from Africa in Transition

U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Mali

May 20, 2013

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At the Mali Donors Conference in Brussels on May 15 the United States announced $32 million in new humanitarian assistance to support Malian refugees in neighboring countries and to the internally displaced. The same day, the U.S. Department of State spokesman said that the Obama administration will request from Congress $180 million in FY 2014 for bilateral assistance. That funding would kick-in after the Mali elections, scheduled to take place in July.

As required by U.S. law, the Obama administration terminated or suspended $188 million in assistance to Mali following the coup in March, 2012. However, the U.S. continued to provide $7 million in democracy assistance programing and $83 million in health support. With the additional $32 million pledged at Brussels, the press spokesman said the United States will be providing $181 million in humanitarian assistance—almost the same amount that had been suspended post-coup. The figures add up to only $122 million; either the he misspoke or did not mention other U.S. assistance.

Given Mali’s high profile and ongoing humanitarian disaster, U.S. assistance—both humanitarian now and bilateral after the Malian elections—is very small. But, total U.S. foreign assistance hovers around only 1 percent of the federal budget, though a November 2010 World Public Opinion Poll indicates that the “average” American thinks that it is around one quarter.

The July elections and the restoration of constitutional government will make Mali eligible for the projected $180 million in assistance in FY 2014. That may be a significant motivation for the calling of elections in July, which many observers believe to be unwise. Election preparations have hardly started, and security is not yet established in the northern part of the country. Poor elections dominated by southern politicians risk further splitting the country. Africa Confidential has a good overview of the current state of Mali’s politics and the arguments against early elections.