Some pundits anxiously agree that President Trump administration’s proposed limited 2017 USAID and US State Department’s budget will reduce financial aid to Africa and other developing nations. Although the administration also proposed a reduced budget for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), its proposal to increase the Export Import Bank’s (EXIM) budget may signal his plan to increase trade and reduce financial aid. Some pundits are also concerned about the possible negative influence of his perceived or real authoritarian and anti-media rule on African nations. The Trump anxiety is like a clumpy cloud that has swept across the development aid and African community. But in that cloud, there may be some silver lining that can force some African nations to take an inward approach to reduce aid dependency and learn about the advantages and strengths of the deeply entrenched US democratic republic system. Particularly, the nations should learn how such a democratic republic system is a country specific process that can check, balance and restrain any president’s abuse of rule, authority and power.
Regarding aid dependency, one may ask, do most African nations, including Nigeria, Congo and South Africa really need financial aid? Over the last 50 years, has the trillion dollars of aid monies that have been pumped into the African continent materialized into long term sustainable growth? No. According to a 2015 Pew Research report that is based on the UN Millennium Development report of the same year, Sub-Saharan African nations made some economic progress, but the progress was much less than Southern Asian nations. For example, 41 % of African people still live on extreme poverty of less than $1.25 cents a day. This percentage is more than two times higher than 17% of people who live in such extreme poverty in poor Southern Asian nations.
Okaru-Bisant’s previous articles on the seven deadly sins of aid already also cited economic statistics to support the fact that most African countries do not really need aid in form of finance, but need it in other forms, including trade, investments, information exchange and joint ventures that create jobs for their mass unemployed youth. Due to transparency, accountability, phantom aid and other reasons, financial aid flows from donor governments to recipient African governments have not had much developmental impact at the grassroots community level. Instead, much of the financial aid has been phantom aid which has enriched the co-aid dependency and incestuous relationship between the donor aid community and rich African government elites. The phantom aid phenomena coupled with corruption is not only rampant in Africa but also in the Middle East, including Iraq, where in the early 21 st century (2003 to 2011), most of the aid monies for reconstructing the war- thorn country returned to the USA donor as payment for goods and services.
Particularly, there is an urgency for Africa to be free from long term financial aid that creates burdensome debts and dependency for Africa’s future generation. But the African aid-free urgency should not include a ban on monies from for-profit and non-profit non-governmental organizations and corporations. The aid free proposal should also not apply to government sponsored financial aid in the short run in form of relief to African nations. For example, most pundits will agree that President George Bush’s 2003 Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) which President Obama reauthorized has been a targeted and useful relief mechanism for AIDS and HIV prevention and reduction in Africa. Most will also agree that financial and technical relief aid efforts were justified for Sierra Leone’s 2014 Ebola crisis and the country’s current devastating flood.
Regarding President Trump’s rule, some African governments may use Trump’s war against the media to justify their authoritarian disregard of human right to free speech. However, the question is not whether or not they should emulate or be inspired by a president that violates the media’s constitutional right to free speech but what warning or positive lessons they can derive from the advantages, strength and moral consciousness of the US democratic republic system. Particularly, what can the African governments learn from how the deeply entrenched US system of checks and balances restrains the Trump Republican power with his party dominating Senate and House of Representatives? Pursuant to US constitutional principle, those checks and balances apply to the three arms of government- executive, legislative and Judicial. But in practice, the US media and constituent public are the fourth arm of government that also restrain, check and balance the powers of government.
One can only hope that African governments will see and learn from the silver lining of the long established US democratic process that engages the body politic and reflects the country’s normative values and moral consciousness. Both donor governments and African recipients can also learn from the silver lining or be forced by the clouds of nationalist and isolationists movements to shift from aid co-dependency to trade and investments. Although those movements have many unpleasant xenophobic and racists biting realities, African governments can emulate some of the movement’s pleasant, common sense and fair trade policies that promote homegrown job creation, local entrepreneurship, trade and investment. Similarly African constituents should also see the silver lining in the Trump cloud and learn how to not sit back on the couch of high expectations of government. But they should assume their minimal sin tax duties which should incentivize them to hold their elected governments accountable through access to free press and accurate information.
Val Okaru- Bisant is a global and corporate governance professional as well as an adjunct faculty at the Catholic University of America and Elliott School of International Affairs. She has over 10 years of advisory, management and supervisory experiences in business, infrastructure, economic development, water security and trade. The views expressed are her personal views and opinion, and should not be attributed to any affiliated institutions. .