By: Stephanie Musso
In Donald Trump’s first month of presidency, he is slowly making good on each of his campaign promises. Most recently he has announced that he will increase U.S. military spending by 10%; in order to make the 54 billion USD increase, he will make cuts in foreign aid. Of the 35 billion USD that the U.S. doles out in foreign aid each year, 20% goes to African development programs. But many of these programs have fallen short in their efforts to help the continent progress, and these concerns will be significantly greater under a Trump administration that is looking to cut spending on international development. With cuts in the foreign aid budget, we must adjust our development programs; for development to be successful in Africa, the people must decide the best uses of the small amount of aid they will receive.
Time and time again we have seen the Western hand in Africa fail to reach its goals of alleviating poverty and/or eliminating environmental degradation. The main problem is that the programs are designed with little to no knowledge of African cultures and they try to embed western ways into a world drastically different from our own. For example, CAMPFIRE is one program whose failure came as a result of misunderstanding the complex community systems, physical landscape, and impacts of colonial legacies in African nations. These failures are all too common to western development projects in Africa, it is vital that we learn from these failures in order to make the most of new foreign aid budget.
Why should we care? Because these failed programs are a waste of U.S. taxpayer money and many people’s hard work; because it is still vital that Africans see development aid. With the budget cuts, it is now more important than ever to make sure this money is going to programs that will be successful. The best chance we have of making a difference and ensuring money is not wasted is to allow African communities to make decisions for themselves.
NGOs such as Give Directly and Heifer are models that show giving directly to local communities can be successful. There is evidence that community-based projects success when they are able to transfer control to locals. For example, both Kenya and Namibia have seen success with giving communities autonomy over development projects. With the help of NGO Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, Namibia now has local communities leading conservation projects. It is necessary that the local people are involved in decision making to ensure successful, locally appropriate, and sustainable development.
Though not all past development efforts have failed, we have seen development policies that fail to help nations develop, hurt traditional gender roles, undermine local knowledge, and even lead to further environmental degradation. Scholars such as James McCann and Paul Robbins explain that public policy in the West is often shaped by narratives that are rooted in past environmental histories. Successful development cannot be achieved in Africa if our development programs do not change in parallel to how the landscape changes.
If we really want to encourage Africa to develop in a sustainable and independent way, we must allow the African people to forge their own path. Partnering with NGOs to give direct cash aid could eliminate corrupt governments from failing their people, keep Western knowledge from undermining local cultures, and allow environments to flourish with the resources that are naturally abundant. We must redefine the way we view the landscapes and people of Africa and how we believe development aid projects should be designed. Giving autonomy to local African communities will not solve all of their problems, but it is the best way to ensure that the development money is going to the hands of those people who actually need it.
Stephanie Musso currently is the Office and Events Assistant at the EastWest Institute. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from West Virginia University in 2016 with a Bachelors degree in Political Science, and a minor in Globalization. Stephanie is interested in international security, resource scarcity and geopolitics.