U.S. Foreign Assistance to Africa: Securing America's Investment for Lasting Development

By Almquist, Katherine J. | Journal of International Affairs, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

U.S. Foreign Assistance to Africa: Securing America's Investment for Lasting Development


Almquist, Katherine J., Journal of International Affairs


Since 2001, the United States has dramatically increased its commitment to development in Africa and has transformed the way it is implemented. In the last eight years, U.S. foreign assistance to sub-Saharan Africa managed by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has increased by $5.5 billion, or 340 percent. (1) An additional $3.8 billion has been provided through Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) compacts, ten of which have been signed with sub-Saharan African countries since 2004. (2) The United States is currently on track to meet its 2005 G-8 commitment to double aid to Africa again by 2010. (3) This commitment of financial resources by the United States represents former President George W. Bush's vision of using America's power to help Africans improve their own lives, build their own nations and transform their own future.

Country ownership, good governance, accountability for results and the importance of economic growth have all been hallmark themes of the Bush era of new approaches to international development, and threads of all can be seen in the United States' foreign assistance to Africa. Indeed, with U.S. assistance, Africa is making progress toward addressing key development challenges, particularly in the health sector where significant gains have been made in combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Additionally, Africa is addressing the incidence of malaria, a significant source of mortality on the continent. Yet if these important successes, along with many others, are to endure and further progress is to be made, then a much more strategic and holistic development approach to Africa is needed. This development approach would build on the commitments and innovations begun during the Bush administration.

U.S. foreign aid to Africa is presently the sum of both executive and legislative signature or so-called earmarked programs that, albeit well-intentioned, often fail to address the most critical development challenges in Africa because of their single-issue focus and constituency-driven mandates. In order for the United States to avoid falling into the foreign aid trap of endless social service delivery, it needs to comprehensively retool its efforts to marshal Africa's own natural and human resources to power its way out of poverty and underdevelopment. Official development assistance will never be the answer, but it can help unlock the solutions.

This article will examine how the United States can achieve greater development impact in Africa with its foreign assistance dollars. The Bush administration has elevated the prominence of Africa in foreign policy and national security arenas and dedicated unprecedented levels of aid to meeting the continent's humanitarian and development challenges. The Obama administration has already signaled its intentions to keep aid levels high, yet budgetary pressures in our current economic climate and other pressing foreign policy priorities will push against sustaining the United States' level of commitment, much less to go beyond and do more to meet the serious challenges still impeding developmental progress in Africa The Obama administration's ability to rise to this challenge rests on more than additional resources and new initiatives. It will require a new strategic approach that addresses the longer-term challenges confronting Africa, in the context of U.S. interests--a more peaceful, stable and productive Africa. The Bush administration has raised the bar exponentially on the U.S. commitment to Africa. The Obama administration must now not only deliver on these commitments, but go much further to secure a peaceful, stable and productive Africa.

PROGRESS DURING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

Looking back on the Bush administration's record in Africa, one can see that many positive developments have taken place over the past eight years. Beyond more than tripling assistance to Africa, many important programs have been launched and new approaches taken that have transformed U.

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