President-elect Donald J. Trump’s views of Africa have been a mystery, but questions from his transition team to the U.S. State Department indicate skepticism about the value of foreign aid and American security interests on the continent, Helene Cooperjan wrote in the New York Times.
A four-page list of Africa-related questions from the transition staff made the rounds at the State Department and Pentagon, alarming longtime Africa specialists who say the framing and the tone of the questions suggest an American retreat from development and humanitarian goals, while simultaneously trying to push business opportunities in Africa.
How does U.S. business compete with other nations in Africa? Are we losing out to the Chinese? These are among the first questions in an unclassified document given to The New York Times.
Questions follow about humanitarian aid. With so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen? Why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?
Some of these are questions you’d expect from a new administration trying to understand the logic behind longstanding American national security and foreign assistance policies. But it’s hard to tell if “the probing, critical tone of other questions indicates that significant policy changes should be expected.”
From New York Times. Story by Helene Cooperjan.
A big unknown is how a Trump administration will handle foreign assistance to the continent and its 54 nations.
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President George W. Bush quadrupled foreign assistance levels to African countries, and President Obama largely maintained that, even as his administration was making cuts elsewhere.
Even so, the amount of American aid in 2015 to other critical allies — Afghanistan ($5.5 billion), Israel ($3.1 billion), Iraq ($1.8 billion) and Egypt ($1.4 billion) — far exceeded the approximately $8 billion for all of sub-Saharan Africa.
The questions seem to reflect the inaccurate view shared by many Americans about how much the United States spends on foreign aid and global health programs. Polls show that Americans believe the country spends 25 percent of its budget on foreign aid — but the truth is that foreign aid is just 1 percent of the federal budget.
“We’ve been hunting Kony for years, is it worth the effort?” poses another series of questions related to Joseph Kony, the warlord head of Uganda’s violent guerrilla group the Lord’s Resistance Army, who has eluded the authorities for three decades. “The LRA has never attacked U.S. interests, why do we care? Is it worth the huge cash outlays? I hear that even the Ugandans are looking to stop searching for him, since they no longer view him as a threat, so why do we?”
The hunt for Mr. Kony and his fighters has generated a huge amount of publicity around the world, in large part because of a video on his elusiveness and brutality, “Kony 2012,” that has been viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube.
But other questions, foreign policy experts say, return to a theme of a continent that has squandered American money and effort. The questions challenge, for instance, a hallmark of Mr. Bush’s Africa policy — the Pepfar program, which has provided billions to fight AIDS and tuberculosis in Africa.
Rex W. Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, complimented the program, calling Pepfar “one of the most extraordinarily successful programs in Africa” during his Senate nomination hearing.
But, in contrast, the Trump transition questionnaire asks, “Is PEPFAR worth the massive investment when there are so many security concerns in Africa? Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?”
J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the questions showed an “overwhelmingly negative and disparaging outlook” on the continent.
“A strange attitude runs through this,” he said. “There’s a sort of recurrent skepticism that Africa matters to U.S. interests at all. It’s entirely negative in orientation.”
But the questions do appear to accurately reflect what Mr. Trump has said publicly about Africa in the few times that he has mentioned the continent.
For instance, during the Ebola crisis in 2014, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to argue that Americans infected with Ebola should not be allowed back into the United States. As two American health workers became critically ill and were airlifted to Atlanta for treatment, Mr. Trump had this to say via Twitter: “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!”
The Ebola epidemic, which killed almost 10,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia (but no Americans), comes up once in the document.
“How,” the questionnaire asks, “do we prevent the next Ebola outbreak from hitting the U.S.?”
Read more at New York Times.