The Trump Administration has made known its initial budget proposals for fiscal year 2018, beginning October 1, 2017. African governments should be interested in these proposals because some important U.S. Government activities on the continent could either be abolished or significantly reduced.
President Trump’s budget request for 2018 proposes significant reductions in two spending categories of interest to Africa:
· State Department bilateral diplomatic relations with other countries, and US multilateral relations with international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank Group.
· Bilateral cooperation for development through the Agency for International Development and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
If the United States Congress accepts the President’s budget proposals, which is by no means assured, then African nations could suffer some major losses in assistance. Of particular interest are the special new programs inaugurated under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
President Bush introduced the ongoing PEPFAR program that has done so much to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa. He also established the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an innovative program that relies on independent experts to judge whether individual countries qualify for much higher levels of targeted assistance to achieve high priority objectives. For example, the West African nation of Benin is now implementing a major upgrade of its electric power capacity with financing from the MCC.
President Obama continued the good programs started by President Bush, and added two of his own, “Power Africa” and “Feed the Future.” Power Africa is designed to alleviate the major electricity deficits existing in most African nations through private investments in this sector. It is clear that progress in economic development in Africa will be greatly frustrated without vast expansions of electric power generation, transmission and distribution.
Obama’s second special program, “Feed the Future”, is designed to help African farmers obtain high quality seeds, implements, storage facilities, irrigation, and transportation to markets. It is unacceptable that Africa, with its vast potential for agricultural production, is currently importing most of its own food. Also, in the future, with the population of the world predicted to expand from 7.5 billion at present to 9 billion by 2050, African agriculture will be needed to help feed the rest of the world.
These and other programs financed by the United States could suffer from reduced budgets if President Trump’s initial proposals are upheld.
In the area of diplomatic relations, proposed reductions in the Department of State budget could result in the possible closure of some American embassies in some African countries. This would be unfortunate since US embassies serve as the eyes and ears of the entire US government. In every American Embassy, the State Department is not the only agency that has personnel present. There are officials dealing with agriculture, commerce, science, security, intelligence, military relations, and other subjects. In this respect, there is no government in Africa that is not of interest to the United States. The absence of an American embassy in any sovereign country is a major handicap for both sides.
As far as multilateral relations are concerned, the United States is a major contributor to the work of the United Nations and its various agencies that deal with refugees, health, agriculture, aviation, and stabilization, among other sectors. With the proposed reductions in US contributions, major activities could be jeopardized. For example, refugee flows have never been higher from the Middle East and Africa. UN refugee relief programs are more vital than ever.
American political leaders sometimes complain about the high cost of supporting the work of multilateral organizations. But what they sometimes fail to realize is that the US is actually saving money because its contribution is limited to 25%. In other words, considering the many dangers facing the world of sovereign nations in the 21st century, the US contribution to international solidarity is really a bargain. This is especially true of UN peacekeeping operations around the world. These operations make it possible for the US military to limit its deployments to the highest priority requirements for American and allied security.
Concerned members of the United States Congress, which bears the final responsibility for determining the annual budget, have expressed their disagreement with the proposals to reduce financial support for American foreign policy interests. They believe that support for economic growth and development in Africa creates new customers for American products, and prevents the growth of extremist movements that are nurtured by deep poverty.
As one congressman, who is a specialist in US policy toward Africa, said to me recently, “without foreign aid, there is no foreign policy.”