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Trump slashes financial aid to Kenya’s health sector in budget proposals

By Dominic Omondi | Published Sat, March 18th 2017 at 15:41, Updated March 18th 2017 at 15:46 GMT +3
President Donald Trump looks over towards Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, left, after signing an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on March 13, 2017. Trump signed “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch”. [PHOTO: AP]

The US President Donald Trump’s first budget will hit Kenya hard if his proposals are approved. The Republican, who rode on the wave of making America great again, has proposed to cut foreign aid by a third.

In what is a signal to tough times ahead for the country, Mr Trump wants to slash funding to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal agency which funds a big chunk of Kenya’s healthcare including the fight against HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

He also proposes to cut funding to the United Nations, a confirmation of his earlier pronouncements that the world’s largest economy carried the most burden of financing the international body.

According to Reuters, Mr Trump proposed a 28 percent budget cut for diplomacy and foreign aid, which includes an unspecified reduction in financial support for the United Nations and its agencies, as well as enforcement of a 25 per cent cap on US funding for peacekeeping operations.

Trump’s budget proposal suggests a cut of roughly one third of foreign assistance including programmes that provide humanitarian support for refugees, fight conditions and diseases such as HIV and AIDS and malaria, improves access to education and nutritious food, and helps developing countries adapt to climate change.

The former real estate billionaire who promised to get rid of any expenditure he believed was unnecessary, proposed a 28 per cent budget cut to USAID, a situation that is likely to leave policymakers scratching their heads on how to steady the healthcare sector that has already been rocked by a scandal of impropriety.

In 2015, Kenya received close to $941 million (Sh97 billion), which, besides healthcare, went into refugees and programmes aimed at shoring up resilience and economic growth in the ASALs (arid and semi-arid lands). Unfortunately, the funds were reduced further to $511 million (Sh52.6 billion) in 2015 and might shrink further this year.

The Government of Kenya has been one of the greatest partners of USAID receiving as much as Sh5.9 billion from the agency. Other recipients include NGOs and UN agencies such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Counter-terrorism

Besides healthcare, other programmes that are likely to be affected should Trump’s far-reaching proposals sail through US Congress include Linda Nchi project in Somalia in which Kenya is battling the militant group Al Shabaab through a reduction in funding to the United Nations, a critical financier of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Just after he had ascended to power, Trump aides were reportedly questioning the essence of Kenya’s involvement in the fight against Al Shabaab in what signaled a possible shift by Washington on Kenya’s counter-terrorism programme. One of the questions drawn up by Trump’s advisers was: “We’ve been fighting Al-Shabaab for a decade, why haven’t we won?”

At the time, Government spokesperson Erick Kiraithe responded to the queries: “We are at war with Al-Shabaab. We appreciate the support the US has given us and we will be keen as partners in regional security if he (Trump) added more impetus to that war and even deliver a killer blow.”

The US is the biggest contributor to the United Nations, paying 22 percent of the $5.4 billion (Sh556 billion) core budget and 28.5 percent of the $7.9 billion (Sh813 billion) peacekeeping budget.

The proposals also seek to scrap a number of independent agencies, including the US African Development Foundation, the US Trade and Development Agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the United States Institute of Peace all of which are active in Kenya.

The proposal also states that food aid, disaster, and refugee assistance cuts would be reduced as the US “focus funding on the highest priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share.”

The UN through its Secretary General Antonio Guterres has already come out strongly against the proposal arguing that the abrupt cut will greatly affect the global body’s functions which include among others, peace-keeping. “In many areas, the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement, as reported by international news agency Reuters.

“Abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” said Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

It is not very clear whether these controversial proposals will see the light of the day, given the partisan nature of the US Congress. Already, civil society groupings such as Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) have condemned the proposals arguing that they hurt the globe’s poor.

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