THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Don Lotter was a senior lecturer in development studies at
St. John’s University of Tanzania from2011 to 2016. He has
a Ph.D. in agriculture from the University of California-
Davis, and has been involved in crop production for food
security and the development of cooking fuels fromagricultural waste to
slow the destruction of Tanzania’s forests for charcoal.
espite the best of intentions,
trillions of dollars in Western
foreign aid have failed to pull sub-
Saharan Africa out of poverty—
much less put the continent on
a development trajectory similar
to the one many Asian and Latin
American countries have success-
fully followed for decades. Here
I propose a different approach to development assistance in
Africa—redirecting aid flows to developing U.S.-run university
programs, initially within existing African universities. Online
education would be the core mode, greatly reducing costs.
This proposal has several advantages over current practice.
First, and most important, building U.S. educational programs
and institutions on the continent is the most efficient way to
Time for Plan B?
Fifty years and trillions of dollars of foreign aid has yet to put the African continent
on a real growth trajectory. Here’s a suggestion for a change in focus.
BY DON LOTTER
help establish the foundation for Africans to build their societ-
ies on their own terms. At the same time, however, it is argu-
ably a very effective way to compete with China in Africa.
Beijing is already building universities in Ethiopia and
Malawi, and funding existing schools in South Africa, to win
the hearts and minds of future African leaders. Yet the United
States still has the best system of higher education in the world,
which is why students flock to our colleges from all over the
Scope of the Problem
The failure of development aid to date is easy to see in
Tanzania, where I recently taught at a small university in the
country’s central region. After 50 years of projects and pro-
grams, this area still suffers from food insecurity, malnutrition,
maternal anemia and stunting of children’s growth, as well as
dismal education standards, poor agricultural productivity and
endemic corruption. The same pattern exists across much of
African counties commonly derive some 50 percent of
their government budgets from foreign aid. This is a recipe
for dependency and for bloated governments that maintain
a small percent of the population at high incomes, yet fail to