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Aid to Africa triples during Bush presidency, but strings attached

The foreign affairs legacy of President George Bush so far speaks most loudly of terrorism, Afghanistan and the quagmire of Iraq.

But statistics just compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reveal that since taking over the Oval Office, Mr Bush, partly under pressure from his Christian supporters as well as celebrities such as Bono and Bob Geldof, has dramatically increased US aid to Africa.

Indeed, African nations have seen both development and direct humanitarian aid from the United States jump from a total of $1.4bn in 2001 to $4bn (£2bn) a year today. Over the same period, trade between the US and the continent has more than doubled.

The development aid is complemented by Mr Bush's rapidly growing commitment to fighting HIV and Aids in Africa, as well as malaria. In what has become the largest health initiative of his presidency - the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) - Mr Bush has pledged $15bn over five years to fight HIV in Africa and provide drugs for Aids victims.

It is a record that has not been widely noticed in the US, particularly by critics of President Bush who prefer to play up his image on the world stage as narrowly focused on Iraq and fighting terror.

Nor is there any obvious domestic political dividend for him in reinforcing his African credentials. "He should be known for doubling development assistance and tripling it to Africa after a period in which US development assistance was essentially flat for decades," the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted recently. "He should be known for the largest single investment in Aids and malaria, the biggest health investment of any government programme ever."

Pushing Mr Bush to step up his commitment to Africa has been his core base of Christian supporters, for whom the Aids crisis and continuing strife on the continent has become a central issue.

"Bush and his Christian supporters seldom get the credit they deserve for their role in the global fight against Aids," the Los Angeles Times noted. "US spending on the disease overseas under Bush has risen tenfold, while Christian groups have given unselfishly to the cause."

In an another example of accelerating development aid to Africa, President Bush signed a law just before Christmas pledging $52m annually for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 to the Democratic Republic of Congo following elections there. As with aid to other countries, it comes with strings attached, including a requirement that the government open up to trade and foreign investors.

Some African specialists complain that because of such conditions, American assistance is still more about self-interest than altruism.

"I know a lot of activist groups who believe that the President's stated commitment to Africa is, at best, a play on words," Nii Akuetteh, executive director of Africa Action, an advocacy organisation, told The Washington Post. "There are conditions that are attached where the emphasis is more on countries that open up their markets so American companies can go in and privatise things."

There was also early anxiety that the Pepfar programme on Aids was overly influenced by its Christian backers, who insisted on a heavy emphasis on sexual abstinence, a strategy many health care experts consider misguided. But as Pepfar has grown in importance, many of those doubts are fading.