Some days ago, the American government released a report that compared the voting habits of the US with other member states at the UN.
The report “Voting Practices in the United Nations 2017” found that of the 93 resolutions voted on at the UN General Assembly in 2017, the world had only voted 31% of the time with the US.
The report showed whereas Israel voted the most with the US (94%), countries like Zimbabwe (14%), Burundi (14%), North Korea (16%), and South Africa (18%) voted with the least coincidence with the US.
The report prompted Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, to warn that those countries which were not voting with the US would lose funding from the American government.
The US contributes 22% to the UN budget, more than any other country. It is also the biggest provider of aid in the world (in sheer numbers, not as proportion of gross domestic product). Haley says the new report shows that the US is simply not reaping adequate returns for its investment.
“When we arrived at the UN last year, we said we would be taking names, and this list of voting records speaks for itself.”
But in keeping with Trump’s “America First” policy, Haley promised that this time, there would be repercussions.
In other words, those countries which are not voting adequately in line with US interests stand to lose.
“President Trump wants to ensure that our foreign assistance dollars - the most generous in the world - always serve American interests, and we look forward to helping him see that the American people are no longer taken for granted,” Haley said.
Is the US entitled to cut funding to countries who voted for causes or resolutions that contradict their interests?
Of course it is. It is their money after all.
Should countries which need the money adjust their voting habits at the UN to receive the necessary assistance?
Of course they can.
But then the Americans and anyone else who provides this “aid” needs to call it by its correct name: extortion.
Can it really be called “aid” if said “assistance” is incumbent on an alignment to US interests?
This is not purely a question relating to the US. It concerns China, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, India, Israel - all countries currently offering “aid” and “assistance” to the African continent.
Shouldn’t their expectations be made public?
Then there is the question of measurement. How will the US measure said “obedience”?
Take Zimbabwe, for instance. In 2017, its deviance came in at 14%; but other countries like Egypt (21%) Botswana (23%) while India and Saudi Arabia voted just 25% of the time in agreement with the US. Will Egypt and Saudi Arabia be punished, too? Considering how important these two nations are for US national security, it is unlikely.
The suggestion that there will be punitive measures for those who don’t follow the US is a threat to bring other nations to toe the line.
But this begs the question: If the US has been repeatedly shunned at the UN by so many countries for at least the last decade (the report conceded that the world on average only votes around 34% in line with US interests) why has it continued to spend on “international aid”? And this is where it becomes rather interesting.
The US spends around 38% on long-term development aid and 35% on military assistance. Five countries - Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt - receive billions of dollars of military-related aid. Sub-Saharan Africa also receives a large chunk of aid, but most of it goes into economic development and health. To leave the continent now is to relinquish America’s veneer as a global leader.
It’s especially relevant to recall that little has come with altruistic intent; this is true of most countries, not least the US.
It’s worth remembering that American aid on the African continent was designed to counter Soviet influence. Thereafter, it was used to exact influence over African nations or act as a means to protect US security. It continues to parade in this manner, and underestimates the arrival of alternate sources of aid, development and job creation that is fast pulling the continent in new directions.
In essence, US aid will continue regardless of “obedience” or “disobedience”, but will remain as per the requirements of US foreign policy interests. If you are seen as important, it doesn’t matter what you do.
Once more the threats from the US to cut aid signals yet another opportunity for African civil society and governments to rethink some of the biggest trappings of our time: foreign aid.
For one, foreign aid remains characterised by mammoth corruption. Much of the assistance never reaches those in need. We’ve know this for the longest time.
Then, it’s a matter of impact. Whereas there might have been an iota of subtlety in the past, with this administration, the gloves are off.
And since the first utterances of a cut in aid, NGOs across the continent relying on American money began preparing for smaller budgets. It’s 2018, and its unforgivable that whispers still hurt our people.
* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.