MFAN Member Reviews Biden’s Trip to Africa

See a guest post from MFAN Member Greg Adams, Director of the Aid Effectiveness campaign at Oxfam America, that connects Vice President Joe Biden’s recent trip to Africa to the foreign aid reform debate.

OxfamDon’t drop the ball on Aid reform: Biden participates in a three-country tour of Africa

by Gregory Adams

This week, before heading to South Africa for the opening ceremony of the World Cup, US Vice President Joe Biden stopped in Egypt and Kenya to meet with regional heads of state. The visit is further evidence of the Obama administration’s recognition of Africa’s role in US policy. But it still leaves open the question of what role the United States will play in Africa’s regional security and stability, and prosperity. In Kenya, the vice president discussed peace and security issuesespecially in Sudan and Somalia. The United States has urged Kenya to implement key political reforms promised after the country’s 2008 post-election violence. According to US Ambassador Michael Rannerberger, Biden is expected to announce funds the United States will give in support of the process for a new constitution recently drafted by the Kenyan parliament.

Kenya has long been plagued with corruption, earning the rank of “most corrupt country in east Africa” by Transparency International,” In May, Oxfam America featured Kenya’s legendary anti-corruption championJohn Githongo, for an event it held at the Newseum in Washington, DC, entitled “How Can We Improve Aid to Developing Countries?”

“Africa is approaching an economic, political, and social tipping point, and smart donor support that leads to the empowerment of ordinary people is needed at this moment of risk and opportunity,” said Githongo, who runs the NGO Inuka Kenya Trust. “Ownership is ni sisi. It is up to us. It is us who own our problems. And it is us who will come up with the solutions.”  Githongo was joined on the panel by Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser, Liberian Economic and Finance Minister Amara Konneh, and Esther Tallah of the Cameroon Coalition Against Malaria. Click here to view video panel.

As Biden wraps up his three-country tour this week in Africa, peace and security appear to be his key messages.  But security alone will not address the crippling poverty which fuels the problems of African countries. We also need to focus on how Africans use moments of stability to address the social inequities that inhibit growth and feed conflict. Unfortunately the US government makes it hard for Africans to partner with us on solving their problems.  The central obstacle is America’s lack of a clear strategy to fight poverty abroad.  Oxfam has found that the laws governing the US’ global development efforts actually detail 140 different goals and 400 different directives for US foreign assistance.  With that kind of strategic confusion, it’s no wonder that our efforts to partner with developing countries to solve problems are often confused, contradictory, and failing to meet their full potential.

Sixty years of foreign assistance has shown that donors, like the US government, cannot fix the problems of poor people themselves, no matter how well donors think they know development.  When countries do not know what the United States is funding, governments cannot plan as well and citizens cannot hold their governments accountable for how they use those aid resources. Oxfam’s latest report, Information: Let countries know what donors are doing, finds that greater transparency and predictability by the US government about its foreign aid permits governments and citizens in those countries to make more thoughtful choices about how and where to invest in their own development.

Tomorrow, in South Africa, may mark the end of the US vice president’s tour of Africa; it also marks the kick-off of the World Cup as well as the hope of a “kick-start” to greater economic prosperity, stability, and peace across the continent. Let us hope that the US administration does not “drop the ball” on foreign aid reform and President Obama will keep his promise of a US strategy on global development in time for the September UN Summit on meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

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