Publicity-hungry USAID officials are tarnishing America’s image overseas. They are doing so by requiring needy countries to first request assistance (which is humiliating enough) and then stage ceremonies in which those in need must pose with, smile and publicly “thank” the wonderful United States for its generosity. USAID officials are also tarnishing America’s image overseas by insisting that obnoxious USAID labels and large American flags be placed on all aid sacks and containers. It is not sufficient to state that the aid came from the United States, that message has to be shouted out.
The people of the United States have been very generous with foreign aid over the decades. Unfortunately that aid has not generated a comparable amount of good will. Part of the problem lies within USAID which seems to have no clear understanding regarding whether it is providing aid primarily for humanitarian reasons, or to primarily to enhance the image of the United States. At the present time, the latter seems to be the primary goal.
We begin with the fact that American aid to foreign countries comes with a bizarre “thank you” price tag. USAID manifests this through a seeming obsession with photo opportunities and self congratulatory promotions. It has laced the Internet with hundreds or perhaps even thousands of publicity shots of its Administrator Rajiv Shah, for whom the agency has generated almost a cult of personality. Second to him in importance are publicity shots of American aid being received by foreign recipients as recipients assume dutiful poses of thanks to their USAID benefactors. A small number of such photos are set out in this article. These events do not cast the United States in a good light. There is no rational reason for public “thank-you” ceremonies. Such events do more harm than good, but USAID has made these ceremonies a requirement that all aid recipients must adhere to.
In Title 22 of the U.S. Federal Code of Regulations, Section 226.91(d), USAID sets out the rules for all its events. It reads that recipients “should display” USAID signs and banners.
“In circumstances in which the USAID Identity cannot be displayed visually, recipients are encouraged otherwise to acknowledge USAID and the American people’s support.”
In essence, aid recipients are “encouraged” to publicly thank the United States.
Section 226.91(c)(1) requires recipients to insert language into any materials they use stating that this was all:
“made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development.”
USAID directs foreign recipients to refer to USAID’s assistance as “generous.”
Section 226.91(a) is the most comical of the provisions. USAID mandates that its logo and American flag must be placed on all commodities, products and other materials that USAID provides as aid, and that the USAID identity must be “of a size and prominence equivalent to or greater than the recipient’s, other donors or third parties.” Luckily, all parties are not so vain, otherwise each would be spending all their time attempting to increase the prominence of their logo on the food supplies and the supplies would never get delivered.
USAID has published a complex “Graphic Standards Manual” which details the various USAID logos, brand marks, banners, signage, backdrops, plaques and promotional materials, and how each should be used. Tens of millions of U.S. tax dollars are spent each year on logos, photos and “thank-you America” events. No one within the Obama Administration seems to be asking whether there is any value in these efforts.
There is no question that photographs depicting the actual distribution and use of American aid are appropriate. In addition, ribbon-cutting ceremonies for major USAID construction or development projects is an exception as the host government would likely have had such a ceremony anyway. That should be limit of any “thank you” events.
Overall, America’s public aid diplomacy should be conducted with less Hollywood hype. A low key aid program without the public (and degrading) “Thank You” gestures by recipients and host governments might promote a better image of the United States overseas.