Founded in 2004, the Millennium Challenge Corp. is funded by the U.S. government, but it’s a truly international development assistance agency.
“All contracts for grants are internationally bid, and are open to all U.S. companies,” said Jonathan Saiger, the MCC’s senior director of infrastructure for East and South Africa. Their common denominator: MCC-sponsored projects support local policies and programs aimed at achieving sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. Of the MCC’s 23 signed “compacts” — multiyear agreements with eligible countries — 13 are with African countries, spanning the continent and totaling nearly $5.5 billion.
The diverse projects are tailored to the needs and capabilities of each country. In Ghana, for example, the MCC’s $547 million compact recently completed one of that country’s most significant infrastructure projects: a critical section of the N1 highway, which connects Ghana’s international airport and its two deep-water seaports (Tema and Takoradi) with its key agricultural production zones.
Other MCC projects in Ghana created more than 1,200 farmer-based organizations, training more than 66,000 farmers in commercial agriculture; and spent $6 million for the Tamale water extension project, which supplied safe drinking water to 18 communities by eradicating the Guinea Worm and other water-related infectious diseases.
“It is one of the most creative programs since the Marshall Plan,” said Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa.
Before a country can become eligible for an MCC compact, it must “demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom as measured by different policy indicators.”
Beyond its expertise in managing specific projects, the MCC helps recipient countries define and manage key processes so they become sustainable over the long-term, and the lessons learned on specific projects are transferrable to other projects in the future.
“MCC is effective in fighting poverty,” said Stephen Lande, president of Washington-based consultant Manchester Trade. No one disagrees with that view, but “its objectives should be broadened to provide a stronger role for the private sector.” MCC is the only program that gives out money overseas but doesn’t involve any requirements to buy U.S. products. “MCC should take into account U.S. commercial interests,” Lande added.
While praising MCC for its achievements, some observers argue its focus on meeting the needs of specific countries — rather than working across regions — limits its effectiveness at a time when Africa needs to build a cost-effective transportation and logistics infrastructure that pays no respect to the irrational borders so often imposed on Africa during the colonial era.
Contact Alan M. Field at email@example.com.