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There was a whole lot of doubt concerning Africa coming from Trump’s transition team at the State Department, as a leaked questionnaire accessed by the New York Times revealed; but still, one would have thought this was all part of the bluster of campaign rhetoric, opinions that would begin to melt away once in office, when the importance of America’s soft power would be fully laid out and shown to be nearly, if not equally important, as its military might.
Aid is among the greatest tools America has at its disposal, and unlike depleted uranium casings and guided munitions, it doesn’t destroy those it has targeted, it builds them; it is in many ways a better tool than materiel.
American aid endears the nation to its beneficiaries, and beyond this sentiment, it helps improve the societies it targets, societies which are more often than not neglected, living at the peripheries.
Yet Pres. Trump’s America First budget proposal would seek to strangle America’s soft power in favor of military strength. I wonder why it’s called America First when the cuts it proposes to the Department of Health and Human Service, Dept. of Labor, Dept. of Education, Dept. of Agriculture, the EPA, and others, will adversely affect Americans.
But I digress.
I am most concerned about other cuts, proposals that demonstrate Pres. Trump’s government’s unhelpful skepticism towards Africa.
One such proposal is to defund the African Development Foundation, an organization that’s been operational since 1984.
The ADF’s goal is simple; it supports and invests in African enterprises in vulnerable and poor nooks of the continent. It issues grants of up to $250,000 to African businesses, in addition to securing technical assistance where necessary.
It has a presence in 30 African countries, from the war torn (South Sudan, South Africa) to the stable (Botswana, South Africa).
Much of its funding goes towards helping small African businesses expand so that there are more job opportunities for the community.
In 2016, its forays across the continent had positively impacted 1.2 million people.
Is the ADF being defunded because it operates on an enormous budget?
Its 2017 budget is $28.2 million, a barely a blip in a $3 trillion federal budget. What the ADF uses is less than the additional cost ($39.3 million) imposed on the Secret Service by the fact that Melania Trump and Barron Trump still live in Pres. Trump’s private residence in New York.
The budget has also proposed massive cuts to the State Department, whose discretionary budget has been gutted by 29%.
Consequently, contributions that keep the UN and its affiliated bodies operational will be drastically reduced or eliminated altogether.
That will impede peacekeeping missions and countless humanitarian efforts in conflict zones; it will not alleviate human suffering, and will likely cause areas with tenuous security to regress into non-governable areas.
Besides, USAID, the gift From the American People, will be less able to leave its mark across the world, and this may roll back advances in democracy and human rights, one of the key goals of America’s foremost aid agency.
Sure, USAID drops in food during droughts, but its efforts towards improving health systems, education, and agriculture are even more impactful than the short term benefit of a food drop.
Hacking its budget will likely hinder its ability to achieve its long term goals.
Yet the efforts of the ADF and USAID are necessary in helping the Trump government get solutions to some of the questions posed in the leaked questionnaire.
Questions such as “We’ve been fighting al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?”
The partial answer to which is that while military might may suppress terrorist groups, so long as there’s a pool of gullible, unproductive youth who would, for lack of employment opportunity, do anything, the problem will persist.
While some join al-Shabaab for its ideology, others join because it offers money in a region where there are hardly any jobs.
It is a similar story with Boko Haram (also mentioned in the questionnaire), which has been known to offer business loans and other financial services in order to coerce/ convince a person to join.
These aid programs are critical in reducing this pool of susceptible youth that has been preyed upon by terrorist groups.
In Somalia for instance, the ADF is funding programs that offer vocational training, giving the youth a chance at productive employment.
In Nigeria, USAID has released $91 million to improve the welfare of those displaced by Boko Haram, and has helped the displaced by providing relief food while also helping them work towards becoming economically productive.
Properly used, aid helps lift up impoverished societies, and in our interconnected world, that is a really good thing.