Could it be that when it comes to development issues in Africa, liberals are far behind their conservative counterparts? This week, a bipartisan coalition is visiting Rwanda, and I can't help but notice that over the past few years, it seems that Republicans have taken the lead in international development assistance. Should the Democrats be doing more?
This week, as Cindy McCain visits us in Rwanda, I'll have the rare opportunity to talk with a potential First Lady about the progress here and in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. She is part of a bi-partisan delegation from "ONE Vote '08" that's led by the organization's co-chairs, former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Bill Frist. Mike Huckabee as well as Clinton White House chiefs of staff John Podesta and Leon Panetta will accompany them. The trip is significant not only because of the unusual political chemistry in the airplane cabin, but because this group has already identified common ground: that global health and extreme poverty must be foreign policy priorities in the 2008 presidential election.
While they're here, I'll brief them on the remarkable advances Rwanda has made since the 1994 genocide and the far-ranging impact that investment in the country's infrastructure, businesses and people has yielded so far. Rwandans will tell them and show them how U.S. investment has jump-started agricultural and handicraft cooperatives, and led to improved health facilities, plentiful supplies of medicines, and the delivery and management systems vital to progress in health and business.
What may be somewhat surprising is that despite the bipartisan character of this visit, the Democrats may be in danger of falling behind on this vitally important issue. Republicans have so far led on African development, and have set the stage for dictating the agenda going forward.
Despite the many controversies associated with Bush administration interventions, there is a broad recognition here that President Bush's commitment to Africa has been both considerable and successful. As a result of Bush-era programs, more than two million people are being treated for HIV/AIDS and Malaria -- previously neglected -- has become a priority. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has dedicated $19 billion to global programs, with a large portion going to partners such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Just this week, the Senate voted to approve PEPFAR's reappropriation at three times its current level.
This is a strong foundation, and the next president needs to build upon it. Saving lives is a good start, but there is room for US investment at unprecedented levels in agriculture, technology, infrastructure and management. Such investments would pay enormous dividends and would certainly transcend party affiliations. Ending poverty is a critical global intervention, but in the 21st century we'll have to figure out how to help the poor create prosperity as well. While this bipartisan crew is in prosperity-oriented Rwanda, I'll ask them all whether there is common ground around this issue as well.
Whether Senator McCain or Senator Obama takes office, it is important for the U.S. not to fall behind in efforts to improve the lives of Africans. Investments in Africa don't happen in a vacuum; they quickly benefit Americans in tangible ways, increasing prosperity, health and security.
So, I welcome Mrs. McCain and look forward to sharing Rwanda's story of recovery and prosperity with her. Hopefully Mrs. Obama will do the same before November.
I will update you on the "ONE Vote '08" visit over the next two weeks.
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