Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you once again as Assistant Administrator for Africa to update you on our work at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support development and peace and security efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. In today's testimony, I'd like to address the importance of African ownership of regional development and humanitarian efforts and the critical role of African regional and sub-regional organizations, in the areas of democracy and governance, trade and economic development, and security sector reform.
As the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland in July demonstrated, there is a general consensus among world leaders to focus more attention on African development needs. The United States has been and will remain a leader in this effort. It is our role at USAID to work with our African partners to support the advent of peace, democracy, good governance and security on the continent, as well as help ensure the conservation of Africa's natural resource base and address major humanitarian crises such as the potential imminent spread of Avian Influenza.
As you are aware, sub-Saharan Africa is the world's poorest region: over half of its 700 million people live on less than $1 per day. Rapid urbanization poses new and difficult challenges as the demographic landscape changes and cities struggle to provide sufficient jobs and services, particularly for the young, who can become easy targets for extremists, criminal gangs or armed militias. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has completely overwhelmed many health systems and impoverished families. The aftermath of lingering conflicts and armed strife have exacted a huge toll on economic growth. And, if not averted, Avian Influenza could have a similarly disastrous effect on the region.
Yet despite these challenges, significant progress has been made on several fronts. The number of free democracies in Africa has almost tripled from four to 11 over the past decade and more than half of the remaining countries in the region are in the transition process toward transparent and free democracy. The number of conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa has decreased in recent years, signaling achievements in conflict mitigation and resolution. Liberia, Angola, and Sierra Leone have restored peace after years of civil war. And the peace agreements in Congo and the Sudan give rise to renewed hope that an end to these prolonged conflicts is in sight.
Furthermore, sub-Saharan Africa posted its strongest level of overall GDP growth in eight years in 2004, topping five percent. Mozambique, Tanzania, and Senegal are among countries with robust growth rates. However average GDP per capita in Africa is still only $500, less than one-tenth the global average of $5,510, meaning that much work remains.
During President Bush's June 10, 2005 speech, he noted that the link between democracy and development is critical as experience has shown that "aid works best when certain conditions are in place such as a commitment to just governance, respecting the rule of law, investing in citizens' health and education, and opening up economies." The number of African countries that pass the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) indicator test is a clear indication of the continent's progress and potential. As you know, the MCA funds only countries that have demonstrated a commitment to democracy and good governance, investing in people and economic freedom. In FY06, twelve of the twenty-three countries that are fully eligible for MCA funding, and seven of the fifteen countries eligible for threshold assistance, were located in Africa. Also for FY06, four of the seven new countries selected as eligible to apply are Sub-Saharan African.
USAID programs in Africa are rooted in the President's commitments to Africa. Funding for these Presidential initiatives is programmed to countries where the impact is expected to be the highest. I will briefly discuss the most significant and far-reaching of these Presidential and Agency commitments towards the end of my testimony.