Barack Obama’s First 100 Days: What About Foreign Assistance?

The U.S. Agency for International Development has just passed its first hundred days under Barack Obama's presidency.

Obama's speeches led to great expectations. Presented as a key pillar of foreign policy, the "new" U.S. aid agency was supposed to be modernized, empowered and able to foster the necessary reforms in foreign assistance. Of course, one cannot deliver a definitive judgment on such an ambitious program after only three months. Still, it remains interesting to get a clearer idea on what has been done on this matter and inversely.

First, Barack Obama pledged to double annual U.S development aid to $50 billion within four years. This funding rise will help shape the new American approach to the developing world as it brings a better balance between humanitarian aid, diplomacy and military action. Curbing the growth in military spending in favor of an improved assistance appears as the U-turn people expected after eight years under the Bush administration. The effects of this new strategy will be interesting to see, especially in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. It is expected that Obama will request $700 million to Congress in order to fund development aid and diplomatic programs in Iraq.

Particular attention will also be paid toward Africa, although under George W. Bush, foreign assistance was already increasing. The Obama administration recently declared that the U.S. was "on track" on its pledge to double development aid to sub-Saharan Africa by next year.

Moreover, at the recent G-20 summit in London, the president announced his plan to double U.S. assistance for global agricultural productivity and rural development, and called for a comprehensive strategy to alleviate chronic hunger. He also expressed his intention to spend more for population and global health programs.

Regarding climate change issues, the new administration has shown ambition. Obama declared that the U.S. was ready to take the lead on this matter, and has already agreed to a 15 percent reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

In front of such challenges the U.S needs to face, some questions have emerged: Why has the administration not yet set up its humanitarian team? How is the U.S supposed to deal with these issues if almost no one has been appointed in key departments of foreign assistance? Where is the U.S. aid administrator?

All the predicted reforms and new strategies will be difficult to implement if no settled staff is in place to do so.

Consequences of this contradiction can already be perceived. For instance, a month ago, the administration announced its new strategy for the war in Afghanistan and explained that it would send agronomists, economists and legal experts to work on reconstruction and development issues. Last week, the administration announced that it was having troubles finding the appropriate experts and that military reservists were asked to do many of the jobs.

About the author

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    Antoine Remise

    Antoine is a former international development correspondent for Devex, based in Paris. He holds a bachelor's in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques of Lille and a master's in development administration and planning from the University College in London. Antoine has conducted researche for development projects in Chile, Senegal and Uganda, notably on education, health, local saving systems and housing issues. He is fluent in French, English and Spanish.