In 2012, the United States provided nearly $12 billion in official development assistance (“ODA”) to African nations. The ODA is allocated to education, health, infrastructure and economic development programs in recipient countries. Currently, the United States allocates foreign aid to 47 African nations and USAID operates 27 missions on the continent.
US Foreign aid to Africa began in the 1960s as many African nations gained independence and the United States sought strategic alliances to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. With the exception of disaster and famine relief, most foreign aid to Africa began to decrease with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the 2000s, President Bush more than tripled aid to Africa by establishing programs such as the Child Survival and Health Programs Fund as well as the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative.
Though foreign aid programs are designed to assist recipient nations with development, they also benefit the United States in a number of ways.
First, these programs help build strategic alliances and foster support for democratic transitions. It also stimulates Africa’s growth and development, which provides opportunities for increased trade and direct investment in the continent’s emerging markets.
But for all the benefits, foreign aid to Africa has no shortage of detractors. Many critics point out that much of the money allocated to Africa never reaches the people who most need the assistance. “Eighty percent of U.S. aid to Africa is spent right here in America — on American contractors, American suppliers, and so forth,” said George Ayittey, president of the Free Africa Foundation.
In more corrupt nations, politicians and civic leaders are often charged with misappropriating funds designated for the people. Others critics claim that foreign aid to Africa simply does not work—after 50 years of assistance, Africa still confronts the same issues.
But even critics would have to agree on one crucial point: foreign aid is an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. In Africa, aid programs support a large framework of social and economic assistance for developing nations.
Critics are correct that American companies and corrupt politicians siphon a large portion of foreign aid. But aid to Africa has also done much to improve infrastructure, bolster economic development and improve health care conditions for millions of people on the continent.