Question: Has President Obama made any improvements in America’s foreign aid policy?
Josh Ruxin: The Obama administration has so far sounded what I think are some promising notes. During his first trip to Africa, which was very brief, but he wanted to make sure that he sent a signal that Africa is on his radar. It was to Ghana just a couple of months ago. He went there and he essentially said to Africa, “Listen, you need to start to take responsibility for yourselves and corruption cannot stand.” And I think he actually said, “My brother can’t get a job in Kenya unless he pays the appropriate bribes in order to get that job.”
And sadly I think especially in the conservative community in the U.S. people didn’t latch on to that and say this is remarkable the first African-American president is going to Africa and telling them to take responsibility for themselves and that the U.S. will be a key player in reinforcing these lessons and working with those countries that are practicing good governance. That to me is a major break with past administrations, which frankly were probably a little bit sheepish or scared to make a statement like that in Africa, but I think that Obama feels that he has got the political wherewithal to do it and I think that that is just a tremendous step forward in thinking about development.
Now executing on that and really figuring out how can the U.S. rather than just giving old school aid, which his extremely expensive, which finances mainly the beltway bandits in Washington DC, who take massive overheads and both in DC and in their country offices and it’s just a small portion of our tax dollars that actually trickles down to the poor. How can we actually shape up that system, completely reform it? What is it going to take to do that? And Hilary Clinton has actually been vetting a couple different candidates to take over as USAID administrator for some time. Paul Farmer was actually favored for the position though that unfortunately fell apart.
What we really need in Washington heading up USAID is someone who is visionary, who is willing to go in and say business as usual has to end. It’s doesn’t work. We have not made the progress in the lives of the poor that we should have during the past couple of decades. We spent a lot of money and we haven’t gotten great results. But it’s a mixed message because what we need to transmit to the American taxpayer is we actually do need to increase our spending because we’re still not getting the basics right. We’re not getting rid of malaria anytime soon unless a lot more money is spent. We’re not getting rid of AIDS anytime soon unless a lot more money is spent and we’re certainly not doing enough for basic childhood health and maternal health, so we need to spend more money, but we need to do so in a fashion totally different from what we’ve been doing for the last couple of decades.
Recorded on: August 13, 2009