For those who consider themselves global citizens and/or see the development of the “Third World” as a top priority, the fact US aid to Africa is a lower percentage of our Gross National Income than the percentage of what most European countries donate is a lack of commitment to development. For average Americans, however, the notion that the US is somehow in a competition with the rest of the world to serve the needs of the impoverished is both puzzling and often considered offensive. Given America’s unmatched military presence and efforts to subsidize global security, along with our overall efforts to bolster the economic, military, and social institutions of friendly nations, our exploding National Debt, and the growing issue of poverty at home, the emotional for case foreign aid still resonates, but Americans need to see more than taxpayer giveaways, whether successful or not.
Programs like George W. Bush’s PEPFAR AIDS initiative and Obama’s Power Africa initiative, among others, are certainly worthwhile projects that are changing lives and strengthening communities. Although it is true these initiatives do build support and trust for America, the use of foreign aid to bolster US soft power is largely rooted in Cold War thinking that is far less valid in today’s multipolar world where partnerships with multiple world powers like the US, China, and Russia come with few negative consequences, thus foreign aid is more about gilding the lily in terms of economic ties. At the same time, it is far easier to see the logic in reserving foreign aid dollars to address civil unrest and armed conflict in areas surrounding the Middle East, which lessens the urgency of nation building through foreign aid in African countries that are already more or less stable.
Where domestic social welfare programs inside the US have long been losing support, and credibility, as they fail to actually adequately address America’s poverty problem, foreign development initiatives face even greater criticism. In terms of aid foreign programs, there needs to be a greater focus on incentivizing African governments to serve their People by investing what mineral royalties and taxes, which must include income, tariffs, and business taxes, they collect back into the needs of their societies, such roads, bridges, hospitals, power grids, water systems, and other critical infrastructure. Focusing on initiatives where the US and other nation donors match funds would help train governments to properly govern their societies and manage their national wealth to address the concerns of all citizens instead of just the elites.
Furthermore, the notion that America engages in more trade with Brazil, which is the largest part of America’s “Africa,” than with all of sub-Saharan African as Obama noted during remarks given at his U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., is outrageous to the development community and an opportunity for capitalist minded businesspersons. What worries Americans about creating closer ties with even more foreign trade partners is our history of bad experiences with Free Trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA where greater outsourcing , as well as perverse tax benefits for so-called business inversions where American companies are able to avoid taxes by shedding their “US citizenship,” have helped nullify any gains for common Americans in terms of jobs and income.
Although Africa has significant mineral deposits, as well as other natural resources to pay, for economic development within Africa and to purchase American goods, the essential question for Americans is what development of African industries will look like. In terms of manufacturing, simply shifting manufacturing capacity and production from America is not something the US can afford to support as we have in past decades, especially given such development would mean even greater global competition for American workers in era when States are abusing tax incentives to poach jobs instead of creating new ones through innovation. Consequently, the real challenge in all African development initiatives is creating well-paying, sustainable industries in Africa that create African goods that feed consumer demand rooted in African and global consumer needs while utilizing American production and goods, which is truly a challenged given countries like China serve as the discount option for mass production of industrial goods.
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