Punitive bill to block Senegal aid goes before US Congress

U.S. Representative Mark Meadows. Photo by: Glenn Fawcett / U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Following the passing of a United Nations’ resolution against Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, members of Congress have introduced a variety of bills designed to show their support of Israel under the Donald Trump administration. One such bill, called the Aid to Allies Act, would, if passed, block Senegal from development assistance for two years, and instead redirect those funds to Rwanda and Uganda, as a direct result of Senegal co-sponsoring the U.N. resolution.

The bill has been put before Congress by Mark Meadows, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, who received campaign funding from pro-Israel groups. In the bill’s text, Meadows specifically mentions Senegal’s co-sponsorship of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.

According to the text, “rather than continuing to assist foreign governments that undermine our foreign allies, those dollars would be better spent in countries that support and defend the shared interests of the American people.”

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Meadows is also currently co-sponsoring a bill from Ted Budd, a first-term congressman and a fellow North Carolinian Republican, called the No Bonuses for Terrorists Act, which would redirect aid from the Palestinian territories to the Israeli military.

Miriam Frost, an American expatriate working in the development community in Senegal, says the reaction to the bill on the ground has been varied. “When you first see it, it’s definitely quite shocking. A lot of people have been quite surprised and would be affected,” Frost said. “It’s not something we’re thinking will ever take effect, but it’s certainly concerning that it’s something that’s being brought forth, the whole idea of punishing a country for speaking its mind by withdrawing development aid.”

Although the bill stands little chance of passing, the act of putting it forward sends a message. While it has received virtually no coverage in English language news, it has attracted some attention in Senegalese publications, which make the clear link between Meadows’ pro-Israel stance and the resolution.  

Ann Vaughn, senior director of policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps, says such bills can be counterintuitive, but also provide an opportunity for education.

“When you have these bills that are focused on a single, narrow issue, it undercuts our broader national strategic security issues,” Vaughn said. “It means we need to do more education about the broader benefits and needs of development and humanitarian aid across the board. You need better grassroots education, and to educate our lawmakers.”

Vaughn suggested any proposer of a bill of this nature should first speak with the U.S. State Department, the Senegalese embassy and the U.S. Agency for International Development to get a sense of the nature of the work being done in-country. She said that since so few bills actually become law, there’s no cause for alarm at this stage. Meadow’s office did not respond to an inquiry about whether Meadows had solicited guidance from the State Department, USAID or the Senegalese embassy in Washington, D.C.

The Senegalese embassy did not immediately return a request for comment.

Whether the bill moves forward or not, Frost said that the very act of proposing it sends a ripple through the development community. While there’s little fear or nervousness, “there’s more outrage about the fact that this is not what aid is for,” Frost said. “It’s not meant to be for political reasons, or to reward or punish specific countries.”

Stay tuned to Devex for more news and analysis of what the Trump administration means for global development. Read more coverage here and subscribe to The Development Newswire.

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    Molly McCluskey

    Molly McCluskey is an independent journalist whose work has appeared in Al Jazeera English, U.S. News & World Report, Middle East Eye, The Washington Post, National Geographic, and an array of national and international publications. She has written extensively on global economic issues and their impacts on individuals, institutions and nations. In 2014, Molly was selected for the prestigious International Women’s Media Foundation’s Democratic Republic of the Congo reporting fellowship, and in 2016 won the McGraw Fellowship for Business Reporting. She recently completed her third term as a member of the Board of Governors of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. She divides her time between the U.S. and Europe.

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