Leading black US pastors have embarrassed the administration by questioning the sincerity of its commitment to increasing aid to Africa, dealing a blow to White House efforts to boost support for Republicans in a traditionally hostile constituency.
In a letter to the White House this week, the pastors demanded that George Bush give “ardent support” to Tony Blair’s proposal that the leading industrialised countries would double official aid to the world’s poorest continent over just five years.
A meeting with Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, in May appeared to confirm the administration’s commitment to the Africa cause, but last week Mr Bush made clear he would stick to the smaller amounts specified by the so-called Millennium Challenge account, unveiled in 2002.
The letter, for which its authors are seeking 1,000 signatures, acknowledges that the Bush administration has tripled US financial assistance to Africa. But that, it says, was dwarfed by the sums spent on tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr Rivers said: “If we can give a $140bn tax cut to the richest of the rich, who are not infrequently white, we can give $25bn (£13bn) to the poorest of the poor, who are not infrequently black.” The US level of official aid is less than 0.2 per cent of GDP compared to the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. But Washington says much aid is wasted or swallowed by corruption. It also says official aid statistics ignore the large amounts of US private sector assistance.