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28 Jul, 2015

Spotlight: Despite fanfare, U.S. aid programs for Africa fail to make big difference

NAIROBI, July 27 (Xinhua) — During his just-concluded visit to Kenya, U.S. President Barack Obama has unveiled, amid intensive global attention, a 1-billion-U.S.-dollar program to support global entrepreneurship, especially among women and youth in sub-Saharan Africa.

The 1-billion fund and other forms of assistance promised by Obama during his three-day high-profile trip were hailed by some, but also drew skepticism about whether the U.S. program would make much of a difference, given lackluster performances of various U.S.-backed aid projects for the continent.

In June 2013, Obama announced the Power Africa project, saying the United States had secured 7 billion dollars to provide 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa first-time access to electricity.

However, two years after the project was launched, little progress has been made on the ground, Les Echos, one of France’s most prestigious newspapers, said in a recent article on its website.

While it is undeniable that in the past several decades, the United States and other Western countries have provided developing countries in Africa and elsewhere with massive assistance funds (one estimate put the total sum in the past 50-plus years at 2 trillion dollars), the aid programs involved often fail to meet expectations, with only a few exceptions made in East Asia, observers said.

The conspicuous gap between what the United States promises and what it actually delivers in Africa is partially caused by Washington’s lack of will to follow through with the assistance programs, since the continent has only marginal significance for the United States from a historical perspective, John Campbell, an Africa expert with the U.S. think tank Council on Foreign Relations, noted.

Misuse of the fund is another factor contributing to the disappointing outcome of various U.S. assistance programs in Africa.

For example, the United States earmarked 80 million dollars in 2005 to support a UN-initiated project to fight malaria in Africa. A House investigation later found only 5 percent of the 80-million fund was spent on bed nets, 1 percent on drugs, while the rest was mostly paid out in salaries to staff members and advisers.

In addition to the stunning mismanagement of the fund, red tape in Western aid organizations also leaves their local partners in Africa less time and energy to focus on real problems.

Despite his success of gathering nearly 50 African leaders in Washington for an unprecedented summit last August, Obama may have to work even harder if he wants to build his legacy on a continent where U.S. commitment has long been questioned.