The East African (Nairobi)

19 October 2008

Africa: Critics Blast U.S. Aid Efforts As 'Chaotic'

Nairobi — Amidst forecasts of a sharp drop in development assistance for Africa, three former heads of the main US aid agency are criticising current programmes as "chaotic and incoherent."

Lack of co-ordination among Washington bureaucracies is delaying implementation of development initiatives and reducing their impact, the former officials -- Brian Atwood, M Peter McPherson and Andrew Natsios -- write in the forthcoming edition of an influential journal published by the non-governmental Council on Foreign Relations.

Deploring the " sad state of affairs," the ex-administrators of the US Agency for International Development warn that "the United States cannot win the hearts and minds of the world's people with only an anaemic USAid presence in the developing world."

This unusual attack coincides with a warning by the State Department's top Africa official that the global financial crisis could result in cuts in US development aid.

The presidential team to be elected on November 4 can adjust budgeted funds for African assistance programmes in 2009 "and there are certain indications they may have to rethink foreign assistance after that," Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer said last week.

Frontrunning candidate Barack Obama, widely viewed as sympathetic to Africa's needs, acknowledged recently that a looming recession may lead him to backtrack on his promises to double US aid to poor countries.

The Bush administration had already more than doubled US assistance to the developing world -- from a total of $10 billion in 2000 to $22 billion this year. But that sharp increase is not being effectively administered or properly targeted, according to the three critics, who have a combined 16 years' experience at the helm of USAid.

They point out that responsibility for multibillion-dollar US assistance programmes has been handed over in recent years to the Pentagon and the State Department.

The US military's new Africa Command is carrying out development work that would formerly have been handled by USAid, they observe.

President George W Bush "has elevated development to a theoretically equal place with defence and diplomacy in what is considered the new paradigm of national power: 'the three Ds,'" the authors note.

"But this vision has not been realised because of organisational and programmatic chaos. The Defence Department's massive staff have assumed roles that should be performed by the State Department and USAid, and the Pentagon's $600 billion budget has eclipsed those of the civilian agencies."

USAid had 4,058 permanent American employees in 1980, the former administrators point out. By 2008, the number had dropped to 2,200. "Downsizing also resulted in a dramatic loss of technical expertise. "

In addition to the Pentagon's takeover of some international development programmes, USAid has been denied administrative control over two major assistance efforts initiated during the Bush years.

The $7 billion Millennium Challenge Corporation, which provides nearly $700 million in development assistance to Tanzania, is chaired by the US Secretary of State rather than by the head of USAid. Similarly, the $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief is overseen by the State Department, with USAid playing only a supporting role.

Major allocations for Aids treatment and other health care programmes "have in recent years crowded out other development interventions," the former USAid chiefs state.

They cite anti-corruption measures, agriculture assistance and democracy-promotion programmes as among the initiatives that have not been sufficiently funded.

Assistance could be provided more effectively and efficiently if USAid were elevated to Cabinet-level rank within the US government, the authors suggest. Such is the approach taken by most donor countries, they say.

"The United Kingdom's Department for International Development has used its perch to achieve greater influence on development matters throughout the British government by helping to shape trade, finance, and environmental policy at the Cabinet level. As a result, the Department for International Development has become the most prominent government aid agency in the world, even though London spends far less on aid than Washington does," the former chiefs say.

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