The US House of Representatives held a hearing on appropriations for US aid to Africa in October. The Donald Trump administration requested $5.2 billion for Africa in fiscal 2018, which would be close to 35 percent less than in 2015.
Of the total, $3.7 billion, or 70 percent, will be allocated to 10 countries in line with US strategic interests including Kenya and Nigeria.
The hearing reflected the focus and direction of Trump’s African policy, as well as the discrepancy between the US Congress and its Department of State, which exposed the political logic and moral risk of the US foreign aid management structure.
Cheryl Anderson, the acting assistant administrator at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) for Africa, attended the hearing and mentioned the importance of supporting development in Africa. Disease and conflict have no borders, she said, so underdeveloped markets can limit potential global economic growth. Supporting economic development in Africa not only creates jobs that increase economic growth and political stability in Africa; it also provides economic opportunities for US companies and workers.
There are four policy priorities for Trump administration when it comes to allocating Africa budget. First, advance US national security interests in Africa through programs that support partners fighting against terrorism, advance peace and security, and promote good governance. Second, ensure programming asserts US leadership and influence in the continent. Third, design programs that foster economic opportunities and spur mutually beneficial trade and investment arrangements for the American people and African partners. Fourth, focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability to the American taxpayers.
The budget cut is a compromise between maintaining US strategic goals and promoting efficient spending. According to Donald Yamamoto, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Africa is emerging, which forms the foundation of US-Africa relations. The assistance will go to countries of the greatest strategic importance to the US. To mitigate the impact of reductions, the US will use its programs to leverage more private-sector funding while encouraging countries and donors to make more contributions.
The budget proposal encountered much criticism during the hearing. Democrat Karen Bass described the budget as shortsighted, highlighting several contradictions such as touting peace while cutting peacekeeping and development efforts. Democrat Joaquin Castro warned the cuts will reduce US influence and open political opportunities for rival powers.
Can a US budget for foreign aid guided by national strategy go far? US foreign aid is decided by the Department of State, which is responsible for foreign affairs. The Africa budget is drawn up by USAID and the Bureau of African Affairs. Trump’s “American First” ideology has placed Africa at the bottom of US strategy. The budget reflected its policy.
US foreign policy is influenced by pragmatism. Development issues have become important topics of global governance, so a depoliticization trend is inevitable. But US is linking its strategic goals in Africa to development funding, with a compromise between resource allocation and strategic interests. The pragmatic method goes against the essence of development.
US policy contradicts its goal. The evaluation of global development assistance has shifted from “aid effectiveness” to “development effectiveness”. The national strategic goal of the donor is seldom included when evaluating the effectiveness of a program. Prioritizing America’s important partners shows the misalignment between the declared development assistance and actual resource allocation.
Leave the “development issue” to the market. With geopolitical thinking, the US focuses more on its business interests in Africa. As a result, the Trump administration is trying to leverage more private investment through public-private partnerships, generating economic opportunities for US companies.
But development assistance is meant to provide public goods that support the development of recipient countries. This means large investments and long payback periods. Whether this is compatible with business motives is still unclear.
This article, written by Song Wei, an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, was originally published in the Global Times.