House Democrats cut aid to Africa by 60%; Where is Obama?

Top Democrats praise the success of George Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation while quietly allowing congress to gut the funding of the United States most successful aid program since the Marshall Plan. 

"President Elect Obama supports the MCC, and the principle of greater accountability in our foreign assistance programs. It represents a worthy new approach to poverty reduction and combating corruption…The Obama Administration looks forward to working to build on the promise of the MCC as we move forward with modernizing U.S. foreign assistance programs." –Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response to a question for the record from Senator John Kerry during her confirmation hearing January 13, 2009- 1]

Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton made that statement two months ago. 

The 2009 summary of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill shows a 60% decrease ($1.35 billion) from former President George Bush’s request for $2.225 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account and a 42% cut from its 2008 level.[2]  To be clear, a 60%, $1.35 billion dollar cut is not "building on a promise." 

The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer Rodney Bent had this to say, "The FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriation Act would substantially reduce MCC funding from last year’s level of $1.5 billion to $875 million. This level of funding will be a disappointment to those countries that are in various stages of negotiation with MCC about potential projects to reduce poverty. These countries have more than 200 million citizens that live on less than $2 a day."[3] 

Statements in House and Senate committee reports recognize "the significant efforts countries seeking compacts have undertaken to improve governance, invest in health and education, and support economic reforms, and encourages countries to continue these efforts."[4]  Despite the well known successes of Millennium Challenge Account, the giant cut is justified by citing some bureaucratic problems with the timing of disbursements and some accounting problems.  Yet, they fail to explain how a program that has been distinctly successful in promoting civil society, fiscal responsibility, and good governance abroad where other aid programs fail deserves such drastic truncation.

This cut flies in the face of recommendations made by economists at the Brookings Institution.  According to executive summary of Lex Rieffel, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, "The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is one of the outstanding innovations of the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. No other aid agency-foreign or domestic-can match its purposeful mandate, its operational flexibility and its potential muscle."[5]  Reiffel’s analysis addresses legitimate kinks in the MCC method that were missed by congress but ultimately suggests an increase in funding to $3 billion.  This acknowledgement of MCCs’ success comes from a well respected think tank among Democrats and shows that in addition to politicians, there are real experts who understand the uniqueness of the MCC.  Rieffel refers to the "MCC effect" in his executive summary where there is action in governments and pressure from grass roots that cause genuine reform in recipient countries before money is disbursed.  So, to cite impatience for the disbursement of appropriated funds is to argue that it is the function of congress to spend money quickly with no purpose.


The MCC vs. China and Iran 

Africa is a major front in the struggle against Islamic extremism and totalitarian influence.  The American media has utterly failed to report that this is the view China, Iran, and the major terror networks such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda have of the continent.  By both statements and actions, aggressive campaigns by China, Iran and the terrorist networks show a desire to exert influence and exploit resources in Africa.  Just this year Iranian president has visited three African states including Kenya, Comoros, and Djibouti.  In January, the Defense Minister of Tanzania traveled to Tehran to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation with his Iranian counter part.  China has several state corporations who continuously scour the continent looking to buy up African energy.  According to Reuters UK, "China’s state-owned energy firms have spent years hunting for deals to satisfy growing oil demand back home, scooping up assets in Africa, the Middle East, South America and Canada. Outbound energy deals are expected to accelerate in 2009."[6]  Though currently eyeing deals in Libya and Ghana, China already buys two thirds of Sudan’s oil which makes up 70% of Sudan’s global exports.  China is also a major arms exporter to the Sudanese government and its militias along with Russia.

China and Iran pour billions in influence into the continent each year without regard to the behavior of their benefactors concerning human rights or good governance.  All the while, Hezbollah is raising millions each year in the trade of conflict diamonds while Al-Qaeda strengthens ties with militant Algerian Islamists who now call themselves Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.  This is a woefully abbreviated list of what we are up against.  The freedom and wellbeing of millions are at stake.  This is the time and the place for the United States to show leadership and resolve in its foreign policy.  Yet, from congress, we see incompetence and from the White House, no more than lip service.

  Nicholas Hanlon is a foreign affairs writer and researcher at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Georgia State University and has a BA in Political Science with a concentration in International Affairs and a Minor in French.

[1] Millennium Challenge Corporation Fact Sheet January 30, 2009


[3] Rodney Bent CEO Statement on Proposed FY 2009 Funding for MCC February 25, 2009, Millennium Challenge Corporation


[5] Lex Reiffel Strengthen the Millennium Challenge Corporation: Better Results are Possible December 2008, Brookings Policy Brief Series | # 167

[6] Editing by Ian Geoghegan China oil majors covet Africa-focused Tullow Oil Wed March 4, 2009

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