July 18, 2008

The Increasing Militarization of African Aid

There's nothing particularly new in this short column from the Washington Post but there are a number of things lined up back to back that are cumulatively troubling for folks interested in the continued development of the African continent and the nature of America's involvement in that process.
U.S. aid to Africa is becoming increasingly militarized, resulting in skewed priorities and less attention to longer-term development projects that could lead to greater stability across the continent, according to a report released Thursday by the advocacy group Refugees International.

The report warns that the planned U.S. Africa Command, designed to boost America's image and prevent terrorism, is allowing the Defense Department to usurp funds traditionally directed by the State Department and U.S. aid agencies.

A Pentagon spokesman did not return a call requesting comment. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned this week against the risk of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy and said the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries.
It's hard to know how much of this is a reflection of the current administration and what might change post November - I think it's too simple to predict that McCain would bring business as usual and Obama usher in an era of enlightened involvement in African affairs (Bill Easterly via Chris Blattman points out that we haven't seen anything new from Obama on the development front, but nor have we from McCain for that matter.).  The troubling intermingling of the Pentagon into traditional "development" arenas isn't a new story but these specific numbers were new to me:  
The Pentagon, which controlled about 3 percent of official aid money a decade ago, now controls 22 percent, while the U.S. Agency for International Development's share has declined from 65 percent to 40 percent, according to the 56-page report.
That is a big jump.  

However, the article, I think, is correct in saying that the larger, more fundamental problem with regards to Africa is "a lack of consistent, coherent U.S. foreign policy attention to Africa."  That certainly isn't going to change overnight and I'm having trouble deciding if Africom is going to help or hinder it's development - my gut says hinder.  Yet, I am not ready to say that the Pentagon should not have any role in the development agenda - I think that ignores some of the central realities shaping our world at the moment, as unfortunate as that may be.  Which makes me wonder if the key element missing here is not simply an allocation of resources but one of leadership.  If we acknowledge that we are going to need a number of players involved in order to achieve meaningful progress, and that those players are all territorial when it comes to their own agendas, often with good and appropriate reasons, then what we need is solid direction from the top.  It brings to mind this paragraph from Collier's The Bottom Billion which can be read as both an indictment of our continued schizophrenic development strategies (we are not alone in that diagnosis) and as a starting point for the possibility of change come November (emphasis mine):
The objective of development has to be elevated above the level of the development ministry.  Because four different branches of government need to be coordinated, the only level of government likely to be effective is the top.  The head of government has to accept development of the bottom billion as a personal priority.  Obviously I do not mean that this should be the main priority, for that is unrealistic.  Rather, because development requires so much policy coordination it should be recognized as one of those objectives that need to be lodged officially at the top of government.  If fact, heads of government are surprisingly keen to take on development as a public objective.  Think of the eagerness of George W. Bush to share a platform with Bono.  Think of Tony Blair launching the Commission for Africa.  What has been lacking is not the commitment so much as the serious content that should follow in its wake.  We have had leadership without an adequate agenda, because to date the agenda has been dominated by aid.  Bush used his photo opportunity with Bono to announce the Millennium Challenge Account.  The Commission for Africa produced a wide-ranging report, but during the ensuing election seeason it dwindled into a campaign to double aid.  A head of government should not be leading an aid campaign, rather, he or she should be forcing policy coordination across the government.  That is the head of government's unique role because no one else can do it.
In the meantime we laugh so we don't cry:

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