(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

USA must improve aid balance - Refugees International

USAID, Hazrat Bahar.
Hazrat Bahar/IRIN

Imbalances between US spending on defence, diplomacy and development are affecting the USA’s ability to stabilise fragile and conflict-prone African countries, the US-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Refugees International concludes in a new report.

“The headline is that at the moment [US] policies are out of whack,” said Refugees International President Ken Bacon. “That is affecting our ability to act effectively and coherently in Africa and to carry out the war on terrorism in a coherent, long-term and effective way.”

According to the report, as well as short-changing foreign aid, the US government has allowed chronic weaknesses to build up in civilian capacity to construct and carry out effective, long-term policies to rebuild failed and post-conflict states, while the military is playing an increasingly active and well-funded role in promoting development and democracy.

“[Foreign aid] is increasingly being overseen by military institutions whose policies are driven by the Global War on Terror, not by the war against poverty,” the report states.

Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defence spending is 20 percent, the report says. The US military has over 1.5 million uniformed active duty employees and over 10,100 civilian employees, while the Department of State has just 6,500 permanent employees.

The report, which cites Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo as examples of badly coordinated and ineffectual foreign assistance, proposes that the US military’s newly formed Africa Command (AFRICOM) has a major role to play in rectifying the imbalance, by focusing exclusively on military and political roles and providing civil-military expertise to African states. US humanitarian aid and diplomacy branches should be bolstered to allow them to complement each other, instead of being dwarfed by the military-run body.

“At the moment projects in Africa are just not joining up,” said the report’s author Mark Malan. “AFRICOM needs to stay in lane and concentrate on doing those things it should do and does well.”

“The military should not try to take over what USAID [the US Agency for International Development] or the State Department do - that should be left to people trained to do that, but they need more resources,” said Bacon.

The report criticises staffing imbalances in AFRICOM, noting that of 1,300 professional positions, just 13 are for non-Department of Defence civilians.

No humanitarian role for AFRICOM

However, Malan said AFRICOM does appear to have backed off from a previous and controversial assertion that AFRICOM would involve itself in humanitarian as well as developmental work.

“There was some confusing language before,” Malan said. “The new mission statement is focused on security with no mention of humanitarian or development assistance.”

“[AFRICOM Commander] General Ward spent a lot of time with aid organisations and the humanitarian community. I think he listened and responded to what he heard, and AFRICOM has been narrowing its reach as it comes closer to full command,” Refugees International President Bacon said.

Ambassador Mary Yates, deputy to AFRICOM’s Commander for Civil-Military activities, told IRIN in March that AFRICOM would be respecting existing projects on the ground.

"We definitely are going to be in a supporting role with humanitarian and developmental initiatives that are already [under way] on the continent," she noted, but she stressed that most development work is done through USAID and NGO partners. "We would just continue supporting what they are already doing," she said.
 
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