USAID in Africa creates many new advantages for the US beyond humanitarian aid, such as fostering strategic national security partners and increasing US economic prospects. George Ingram and Steven Rocker recommend four strategies to better utilize and direct foreign assistance to the region.
In June 2012, President Obama established his development priorities in the region with the White House’s U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on economic growth, food security, public health, women and children, humanitarian response, and climate change.
From 2002 to 2012, the total USAID money in sub-Saharan Africa nearly quadrupled, from roughly $1.94 billion to $7.08 billion. The assistance money was largely focused on global health spending, specifically the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But even beyond global health, the U.S. is the leading donor of humanitarian aid to sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the area of emergency food aid. The Obama administration also provides assistance in agriculture development through its Feed the Future program, a global hunger and food security initiative. Overall, USAID operates 27 different regional missions in 47 African countries – the top five being Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa.
U.S. development assistance brings government agencies, American organizations and businesses into collaboration with Africans who are trying to put their own communities and countries onto a more prosperous social, political, and economic plane. There are three critical reasons why the US should invest in Africa:
1. Humanitarian interests – Through moral obligation the U.S. has historically been the leading donor of humanitarian assistance in the region. It is part of the American ethos to continue to respond compassionately to people in their most desperate times of need.
2. National security interests – There are continued terrorist concerns in Somalia and Mali, with the potential new threats in Nigeria (the U.S.’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa). USAID must continue to be very active in these regions particularly to prevent any terrorist strongholds from cementing and to maintain stability.
3. Economic interests – From 2001 to 2010, six of the fastest-growing economies in the world were in Africa. In 2011, foreign investment to sub-Saharan Africa amounted to more than all the development assistance funding for the whole world. Many countries are recognizing and acting on increasing commercial opportunities in Africa.
Four ways to make U.S. aid to Africa more effective:
1. Sustainable health systems – The majority of health assistance to Africa is used to finance the delivery of health services, which is not sustainable. Greater focus needs to be directed to building health practices that Africans can carry out on their own.
2. Disaster preparedness – For all the humanitarian aid delivered, very little is allocated toward disaster prevention and preparedness. By focusing more resources and expertise toward these areas, the U.S. could reduce the need for large international disaster relief, and save lives.
3. Economic growth – The U.S. should leverage its assistance to stimulate economic growth. Congress and U.S. officials should engage the Export-Import Bank, Department of Commerce, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure that a range of government policies and programs are encouraging equitable economic growth for all, and commercial opportunities for U.S. businesses.
4. Democratization and good governance – The U.S. needs to give greater attention and support toward governance policies and oversight; including improving the governmental collection of revenues, transparent budgeting, and building the capacity of civil society and legislative systems.
– Mary Purcell