US slashing foreign aid implies ‘every man for himself’

Just last week, the US President Donald Trump pledged to cut foreign budget to overseas assistance offered through the corridors of humanitarian agencies around the world. This is essentially in the spirit of ensuring “America first”, which he declared on his inauguration day.

Just last week, the US President Donald Trump pledged to cut foreign budget to overseas assistance offered through the corridors of humanitarian agencies around the world. This is essentially in the spirit of ensuring “America first”, which he declared on his inauguration day.

Of course, making your own country first is an ideal belief anyone can proudly and confidently say. This noble belief is indisputably seen as a sign of patriotism.

 

But slashing foreign aid budget, as President Trump promised, sounded wintry in the minds of many Americans, but mostly non-Americans or to the countries that depend heavily on US aid.

 

In the same spirit, President Trump said; “I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold, and daring things for our country. I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment. Believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America.”

 

The rationale for slashing the foreign aid budget, as Trump noted, is to increase the US military budget. In particular, he plans to increase military spending by $54 billion and slashing roughly the same amount from non-defence programmes.

And foreign aid, which accounts for roughly 1% of the federal budget, is expected to be high on the list of areas to cut. This includes military aid, debt relief, funds for long-term development programmes, and also emergency aid.

No doubt, today, the USA is the biggest donor to global humanitarian crises in terms of financial contributions. But, from a human rights perspective, the developed nations, including the USA, have a moral and legal obligation to help people who are in dire situation (e.g. refugees).

When I was reading this story it was a reminiscence of my High School days where we had a slogan that “every man for himself; and God for us all”. Indeed, I looked back nostalgically to my High School days, where that slogan was so common to every student.

Today, it is depicted in President Trump’s speeches. In a normal context, the slogan implies that everyone is duty-bound to fight for his or her own survival. In other words, it bespeaks to a stiff competition in a general sense.

In a particular sense, academically, at first we studied together and tried to help each other towards exams, but in the exam period everyone had to toil and struggle alone to pass the exam. Impliedly, everyone, as a matter of practice, has to strive for the best result possible and without helping one another.

It doesn’t per se mean encouraging selfishness or meanness, it rather means that at a critical moment people have to carry their own load. God has a plan for all of us, but He expects us to do our share of the work.

Nonetheless, it is for us to work harder and harder for prosperity and give ourselves hope and a future.

It is against that background that a critical question sprung to my mind: what can be done for Rwanda and Africa, at large, to be self-reliant? First and foremost, it is important to know that no one cares about you than yourself. It is equally true to say no one knows what is best for you than yourself.

“Every man for himself” slogan is well accommodated in the principle of home-grown solutions spelt out in Article 10 of the Rwandan Constitution of 2003 revised in 2015.

The principle requires Rwandans, among others, to oftentimes strive for solutions for their own challenges.

More specifically, this can be seen in Article 48 of the Constitution, which says “all Rwandans have the duty to participate in the development of the country through their dedication to work, safeguarding peace, democracy, equality and social justice as well as to participate in the defence of their country.”

Most notably, the concept of ‘Made-in-Rwanda’, which seeks to promote the consumption of locally-made products, is a solution to imbalance of trade or import surplus challenge. To achieve the increase of exports or a more favourable balance of trade, there is need for the support of everyone. Of course, Made-in-Rwanda isn’t the only strategy to turn all things around but is one of the strategies to obviate the need for heavy reliance on foreign aid.

At African level, ‘every man for himself’ is equally achievable through the proposed AU reforms aiming at sustainable financing of the AU activities, especially with respect to the maintenance of peace and security across the continent.

This is not a chimera! Just as the saying goes, ‘where there’s will there’s a way’. It is doable and achievable. However, it requires the genuine commitment of all African countries.

As the concept of sustainable financing of the AU activities was developed from Africa and by Africans, it has to be shored up by Africans themselves. African countries must live up to this commitment in order to achieve self-reliance. Once donors slash financial aid, Africa may not look like a fish out of water.

The writer is an international law expert.

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