USAID pushes back on counterterror regulation complaints

Women displaced by Boko Haram violence at an IDP camp in Yola, Nigeria. Photo by: REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Agency for International Development has pushed back on reports that a policy intended to prevent U.S. humanitarian funding from supporting terrorism hinders crisis response efforts in Nigeria.

The concern relates to a clause that USAID began including in its awards in mid-2017, which states that implementers, “must obtain the prior written approval of the USAID Agreement Office before providing any assistance … to individuals whom the [implementer] affirmatively knows to have been formerly affiliated with Boko Haram or [ISIS-West Africa], as combatants or non-combatants.”

A Feb. 11 report from the State Department’s Office of Inspector General cites complaints reported by the nonprofit humanitarian news outlet The New Humanitarian on Nov. 5, 2019. In the article, aid officials and experts voiced concern that the clause was preventing organizations from serving communities in need, forcing them to vet their beneficiaries, and violating humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

“In the two years that the clause has been included in agreements, implementers have not reported to USAID any significant impact from the clause.”

— “East Africa And North And West Africa Counterterrorism Operations” report

One aid worker, who spoke anonymously in the article, worried about a hypothetical situation where malnourished children arrived at an organization’s feeding center, but that organization would have to wait for approval from a USAID official in Washington before assisting them out of concern some of them might have been “formerly affiliated” with a terrorist group.

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According to USAID’s comments to the inspector general, aid organizations do not have to obtain prior written approval to provide assistance, unless they have actual knowledge that the beneficiary was formerly affiliated with a terrorist group.

“USAID told the USAID OIG that the key phrase in the clause is that the implementer ‘affirmatively knows’ the individuals have been formerly affiliated with the terrorist groups, as there is no vetting requirement if there is no such knowledge about beneficiaries’ affiliations,” the report reads.

If the organization does have “affirmative” knowledge that a potential beneficiary was formerly affiliated with a terrorist organization, then it is required to inform USAID, and the agency would then decide if providing that individual with assistance would be consistent with U.S. law, according to the report.

“USAID reported that it does not view the clause as a blanket prohibition on providing assistance to formerly affiliated persons, but as a means of complying with U.S. law, including terrorist sanctions,” it reads.

The agency also disputed reports that the new anti-terror clause has already had a negative impact on assistance efforts in Nigeria. While the news report suggested implementers have responded to the provision by limiting their operations to legally safer areas, USAID told the State Department watchdog it has not heard complaints to that effect from its partners.

“In the two years that the clause has been included in agreements, implementers have not reported to USAID any significant impact from the clause,” the report reads.

“Over this period, USAID has received only two requests to provide humanitarian assistance to groups or individuals known to be formerly affiliated with Boko Haram or ISIS-West Africa, and both have been approved,” it adds.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.