As the great Ron Paul once said, “Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country.” There is plenty of evidence to support this, yet the State Department has recently announced an additional $150 million in “humanitarian assistance” for the Sahel region of West and Central Africa. Specifically the G5 Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
In his March 16 press statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed this assistance, which brings the yearly total for the region to $233 million, will provide “urgent, life-saving support, including food, shelter, safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene, and other key services.” Things many of us take for granted. Most of us here in the United States live better than the royalty of a century ago, while most in Sahel live about as well as the peasants of ancient civilizations. But how much of that aid will actually reach those in need, and when it does, will it have a positive effect on the development of the region?
Most of us have seen the pictures of thousands of bottles of water wasting away on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico during the relief efforts following Hurricane Maria. Not to worry, though. FEMA investigated themselves to find out if they were responsible. Although those suffering in Puerto Rico never received that water, then-President Donald Trump still claimed the response was an “unsung success.” Puerto Rico may be a U.S. territory, but this example seems indicative of the systemic and ideological fallacies of the current U.S. foreign aid policy enacted by John F. Kennedy with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
When providing aid, it’s typical to work with the government of the recipient country. But corruption is rampant and military coups d’etat in the Sahel region have become the norm. If I were a betting man, I’d put all my chips on violent uprising before peaceful transfer of power any day of the week. This kind of political instability creates a breeding ground for embezzlement.
When looking at another African country dependent on foreign aid, Somalia, we can see the effects. The Public Management Unit admitted in 2011 that the Somalian Treasury was a little bit light…to the tune of $100 million between funds donated by American and Arab donors. Between 2009-2010, the United Nations Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported that 70% of funds were embezzled and 80% held in the central bank had been used for personal use. Funding these types of governments through foreign aid can only lead to further instability and deeper corruption as individuals and groups fight for control of the treasury.
Many are under the impression that the only chance these poor folks have is for those of us with means to provide assistance indefinitely. Following this logic, how do they figure anyone has ever escaped poverty? I suppose some wealthier nation provided the necessary capital for cavemen to form a more profitable system.
The truth is, the Sahel has plenty of prospects for development. The UN has stated that the region is “endowed with great potential for renewable energy and sits atop some of the largest aquifers on the continent. Potentially one of the richest regions in the world with abundant human, cultural and natural resources.” In fact, French companies have been exploiting Niger’s vast uranium deposits for decades. Nigerian human rights advocate Ali Indrissa said it best: “In France, one out of every three light bulbs is lit thanks to Nigerien uranium. In Niger, nearly 90% of the population has no access to electricity.”
During his announcement, held in Niger, Blinken also spoke of long term security investments which will “help make Niger’s law enforcement more effective in combating terrorism, strengthening border security and enhancing counter narcotics capacity, stemming trafficking, helping to investigate, prosecute and ultimately reduce, terrorism, violent extremism.” I won’t even get into the irony of this man speaking on border and narcotics security for a foreign nation, but I’m sure the GOP could have a field day with it. Secretary Blinken’s true motives most likely lie in protecting the two air bases in Niger, and the mining interests of our French allies, but nobody has done more to undermine the security in Niger and surrounding countries than the the United States, so maybe there’s some self-reproach involved.
As the U.S. bombed its way through the Middle East and Northern Africa, enemies were conceived in the debris. Groups like Boko Haram, Ansar Dine, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) became more violent with the collapse of Libya after the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and the ensuing civil war. A 2012 UN report concluded that “large quantities of weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles were smuggled into the Sahel region.” Although envoys from the United States, Great Britain, and France all protest that the problems were there long before the crisis in Libya, a dramatic rise in terrorism related incidents and deaths coincided with this time period, spiking in 2014.
Much of the U.S. military’s resources have now shifted to the war in Ukraine, with little to no oversight. In November, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called for tightened security in the Lake Chad Basin when weapons began to funnel into the hands of terrorist groups from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. He’s not alone in his apprehension. Finland’s national law enforcement agency, the NBI, has expressed similar concerns after their intelligence reported weapons making their way into Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Finland.
There’s a prudent old saying: you have to shut down the engine before you do an overhaul. The more pragmatic approach to aiding the Sahel region is not using the ever-weakening dollar bill as a rudimentary band aid for the mayhem we cause. Instead, it’s getting the hell out of their business. It isn’t toppling regimes, it’s trading goods. If the goal is to create a more prosperous Africa, where people are no longer dying of starvation and dehydration, they need stability through peace, and the United States is in a unique position to facilitate.
Another reason this region struggles is due to prolonged droughts and preposterous heat, but this does not have to be an existential and deadly threat. This can, and will, be solved through entrepreneurs and innovation, rather than foreign aid. They will get there by way of economic reform and secure property rights like most every wealthy nation. If Death Valley can have water in the summer, and Canada can have Japanese Mandarins in the winter, so too can the people of the Sahel live like kings.