U.S. Foreign Assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa: A Snapshot of Previous U.S. Priorities and Recommendations for the Obama Administration

November 30, 2008


After decades of low and volatile growth, economic performance in Sub-Saharan Africa markedly improved over the last decade. Across the region, countries have been growing at average rates exceeding five percent; and as Sub-Saharan Africa sees more democratic elections and fewer conflicts, the continent could be poised for sustained long-term growth. In the near term, however, increasing stability and prosperity could be challenged by the current global financial crisis. While the region (outside of South Africa) may well be insulated from direct shocks since its financial flows are relatively less connected to global financial markets, many African economies will experience indirect impacts through changes in commodity prices and a deceleration of development investments.

Calls for increasing the effectiveness of development aid will likely become more amplified as recipients and donors alike seek to ensure that current investments yield greater impacts. Recipient countries, donor governments, and global antipoverty coalitions will be paying close attention to see whether the Obama administration will honor the United States’ standing development commitments in Sub-Saharan Africa despite pressing financial constraints. To do so will not only lay down a marker on the importance of following through on international commitments and catalyze other donors to follow suit, it will also serve as a bold statement highlighting the direct connection between economic growth in Africa and U.S. values, interests, and security. The current presidential transition offers an opportune moment to reflect on U.S. foreign assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa. What were the Bush administration’s priorities? How did they differ from the Clinton administration that preceded it? And ultimately, how can the Obama administration reinforce strengths and fill gaps that have emerged?