• Want to See a USG Plan for Infrastructure Development? (Not in the US)

    September 24, 2012

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    Posted in: Iraq

    One of the issues in the current presidential election is the role of government in creating infrastructure as a path to economic prosperity and job creation. One side argues it requires government to build roads and dams, and another claims government should get out of the way and allow the free market to do what is needed.

    Yet despite the robust debate, once you move the issue abroad both the Republicans and the Democratics are of one mind: use US tax dollars to build infrastructure, build it big, in Afghanistan, as a way to create jobs and grow that economy.

    We’ll leave the discussion of whether developing the Afghan economy will actually address the problems driving the insurgency (OK, OK, it won’t: a US occupying army and a corrupt Karzai government are much larger drivers of instability than poverty) for later. What is clear is two-fold: the US believes spending big on infrastructure is the way to go, and USAID and its universe of contractors live on a fantasy planet of unicorns and fairy dust when they make their plans.

    We (Heart) Nangarhar

    Have a look at the USAID-sponsored NANGARHAR INC BUSINESS PLAN – MAR 08, outlining plans to spend billions of US taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The whole thing is worth your time to browse through, if only to give you an idea of how far out in space these people are. They are not only out of touch with reality, they are not even in cell phone range; no bars, baby.

    Right in the intro we learn that Nangarhar seems to be different than the Afghan places we otherwise hear about. It has “A progress oriented Provincial Government,” and is “One of the most secure provinces in all of Afghanistan” and sets “The national standard for successful counter-narcotics efforts.” Sounds like a real estate agent selling swamp land in central Florida.

    The real estate agent forgot to tell you about the September 4 suicide bomber in Nangarhar who killed 25 civilians and wounded another 30 at a funeral for a village elder. Or how in July insurgents put mines in a school and destroyed six classrooms. The provincial governor is sort of pro-American, even as he is described as corrupt and vindictive by his own people. His predecessor was a warlord and poppy grower, and is now a Kabul politician.

    A more sober description of Nangarhar states that following the “ban on poppy cultivation farmers were promised alternative livelihoods. But these promises were not fulfilled… (a less authoritative source claimed “the eradication program has often left peasant farmers destitute and, in 2006, farmers were reported to have surrendered their children to opium dealers in payment on their debts.”) there is a lack of coordination between different NGOs working in the province and between NGOs and government departments… a lack of human and financial resources in government departments due to low salary and incentives compared to the NGO sector… security issues hinder development activities… a lack of trust between government departments and the public and misconceptions about NGOs and their work… corruption, nepotism and favoritism in government departments.”

    Wasted Away Again in Wonkaville

    And so it is not surprising that the goals for this USG business plan are equally stuck in Wonkaville: Nangarhar will become “One of Central and South Central Asia’s premier commercial and logistics centers… most technologically advanced center for value-added production, processing, and distribution… Afghanistan’s leading development environment, fostering both public and private investment returns… with Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s highest rate of region-wide investment recapitalization, with Central and South Central Asia’s most highly skilled labor force measured by productivity per capita… Central Asia’s benchmark for socially responsible economic development, harmonizing public and private capital ventures within the overarching framework of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.”

    All it was going to take in the 2008 acid-riddled minds of the report’s writers was money.

    Lots of money.

    Billions and billions of US tax dollars.

    The report advocated that USAID provide Nangarhar with $35 million worth of generators to hold them over until the $290 million hydroelectric plants and the $10 million worth of solar panels came on line (while the solar debate rages in America, it is concluded overseas for the USG). Some of that electrical power will be needed for a $21 million cold storage network that will wipe out the inefficiencies of small family farms in favor of US-scale mega-agribusiness. $82 million is requested for an airport. Check out the “culturally aware” airport terminal design on page 42 of the report, with its Islamic crescent and Afghan-kite themed architecture. Despite the reality that Afghanistan at the time had no operating rail infrastructure, $650 million was planned to build railroads. $182 for roads and bridges for the cars Afghans don’t own.

    It goes on and on, 62 pages of spending, with many projects marked as already underway.

    So What Happened?

    It can be pretty hard to tell what has and has not been accomplished in Nangarhar, or anywhere else in Afghanistan for all the cash dropped. USAID has an eleven page summary of accomplishments that reads like a freshman’s desperate effort at resume writing. Have a look; the “fact sheet” is full of words like “enabled” and “upgraded” and “supported” but never actually gives you much of a picture of things. Exhibits have been held, women empowered and elders met, but it remains very unclear if any of 2008’s lofty goals have even been approached, never mind met. Maybe USAID intended the document to read that way.

    The bottom line is that reconstruction spending in Afghanistan continues to happen. While America’s politicians debate whether or not our government has a role to play in rebuilding America’s own infrastructure even as it corrodes around them, they seem to have no issues with spending billions and billions of US taxpayer dollars on fool’s gold abroad.

    So Here’s an Idea

    I think we should reconstruct America. Please say this to every politician and political candidate you run across:

    For me to give you my vote, do this: for every school, home and road we build in Afghanistan, build two here in America.

    When the politician says we can’t pay for that, tell’em to pay for it exactly the same way they pay for it overseas. When they say we can’t do that because it’s unfair, or unequal or socialism, tell’em to do it here for whatever the heck reason justified it over there. When they say we had to spend the money abroad to defend America, just smile at ‘em and say that building jobs in America defends America better than anything abroad. Make them respond to all that.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Mary said...


      It always puzzles and pains me when I read about the gov’t building health clinics in other countries. Why not here, too?

      09/24/12 2:35 PM | Comment Link

    • Daniel said...


      You hit the nail on the head!!! Excellent points!

      09/25/12 2:15 AM | Comment Link

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