by Raynard Jackson
Whenever the U.S. government enters into a state of fiscal austerity, politicians always look for budget cuts from programs they deem to be less important or have little or no constituency. Foreign policy budgets, especially those directed towards Africa seem to always show up near the top of that list.
The left will blame it on the “mean” Republicans who don’t care about Africa. The truth is that Africa seems to benefit more from Republican control of Congress/White House than from Democratic control. Isn’t it amazing that former President George W. Bush did more for Africa than any president in the history of the U.S.? But, yet, he gets little or no credit for his policies towards Africa.
It was the Bush administration that first labeled what was going on in the Sudan as genocide (made by then Secretary of State, Colin Powell before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Bush played a critical role in helping to end the civil war in the Sudan.
Under the Bush administration, development aid to Africa quadrupled from $ 1.3 billion in 2001 to more than $ 5 billion in 2008. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was created by Bush. Africa has received in excess of $ 3.5 billion from the fund so far. The MCC was established to reward poor countries that encouraged economic growth, good governance, and social services for its citizens.
The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was created in 2000 and expanded under Bush in 2004. The bill provides trade benefits with the U.S. for 40 African countries that have implemented reforms in their countries to encourage economic growth.
The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was created by Bush and had $ 15 billion appropriated over five years (2003-2008). I find it amazing that the program has been cut by the Obama administration (though Obama pledged to increase it by $ 1 billion annually during his presidential campaign).
Along with PEPFAR, Bush established the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 (or the Global AIDS Act) established the State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to oversee all international AIDS funding and programming
Bush’s policies are credited with saving the lives of millions of Africans.
The political right would argue that America just can’t afford to continue some of these programs. They don’t question the merits of the programs, just the financial ability of the U.S. to continue to fund them.
I put the blame for this type of myopic thinking on two groups. The first is U.S. supporters of these programs (this includes, politicians, faith based groups, American citizens, etc.). America must do a better job in explaining why and how these programs impact the U.S. If we don’t spend the money on the front end (for prevention), we will spend the money on the back end (for treatment, humanitarian intervention, nation building, etc.).
I would put most of the responsibility on the second group—African heads of state and their designated U.S. ambassadors! African leaders and their ambassadors show very little understanding of how to get things done through our political process here in Washington, DC. Most African ambassadors have no relations with relevant members of Congress on the African committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
How many African diplomats can pick up the phone right now and get Congressman Chris Smith (at home, on his cell, or in his office)? Smith represents New Jersey’s 4th congressional district and is one of the biggest supporters of Africa that most people have never heard of. He also happens to be a member of the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and chairs the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.
African diplomats constantly complain about what the U.S. is not doing for them or their country’s interests. They hire high powered lobbyist who have little ability to translate their needs into a language that is understood in the political arena. They rarely engage the American people as to why their country is important to the U.S and why they should care. They have no media strategy, no advocate within the halls of the U.S. Congress, and they lack the “friends in high places.”
Africans must understand that it is important to engage the American people whether there is a crisis going on in their country or not; whether there is an adverse policy percolating through Congress or not.
The new Congress convened in January and there are many new members in both the House and the Senate who are new to their respective African committees. African diplomats have made little, if any, effort to establish relations with these new members beyond any perfunctory meet and greet.
There will most definitely be across the board budget cuts for the foreseeable future. How deep they are relative to Africa will depend on how well the African diplomatic community communicates their country’s importance to the American people and relevant members of both the House and the Senate.
Based on my private conversations with members of Congress, the White House, members of civil society, and NGOs, Africa doesn’t make the cut in terms of understanding how to make things happen in the U.S.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine (www.excellstyle.com) & U.S. Africa Magazine (www.usafricaonline.com).