Need for more transparency in US project funding in Bangladesh

Bangladesh always has had good terms with the US and is one of the largest recipients of US government and private aid. But as the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region becomes heated, it has brought in its wake  diverse interests that Bangladesh is not ready to cater to as yet.

Shafiqul Elahi Jan 04, 2023
US funds in Bangladesh

Almost all developed countries have their own schemes to share their economic capabilities and capacities with the developing and least developed countries. Such schemes are in common parlance called 'funding'. The United States of America, as the world's largest economy,  has funding projects worldwide. As a part of its public diplomacy, the US funds scholarships, community development projects, advocacy projects, and rights movements. 

But this funding is quite often not as benign as one expects them to. Often they are vehicles to maximize US national interests and have malign objectives attached to them. Some funding patterns in Bangladesh also suggest the same.

Types of funding

Generally, foreign funding comes under the labels of cooperation, humanitarian assistance, aid, and goodwill. All funding has its underlying objectives and interests. In international relations, funding is perceived as a smart tool for projecting a country's soft power. As the role of soft power became important after the end of the Cold War, different tools emerged to harness a country's soft power.

In an era of globalization, funding has emerged as an efficient tool for the US to globalize liberal values and Western norms. Such globalization of its norms and values helps it to strengthen its global hegemony and maintain status quo in the international order.

But in the internal context of the recipient state, it serves an even bigger purpose. Funding is an effective tool for donor states in wielding coercive power over a nation's domestic affairs. It can be a vehicle to subvert and even topple a government by fueling dissent among citizens, and create cultural hegemony.

Politics of US funding

Funding comes in various forms ranging from scholarships, innovation funds, to donations. During the Cold War, the US used to fund dissidence forces on foreign soil. Funding also helped the US to topple or coerce governments worldwide. CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt's memoir revealed how only $75000 helped the US to stage a coup in Iran in 1953 to topple the Mossadegh government. Kermit, the grandson of US president Theodore Roosevelt, allegedly used the money to arrange dinner parties, meetings, contacts within the government, and manipulative demonstrations.

Even after the Cold War, the US continued to pursue this strategy. After 9/11, the US successfully vilified Islam through the 'War on Terror' funding. The pervasive Islamophobia in Western societies is the product of such funding. 

Beyond the West, US advocacy projects and support for LGBTQ communities are also challenging distinctive cultural roots, especially in the Arab world and Islamic society. Such conflicts of culture are allowing the US to create cultural hegemony over these societies.

In an ideal world funding is a natural extension of global cooperation, but in reality it is often weaponized to maximize interest of donor states.

Fund politics and Bangladesh

Bangladesh always has had good terms with the US and is one of the largest recipients of US government and private aid. But as the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region becomes heated, it has brought in its wake  diverse interests that Bangladesh is not ready to cater to as yet.

Over the years, methods of funding have also changed substantially. In the era of social media, US funding is aimed at influencers who have the power to influence the masses. Under Fulbright, the US Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) is also said to be working to patronize influencers. This year, two projects have been granted under AEIF. The first one is titled, "Confronting Misinformation in Bangladesh". Under this project, journalists and influencers will be brought together and will work to confront misinformation regarding the next election. At first glance, the aim of the project may seem laudable. But there is no guarantee that with the immense power of public communication, the project would not influence the masses in a way that may  be detrimental to Bangladesh's national interests.

The second project titled "A for Access" is also alarming. The project will work to mainstream the LGBTQA community in the country. LGBTQA is a taboo issue in Bangladeshi society and is seen to be inconsistent with Islamic values. The majority of Bangladeshis do not also support mainstreaming this community. As a result, such a project is an attempt to create a Western influence over traditional culture.

Some other US-funded projects and NGOs are also accused of pushing US interests through their funding. For instance, Democracy International, a USAID NGO, is accused of promoting US foreign policy interests. It has also been accused of irregularities, but enjoys immunity due to its association with USAID.

Without doubt, funding and finance are soft power tools for donor states. Surely, it brings benefits for the recipient also. But the detrimental politics regarding it creates scepticism, especially about the US, considering its long history of manipulation, sabotage, and coercion.

Therefore, funding should be approved by a recipient country after a thorough scrutiny of the original intent. Not all funding has malicious intent. But it is up to the benefactor nation to prove it. The US should also be more straightforward and transparent in its funding to avoid unnecessary speculation and scepticism.

(The author is a retired Bangladesh government official. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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