US aid agency cancels $470m Tanzania aid project

A US government aid agency has cancelled a $470m aid project in Tanzania in protest over perceived suppression of democratic rights, an extremely rare use of such a sanction by Washington. 

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, an independent foreign aid agency which uses adherence to democratic principles as one of its core eligibility criteria, said the March 20 election inZanzibar, a semi-autonomous group of Tanzanian islands, “was neither inclusive nor representative”.

Zanzibar’s vote was a re-run of October’s presidential election on the archipelago that was annulled halfway through the count after the regional electoral commission said there had been widespread fraud. The opposition Civic United Front claimed the cancellation was because their candidate had won. 

The CUF boycotted the re-run, which the incumbent Ali Mohamed Shein won with 91 per cent of the vote. The US and EU did not attend his inauguration last week, having expressed strong reservations about Zanzibar’s electoral process.

The move by the MCC to revoke the funding package is the first time in four years that Washington has issued such a sanction. The Tanzanian government has not issued a formal reaction to the MCC decision but Augustine Mahiga, the foreign minister, was quoted by the BBC as saying he was surprised the aid agency had not taken into account the country’s democratic progress. 

As part of its decision, the MCC also said the Tanzanian government had “not taken measures to ensure freedom of expression and association are respected in the implementation of the Cybercrimes Act”. 

One of the people arrested under the act during last year’s election was Hamad Masoud Hamad, a senior CUF communications official. It is not clear what he was charged with. Mark Childress, the US ambassador to Tanzania, had said the use of the act “inhibited fundamental freedoms of expression and association”. 

On Tuesday Mr Childress said he fully supported the MCC decision but added: “As Tanzania’s largest bilateral development partner, we will continue our work together to improve health and education, promote economic growth, and advance security.” 

The MCC money was to be spent mainly on improving rural electrification. It was a follow-up to a $700m programme awarded in 2008. 

Since coming to power in last October’s election, John Magufuli, Tanzania’s national president, has won plaudits for his attempts to crack down on corruption and improve governance. 

However, Ahmed Salim, a regional analyst with Teneo Intelligence, said the US had little choice but to act after being so outspoken in the wake of the October election. 

“The US government position from the get-go was that a political settlement should be reached and when there wasn’t one it had to do something,” he said. 

He said the repetition of such sanctions in other countries would depend on the size of each agreement, or compact. “If it’s a small compact they can’t leverage it much but if it’s as big as this one then they might do it again,” he said. 

The MCC, which was established in 2004 and has projects in 45 countries, has deferred renewing a project with Lesotho over governance issues but has yet to cancel it.

Tags: africa, aid, cancellation, presidential election, tanzania, united states
Posted in Africa, Funds, Funds