Is the US still giving aid money to Africa’s dictators?

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and U.S. President Barack Obama converse at the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. While Addis Ababa remains one of the largest U.S. aid recipients in sub-Saharan Africa, U.S. aid flows to Ethiopia have fallen sharply over the course of the Obama administration. Photo by: Pete Souza

Five years ago, during his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as U.S. president, Barack Obama memorably told Ghana’s parliament that “Africa does not need strong men. It needs strong institutions.” And months before his re-election, Obama stressed strengthening democratic institutions as one of four pillars of his administration’s sub-Saharan Africa strategy.

“Our message to those who would derail the democratic process is clear and unequivocal: the United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately elected governments or manipulate the fairness and integrity of democratic processes,” Obama said in the strategy.

Obama’s strident and lofty rhetoric on democracy in Africa may make for odd bedfellows this week as 50 African heads of state gather in Washington for the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

While sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has made marked progress toward democracy and institution building since the 1990s, more than a dozen of the African leaders expected in Washington can aptly be called strongmen — President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda included.

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About the author

  • Piccio

    Lorenzo Piccio

    Lorenzo is a contributing analyst for Devex. Previously Devex's senior analyst for development finance in Manila, he is currently an MA candidate in international economics and international development at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Lorenzo holds a bachelor's degree in government and social studies from Wesleyan University.