Former president Bill Clinton said Monday that "creative cooperation" is needed among private and public sector entities to help tackle challenges facing the continent of Africa.
Speaking Monday at an annual conference on Africa sponsored by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, Clinton said issues such as food insecurity, disease and resource management have to be confronted in order to improve the lives of Africans in a continent often torn by ethnic and tribal conflicts.
"I think what clearly works best everywhere are networks of creative cooperation, where people get together across lines that they often haven't crossed in the past and figure out how to do things faster, better, at lower cost," Clinton said. "That's essentially the mission of my foundation."
At the same time, he blasted what he described as wasteful spending by companies working under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"One of the things I really hope will change in America in the next few years is that we will stop the dictatorship of AID contractors taking 35 percent or more overhead for contracts in Africa and elsewhere.... It's not right," he said. "If we could go from 35 percent even to 15, you could literally increase by 20 percent the amount of American foreign assistance all over the world, with no more tax dollars."
The foundation formed by Clinton after he left office spent $226 million in 2012 on programs that included providing medicine to AIDS patients in Africa. Records released by the foundation in December show that its Clinton Health Access Initiative spent more than $136 million on programs that include making drugs and diagnostics for treatment of HIV and AIDS more available and affordable, and improving health care infrastructure. The program also helps provide vaccines and treatments of diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhea.
"I feel good about where Africa is going on health care," Clinton said.
Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said he is working with other lawmakers in Congress to reauthorize the African Growth and Opportunity Act, first signed into law by Clinton in 2000. The act, designed to provide incentives to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and to open their economies and build free markets, was previously extended by Congress through 2015.
"We dare not let the ethnic and religious and tribal conflicts overcome the staggering human potential," Clinton said.
The annual conference sponsored by Coons sponsors brings together businesses, faith communities and individuals in Delaware with experts on Africa to discuss trade opportunities and issues such as human rights, sustainable development and global health.
"The great thing about the modern world is that average people have more power than ever before," Clinton said, referring to the ability to mobilize people through technology and social media. "... If lots of people band together, they have staggering power."
Clinton said non-governmental organizations, whose number has more than doubled in the past 20 years, can play an important part in linking private entities and government agencies in helping Africans improve their economic, educational and health care systems.
"You step into the gap between what the private sector can produce and the government can provide, here and around the world," he said.