Samantha Power to head USAID in boost to Africa projects

President-elect Joe Biden is to nominate Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the UN, as head of USAID, with a seat on the National Security Council.

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Image : Manuel ELIAS/AFP

US President-elect Joe Biden is to appoint experienced ambassador Samantha Power as head of development agency USAID in a potential boost to its capabilities in Africa.  

In an expanded role, Power, who served as the US ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration from 2013-17, will also sit on the National Security Council, subject to Senate confirmation.  

“As USAID Administrator she will work with our partners to confront the Covid-19 pandemic, lift up vulnerable communities, fight for the value of every human being, and advance American ideals and interests around the globe,” President-elect Biden said in a statement.  

The nomination of Power could see a revitalisation of USAID’s mandate in Africa following repeated cuts to the organisation’s budget under President Donald Trump.

This year alone, Trump announced a 22% reduction in the budgets of USAID and the State Department, the fourth year in a row of deep cuts to foreign aid spending. The President’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 for the Department of State and USAID amounted to $41bn, including $19.6bn in funds USAID fully or partially manages.

Trump largely prioritised development programmes in Africa with a strong link to US private sector opportunities, including budgeting $75m for Prosper Africa and $77m for Power Africa. 

The reductions in traditional development have impacted USAID programmes focusing on agriculture, climate change, human rights and health. The 2021 budget request included increases for Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, and regional programmes in the Sahel, but decreased funding to Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda “based on analysis of each country’s self-reliance, strengths and weaknesses.”  

Experienced diplomat 

Power’s diplomatic career includes significant African experience. During her time at the United Nations, Power responded to the Ebola epidemic, negotiated and implement the Sustainable Development Goals and helped to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement.  

But Power’s past experience in Africa was marked by tragedy after her motorcade accidentally hit and killed a seven-year-old boy in Cameroon during a 2016 visit to show US support for the campaign against militant Islamist group Boko Haram. She said she met the boy’s family to offer “profound condolences”.  

From 2009 to 2013, Power served on the National Security Council staff as special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. Prior to her government service, she worked as a journalist reporting from countries including Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. 

“Samantha Power is a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity – challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people,” said Biden. “I know firsthand the unparalleled knowledge and tireless commitment to principled American engagement she brings to the table, and her expertise and perspective will be essential as our country reasserts its role as a leader on the world stage.” 

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