Response: The Republicans and Africa

John Stupart’s piece about the role of the republicans on Africa rightly identifies problems in Luyola Ngcuka’s suggestion that changes in US policy direction are something that Africans have the right to be highly critical of simply because we may receive slightly less aid. It could – and perhaps should – be argued, however, that the problem is not just whether the amount of money will decrease but how that money will be spent. A reduction would be sad, because the prioritisation of neglected diseases and good governance was starting to seem promising, but Africa is more than used to foreign governments changing their minds when elections shift policy direction. The greater potential problem with the republican stance on aid is the directions in which they would like the aid that is approved to flow. It was the Republican president’s PEPFAR, for example, that limited millions of dollars of HIV/AIDS funding to abstinence-only initiatives, thereby dramatically undermining the effectiveness of US-funded HIV prevention efforts in many countries and blocking out other funding because who is going to give money for AIDS in Africa when the US is already funding it?

The USA’s recent 3D foreign policy approach claims/claimed to be elevating development (aid) to the same level as diplomacy and defence. While most development people were sceptical at the time anyway, republican control of this move is likely to have serious consequences. What this doctrine does in the hands of defence-focused aid-hawks, is to lump all development/aid work in with the defence strategy (again). This has been particularly destructive to the aid industry, for example in Afghanistan, where aid workers aligned with the NATO forces are killed on a more regular basis than those who are perceived as more independent but everyone is more likely to die now that all development/aid activities are increasingly perceived as part of the war efforts. We are already seeing serious problems with aid in Africa being perceived as part of military activity or a way to make money (or both). A republican-directed aid agenda, which is likely to blur this line still further, on the continent perhaps most in need of a strong aid focus on governance, public health and improved agriculture, is likely to exacerbate the problem.

Africa does not have the right to demand that the US pay more aid, unless backed by a far more compelling case than is generally made. Africa is, however, right to be concerned about how the republicans might direct aid to the continent and what impact this might have on the lives of ordinary Africans and/or those who try to help.