, and got a pledge from Mr. Bush to speed things up.
The presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia and Niger visited Mr. Bush at the White House as part of the administration's effort to promote democracy and economic development in Africa and to highlight the policies it has pursued to reduce poverty and disease there.
The leaders - all of whose countries held democratic elections last year - generally praised the United States for trying to do more to assist Africa. But they said they were disappointed that the administration had not done more to accelerate disbursements of aid through the Millennium Challenge Account, the White House's primary channel for dispensing money to poor countries that show committment to democracy and sound economic policies.
Until Monday, only one country, Madagascar, had won final approval for aid under the program. On Monday afternoon, the government approved a second country, Honduras. Madagascar's deal, which was signed in April, qualifies it for $110 million in aid over the next four years. Honduras is eligible for $215 million over five years. Nicaragua and Cape Verde are on the verge of signing final agreements.
Almost none of the money has been disbursed. Of the five nations whose leaders met with Mr. Bush, two, Mozambique and Ghana, are applying for help under the program. Niger has yet to meet the conditions for eligibility. Botswana and Namibia have income levels above the cutoff for participation in the program.
The African leaders "complained bitterly" about the slow pace of the talks and the disbursement of money, President Festus Mogae of Botswana told reporters. He said Mr. Bush had assured them the United States would resolve the logjam.
"One thing we discussed was the Millennium Challenge Account, and I assured the leaders we will work harder and faster to certify countries," so that they "can see the benefit of this really important piece of legislation and funding," Mr. Bush said in remarks after the meeting.