Open Letter to President-elect Trump: Reinventing Foreign Aid

Dear Mr. President Elect Trump,

I write to congratulate you on your election as president of the United States. As you prepare for your inauguration, please consider this foreign policy recommendation from an African refugee that will help make our world a safer place.

Unlike immigrants who choose to come to America, many refugees uprooted by wars and forced to seek refuge in America desire to return to their native countries when a safe environment exists. We love and miss our generally warmer weather, beautiful evergreen forests, welcoming beaches, fresh rivers, and magnificent streams.

What if governments and philanthropists in Western countries currently investing in refugee resettlement also considered investing in reverse refugee resettlement? What if refugees were sent on a voluntary basis from the west to the post-conflict African countries they once fled?

What if returning refugees were then given access to resources and economic incentives such as visa waivers, zero interest loans, duty-free privileges, tax breaks, and waivers of business registration fees?

What if Western taxpayers rethink foreign aid, aiming instead to produce economic growth by tapping into patriotism, family connections, and the entrepreneurial spirit of refugees in Western countries?

What if a new collaboration between governments in post-conflict African countries and the Western nations in which refugees are exiled resulted in a refugee-led revitalization of the private sector, promoting reconciliation and democratic change in war-ravaged countries?

What if?

For nearly half a century, despite being well-intentioned, investments in peacekeeping, refugee resettlement, and foreign aid for war-ravaged African countries have resulted in unstable democracies and failing economies.

For example, despite the huge, decades-long investments of international partners in Liberia, the country is still dangerously volatile, both economically and democratically. Two competing currencies and out of control inflation have tempted the Liberian government to unilaterally take 25 percent of remittances sent to local families through Moneygram and Western Union and convert it to local currency.

The Liberian government then pays teachers and other employees a significant amount in the local Liberian currency but charges all taxes, duties, and fees in US Dollars. A Liberian marriage license alone costs US$75 for the single page application form. An additional US$75 license fee means marriage, along with other basic human rights, is simply too expensive and thus unattainable for most citizens. No wonder the Liberian people are angry!

Instead of allowing the inalienable rights of franchise of citizens, the current President of Liberia usurps the authority of the people. She appoints governors of all political subdivisions, cabinet ministers, heads and board members of public corporations, supreme court justices, traditional chiefs, and mayors of every city in Liberia!

Mr. President-elect, have you ever wondered why Africa is stuck in endless instability? When the power to elect mayors and councilmen who impose taxes and fines, ensure the collection of waste, set marriage license fees have been usurped by the president, endless instability, and abject poverty are the results!

Because of the paralyzing outcome of this ridiculously centralized system of governance, corruption is endemic in Liberia. The Liberian president, a Nobel Laureate with international praises, wields more power than President Obama, the Pope, and Queen Elizabeth!

Without democracy, post-conflict countries often become magnets for terrorism. In Africa, countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia look great on reports from non-profit organization. In reality, they are nothing but time bombs accelerated by Western taxpayer dollars which enrich the corrupt ruling elites under the guise of foreign aid.

Mr. President-elect, isn’t the time ripe for the world to open the floodgates of innovation in waging peace, promoting democracy, and reinventing foreign aid by tapping into the potentials of resilient refugees in Western nations?

There are millions of culturally competent former refugees in Western nations who are yearning to return to their native post-conflict countries. Investing in the repatriation of this real ‘peace corps’ of refugees to engage in the revitalization of the private sector is an innovative and worthwhile solution to a growing international problem.

Though experimental, investing in refugee resettlement has proven to pay off in Western nations. According to Chmura Economics and Analytics, “refugee service agencies in Cleveland, Ohio invested about 4.8 million dollars” in refugee resettlement. Soon after, Cleveland netted a 48-million-dollar return on their investment as entrepreneurial refugees engaged in successful business ventures.

If investment in refugee resettlement pays off in America, why not conduct a similar social experiment in Africa, a place largely ravaged by war and corruption but wholly deserving of peace and democracy?

I thank you for your kind consideration of my foreign policy recommendation.

Good Luck and Best Regards.

Featured photo by MM/ JRS

A pastor and human rights activist, Torli was instrumental in lobbying with US congressmen and policymakers to increase the quota of refugees from Africa being allowed into the US. He has also worked tirelessly in the New England region and beyond to champion the rights of refugees and immigrants. His organization, Universal Human Rights International, worked with thousands of immigrants from 38 different countries over the span of 20 years. He has been honored by the National Peace Corps Association and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

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