Two days ago, I argued that contrary to popular opinion, the said $2 Trillion spent by the United States in Afghanistan in 20 years was not a waste. I noted that if the United States truly spent $2 Trillion in Afghanistan, then, more than $1 Trillion came back to the United States economy, a figure I also believe is a conservative estimate.
However, I think I understand where the belief that it was wasted efforts was coming from, because many outside Afghanistan had loftier dreams for Afghanistan than the Afghans themselves. But above all, I appreciate the fact that many people do not understand the politics of foreign aid.
It is my considered view that the best effort so far to divulge the politics and economics of foreign aid was by the Zambian enfant terrible economist, Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa’.
That book ‘marked her’ and attracted so much opprobrium from the west and many Africans within the multilateral development finance institutions.
It is quite interesting that some of her ideas were stolen (by same Africans that condemned her) in foundational principles of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA), but that is a story for another day. But her criticisms touched some right chords and forced some hands in that regard. Moreso, it influenced a lot of China’s approach to foreign aid in Africa.
So while working on something else, someone who read my take on the issue but could not join the discussion because of the sensitivity of his profession reached out inbox where we had a long discussion on the issue, especially as it concerns Africa.
He agreed with my take, and sent me the full report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction breaking down that the US invested roughly $946 billion between 2001 and 2021.
An aspect of the Report that caught my attention showed that of that $946 billion, fully $816 billion, or 86%, went to military outlays for US troops. And the Afghan people saw little of the remaining $130 billion, with $83 billion going to the Afghan Security Forces.
Another $10 billion or so was spent on drug interdiction operations, while $15 billion was for US agencies operating in Afghanistan. That left a meager $21 billion in “economic support” funding.
Yet even much of this spending left little if any development on the ground, because the programs actually “support counterterrorism; bolster national economies; and assist in the development of effective, accessible, and independent legal systems.”
It is like where the Japanese government donated $2 million for primary healthcare project in Liberia, and it got huge media attention, but it came with a caveat to purchase 10 Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs at $80k each, that is $800k out of $2 million. By the time salaries and other contingencies are taken care of, you may not even see a single functional health centre from that project.
Reading through the Report reminded me of Nigeria’s expenses in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They told us $12 Billion, but no report anywhere to explain how the man that they were eulogizing his nation building credentials during his 80th birthday dispensed such huge amount.