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Africa's Real Hope

07/07/2005

This week's G8 summit in Scotland and the strategically planned Live 8 concerts around the world have helped focus international attention on the plight of the poorest people across sub-Saharan Africa. Make no mistake about it: This is a critically important issue. But a nation's generosity should not be measured by its government's financial commitment. There is a much better way to attack poverty, disease and hunger.

For almost 20 years, LIFE Outreach International, an organization my wife and I founded, has provided crisis relief in the form of food, medicine, clothing and clean water. Although it is primarily a media ministry, not a relief organization, we care for orphans, fund hospitals, train workers, help educate children and organize other outreaches of love to give hope to people living in hopeless situations. Many other nonprofit organizations—including Samaritan's Purse, which recently opened a $3 million hospital in Angola—are involved in similar projects.

One of the most valuable lessons we have learned over the years is that we cannot always depend on the governments of developing nations to implement real reform. Certainly, they can help facilitate positive change by granting access to their territories, providing protection for workers, setting aside land for development and fulfilling other ancillary support roles; but history has proved that aid, especially cash, tends to get lost in government bureaucracies, never making it to the people it was intended to help.

Corrupt African governments and their leaders have used relationships with advanced countries to control and manipulate their own people, while pocketing enormous sums of money from the free world.

Even as U.S. aid has increased, critics have pointed out that our government gives only a fraction of what other developed nations give when measured as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. In other words, America gives more actual aid than any other country, but other governments give more generously.

This is as it should be.

American citizens have a longstanding tradition of helping the poor through private operations, rather than the federal government. From Bill Gates to Billy Graham, individuals, corporations and charitable organizations have vigilantly and generously given to help people in need. Americans are the most charitable people on earth. When they see a need, they want to help; however, they want to make sure that their time and money are not wasted. Private donors demand financial responsibility, and private organizations demand results. Governments, historically, do not.

It would be very foolish for President Bush to succumb to any pressure to freely dole out federal funds to governments or organizations that have not yet proven that they can handle it properly. LIFE Outreach International has built solid relationships with the governments where we work, but we never allow them to control our resources. We work with private overseers for every project -- from distributing emergency food to drilling a water well -- in order to ensure cost efficiency, timely completion and personal responsibility. World governments would be wise to demand the same oversight of all funds released on behalf of Third World needs. If non-governmental organizations can protect the funds and provide oversight of their use, surely advanced nations can do the same.

President Bush appears to be on the right track with his plans for humanitarian aid. Every time we have met personally to discuss important issues, he has spoken of his concern for the people of Africa. More importantly, he has put his concern into action with a results-oriented approach.

Last week, at a pre-G8 speech in Washington, D.C., the president said:
"Over the last four years, the United States has stood squarely with reformers in Africa on the side of prosperity and progress. We've tripled our aid to Africa; we plan to double it once again. But more than this, we're standing for good government, and energy development, and debt relief, and expanded trade, all of which will help African peoples live better lives and eventually overcome the need for aid."

If world governments can work with the governments of needy nations to facilitate the efforts of non-governmental organizations, then the people of Africa have hope. Encouraging "good government" will allow the good people of every developed nation to reach into Africa's poorest countries and provide better food and water, expand medical care, advance education and improve the quality of life for millions of people.

Too often, money thrown at poverty simply creates bureaucratic waste or falls into corrupt hands. But, if private citizens can work within the framework of supportive governments, administering humanitarian aid with a compassionate personal touch, then we can truly begin to rid the world of poverty's plague.
 



Author: James Robison

Word Count: 770

About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, an international humanitarian aid ministry; host of the television program, Life Today; and author of The Absolutes.

Media Contact: Randy Robison, randy.robison at loi.org

Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.