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Thursday, June 2, 2011

U.S. Foreign Assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa: The FY2012 Request

Alexis Arieff, Coordinator
Analyst in African Affairs

Nicolas Cook
Specialist in African Affairs

Lauren Ploch
Analyst in African Affairs

Tiaji Salaam-Blyther
Specialist in Global Health

Alexandra E. Kendall
Analyst in Global Health

Curt Tarnoff
Specialist in Foreign Affairs

Melissa D. Ho
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region, receives over a quarter of all U.S. bilateral foreign assistance. Aid to Africa more than quadrupled over the past decade, primarily due to sizable increases in global health spending during the Bush Administration and more measured increases in development, economic, and security assistance. The Obama Administration’s FY2012 bilateral Africa aid budget request, at $7.8 billion, represents an increase of roughly 10% compared to FY2010, albeit at a more restrained growth rate than in previous years (see “The FY2012 Request by the Numbers”). FY2011 enacted levels are not yet available by region. The proposed increases are concentrated in the areas of health, governance, and agriculture.

Significant aid increases since 2001 reflect, in part, changing perceptions of Africa’s importance to U.S. national interests and security. They also reflect strong bipartisan support for global health assistance, which has dominated U.S. aid to Africa in recent years. Africa bears the brunt of the world’s global health challenges, notably with regard to HIV/AIDS and malaria, and African governments generally lack sufficient capacity to confront the burden of disease on their own. U.S. health efforts in Africa, as elsewhere, have been underpinned by humanitarian concerns, but they have also been motivated by concerns over potential threats to global security. Nearly 70% of proposed FY2012 bilateral aid for African countries (not including Millennium Challenge Corporation funding) would go toward implementing President Obama’s Global Health Initiative, which incorporates significant HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tropical disease programs initiated during the Bush Administration. (See “Africa and the President’s Global Foreign Assistance Initiatives.”)

The Obama Administration has identified a number of other policy objectives in Africa, including food security, democracy, economic growth, conflict prevention and mitigation, and addressing transnational threats. This range of objectives reflects the continent’s size and diversity. It also challenges policy makers to balance foreign aid priorities and achieve strategic focus. While health programs represent the bulk of U.S. bilateral spending, other types of assistance, such as democracy promotion and security cooperation, may be more powerful in defining U.S. bilateral relations with African countries and in achieving U.S. diplomatic leverage. Given the inability of many African countries to meet basic development and governance criteria, policy makers often debate whether poor performance justifies terminating or, rather, continuing aid.

Analysts, practitioners, and aid advocates have long debated the value and design of aid programs in Africa. Critics allege that aid has done little to improve socioeconomic outcomes in Africa, and that in some cases it may serve to prolong conflicts or empower undemocratic regimes or rebel groups. Aid advocates counter that programs should be reformed or scaled up, not terminated, and that seeking to improve the welfare of impoverished populations abroad is both a humanitarian imperative and in the U.S. national interest. The methods and metrics for evaluating the effectiveness and impact of aid programs are also a topic of debate.

Congress authorizes, appropriates funding for, and oversees aid programs in Africa. U.S. assistance is also subject to a number of legislative restrictions imposed by Congress, including some which directly or indirectly pertain to African countries. (See “Selected Issues for Congress.”)

Date of Report: May 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: R41840
Price: $29.95

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