Obama highlights US aid priorities in SOTU

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his 2011 State of the Union address at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. This year's address to the nation mentioned the country's aid priorities such as building democracy in Myanmar and supporting energy access in sub-Saharan Africa. Photo by: Pete Souza / The White House

As expected, foreign aid was barely a footnote in U.S. President Barack Obama’s annual address to the nation — but a few interesting tidbits did come out.

“Let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe — to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want,” Obama said in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.

READ:SOTU 2014: Share your vision for US foreign aid

After that, the U.S. president mentioned several priority areas for aid, like building democracy “from Tunisia to Burma (Myanmar),” supporting energy access for all and fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, and responding to natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines:

Myanmar — considered Asia’s new ”donor darling” for all the attention it’s getting from the international aid community after its military rulers decided to ease their grip on power in late 2010 — is seen as a pivotal partner country for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency plans to open a new mission office in Yangon this year, and Devex reported that Washington thinks the nation can become a leader for “green development” in Southeast Asia.

During his visit to Africa in late June, Obama launched Power Africa, a $7 billion initiative to expand energy access in sub-Saharan countries. Since then, supporters and skeptics of the scheme have been trying to find common ground to move forward, while the issue now seems to be coming up with the correct mix of quick wins and long-term solutions that can fully engage the private sector.

Recovering U.S. influence in Asia-Pacific to counter China’s rise is more a security priority, but aid is also part of the “Pivot to Asia” strategy first mentioned by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This is why Obama rushed the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where “our Marines and civilians … were greeted with words like, ‘We will never forget your kindness’ and ‘God bless America!,’” the U.S. president said in his speech.

How did foreign aid advocates react to the address? Most of them had not yet released a statement as of posting time, but a few were active on Twitter.

“Hoped for more on why U.S. [international] development programs are good investment in our future,” tweeted InterAction, while Eugene Nzribe, executive director of Canadian nonprofit International Charities for Africa, commented: “Power Africa, if carried through, will be the most important aid to African entrepreneurs, jobs creation [and] poverty reduction.”

Stay tuned for more coverage and reactions on Obama’s SOTU speech.

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.