Articles

Below are articles on development happenings, issues, etc. If you have articles that you believe would be of general interest to the UAA membership, please submit them here.

 

 

  • New! Four questions to ask about a bipartisan election commission (WashPost, Larry Garber, August 7, 2020) — Regarding the Aug. 5 editorial “One response to election undermining”:   If the idea of a bipartisan commission is a serious proposal, then work on the details — beyond just recruiting notables — needs to begin immediately. Having worked on organizing such efforts in other countries, I think the timing is challenging but doable, although the following questions must be answered:  1) Would there be any constraints on the role the commissioners could play in the election? Obviously, they could vote and their party affiliations would be apparent, but campaigning or contributing funds to a candidate might compromise their credibility.  2) Upon what evidence would the commission base its assessment? Rather than create a large volunteer apparatus from scratch, the commission could convene a series of pre- and post-election “hearings,” in which groups that are already monitoring aspects of the process would present and be questioned about their findings.  3) What factors should the commission consider in making an assessment? The commission should receive information regarding the whole panoply of fairness issues, but its ultimate judgment should be based on just two factors: Did undue restrictions prevent interested and eligible voters from casting their ballots, and were the ballots tabulated accurately.  4) When should the commission issue its assessment? Given the commission’s role of reassuring the American public, it should be prepared to offer a final assessment only after the adjudication processes are resolved in the various states.
  • New! Opinion: USAID needs an independent accountability office to improve development outcomes (Devex, August 5)– As always, and during this pandemic in particular, many are looking to the U.S. Agency for International Development for the U.S. response to global needs. Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa recently appeared before Congress to discuss foreign assistance priorities for the next fiscal year. He answered questions related to cuts for USAID in the administration’s proposed budget and USAID’s efforts to support the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. What was not discussed — but should be a top priority — is a key outstanding congressional directive to USAID to strengthen accountability for its development activities. The congressional directive creates an opportunity for USAID, and for those concerned with whether USAID’s programs are meeting their objectives, to take overdue action to ensure that the agency understands whether taxpayer money has met its mark. In response to reports of human rights abuses tied to USAID’s support of certain conservation projects, including allegations of torture and rape by ecoguards, Congress, in its explanatory statement for the fiscal year 2020 appropriations legislation, directed USAID to work with its implementers to prevent these abuses from reoccurring.
  • New!  USAID local contractors for women and children’s health (Devex – July 29)–The U.S. Agency for International Development’s new acquisition and assistance strategy emphasizes increased spending with new, underutilized, or local entities and locally established partners. Its goals are to diversify the agency’s partner base from a “relatively small circle of large organizations” and catalyze partner countries’ “journey to self-reliance” by working more directly with groups on the ground. This new strategy is provoking reevaluations by many current and prospective USAID partners. Current U.S.-based partners may view it as a threat or possibly as a competitive differentiator for those with stronger networks of local subcontractors. Those without these networks will likely start building them — the new strategy will track sub-awards to local entities and encourage prime awardees to incorporate local capacity development into their plans.  On the other hand, it will open the market to more local development entities. While USAID has made direct awards to local organizations in the past, this new direction could create a more level playing field in countries where USAID operates.
  • New!  Lawmakers question USAID chief about ‘troubling’ management decisions (Devex, July 24, 2020) — John Barsa, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday to discuss a White House budget proposal that was created before the coronavirus upended the agency’s programs and reshaped its priorities.  Barsa, whose appearance to discuss the budget was likened to “spotting a unicorn” by Committee Chair Rep. Eliot Engel, also faced a barrage of questions about the recent influx of political appointees at the agency whose past statements and positions have sparked an outcry among lawmakers and USAID’s own staff.  “There have been several recent management decisions under your leadership at USAID, and some of those are very troubling to myself and some of my colleagues,” Engel said.  The appointment of Merrit Corrigan as USAID’s newly-appointed deputy White House Liaison received the bluntest criticism, with Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, referring to anti-LGBTQ and other comments she has made as bigoted. In response to concerns about Corrigan and other recent controversial appointees, Barsa repeatedly offered a prepared statement affirming that “all USAID employees, regardless of hiring category, are held to the same high moral, legal and ethical standards that USAID has always had in place.”
  • New!  ‘We need a strong WHO,’ says Trump’s former USAID chief (Devex, July 23, 2020) –The former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development told Devex he was disappointed to see the agency left off the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which President Donald Trump assembled in late January. Mark Green, who now leads the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, announced his resignation from USAID less than two months later, on March 16. His position has since been filled by an acting administrator, John Barsa, who has overseen a tumultuous period in the agency’s history. In addition to the massive disruption to USAID’s programs caused by COVID-19, the agency has been subjected to restrictions on the kinds of health commodities it can provide to other countries — which reportedly hindered its ability to disburse funding — and USAID has emerged as a favored destination for controversial political appointees from the White House. Some of those appointments have drawn letters of protest from USAID staff members, as well as demands that people with histories of discriminatory positions or statements be fired.
  • New! COVID-19 changed the world. Can it change aid too? (The New Humanitarian, July 16, 2020)  As the global reach of the virus was becoming clear in late March and early April, humanitarians were trying to figure out what we could do, bracing for the impact the disease might have on some of the world’s most vulnerable places: refugee camps from Bangladesh to Greece; countries experiencing hunger and poverty amidst ongoing conflict, like Yemen and Mali; nations only starting to pull themselves out of conflict, like Sudan and Somalia. Wealthy countries with powerful states and strong health systems, like China and France, struggled to handle the virus; weaker countries were sure to suffer worse. The aid sector is now working to address these impacts with a $10 billion plan for 63 countries – the largest single appeal in the UN’s history – to support programs from health and sanitation to supplementary feeding and nutrition, mental health, and the prevention of sexual violence.
  • New! Support grows for foreign aid in upcoming COVID-19 emergency bill (Roll Call, July 14, 2020) — The House and the Senate are poised to begin serious negotiations for another emergency coronavirus spending bill — perhaps the last one that gets passed before the November elections. And this one just might include billions of dollars to help other countries cope with the pandemic.  Foreign aid advocates — frustrated at the relative absence of international assistance in previous supplemental coronavirus spending measures — are mounting a full-force effort to ensure this next emergency appropriations bill includes billions of dollars for international vaccine efforts and humanitarian support to cope with the nutrition, health and social welfare consequences of the global pandemic. The effort includes top United Nations officials and dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who have been speaking out and signing bipartisan letters to Senate and House leadership calling for them to support significant foreign aid levels in the upcoming bill.
  • New!  The United States Needs an Early Warning System for Infectious Diseases (Foreign Affairs, Andrew Natsios, July 14, 2020) — Many of the worst famines in the twentieth century—such as the Ukrainian famine of 1932–33 and the Chinese famine of 1959–61—were well underway by the time the outside world became aware of the catastrophe. Then, in 1985, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) developed a cure for this blind spot: the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, better known as FEWS, which has accurately reported most food crises in the past 40 years before they devolved into famines. FEWS uses climate forecasting, nutrition surveys, satellite images, and data about the trade of staple grains and livestock to forecast food insecurity before it happens. It then produces maps of food-insecure areas as well as open-source analyses of brewing problems around the world—resources that make their way into the hands of thousands of development and humanitarian relief professionals who play a role in famine mitigation efforts. In his book Mass Starvation, Alex de Waal, a well-known scholar of famines, tracks famine deaths over the past 150 years. His analysis shows a noticeable decline since the mid-1980s, in part due to FEWS.  To resolve the ongoing problem of disease reporting in autocracies, U.S. policymakers could create an early warning system that applies the lessons of FEWS to pandemics. This Pandemic Early Warning System (PEWS) could serve as a sister mechanism to FEWS within USAID and operate using the agency’s existing emergency response mechanisms.
  • New!  “Completely off-track”:   World hunger numbers rise for the 5th straight year (Devex, July 13, 2020) — The number of hungry people in the world increased by 10 million in 2019 and is expected to spike even higher this year due to the effects of COVID-19, according to the 2020 “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report.  After decades of decline, hunger has increased every year since 2014 — an alarming trend that makes achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2, which calls for zero hunger, by 2030 even more unlikely. “We’re completely off track. When we add to that the situation of COVID-19, it gets significantly worse,” Food and Agriculture Organization Chief Economist Maximo Torero told Devex. “To be on track and to achieve seriously zero hunger, which includes all forms of malnutrition, we clearly need to have access to healthy diets, and today they’re extremely expensive. Three billion people cannot afford them, and they are, of course, the poorest. We need to change that.”
  • New!  U.S. foreign aid agency hit with low morale as White House works to appoint Trump loyalists (Politics, July 10, 2020) — The federal government’s agency for foreign aid, USAID, has seen its morale plummet after several controversial hires. One liaison has supported and has been involved with pushing through multiple controversial political hires that work at or with the agency, including some who have a history of anti-Islamic and LGBT remarks.
  • New!  House boosts foreign aid funding, adds $10B for COVID-19 response (DevexJuly 7, 2020) — The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on Monday released its draft foreign aid bill for fiscal year 2021, including more funding overall, about $10 billion for global COVID-19 response, and specific funds for the World Health Organization.  The bill includes $65.87 billion in funding, an increase of nearly $8.5 billion from the fiscal year 2020 budget and more than $21 billion higher than what President Donald Trump requested in his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal earlier this year.  “The House bill rejects the president’s ‘go it alone’ approach to foreign policy and expresses this committee’s concerns about the timely obligation and prudent expenditure of resources,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, who chairs the appropriations committee and the state and foreign operations subcommittee, at a markup of the bill on Monday. “To ensure that unexpected events do not trigger the conditioning of aid thereby leaving intended beneficiaries vulnerable, this bill provides greater distinction between short-term diplomatic and political initiatives and long-term investments in development,” she added.
  • New! The next transparency challenge for US aid agencies:  Moving from publication to engagement (Brookings, George Ingram – July 7, 2020) — The 2020 Aid Transparency Index brings some good news about the state of aid transparency among a range of different donors. The quality and comprehensiveness of aid data continue to improve, with 11 donors now in the “very good” category and 15 in the “good” category—which means over half the donors in the index are in those top two categories. The biggest issue across all donors, however, was the lack of performance data and information—objectives, results, reviews, and evaluations. Without this information, measuring effectiveness and applying learning becomes even more challenging.  One clear trend is that multilateral organizations have done relatively well, holding down the top six spots on the index. The other clear trend is that agencies with the sole mission of development are more transparent than foreign affairs ministries that house some or all foreign aid functions.  There are five U.S. agencies included in the index. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is in the “very good” category and ranks as the top bilateral agency globally. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also significantly improves its score from the 2018 Index, landing near the top of the “good” category. For the first time, the U.S. State Department is ranked “good.” The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has had uneven performance in the index over the years, slips back into “fair,” and the Department of Defense falls even further back into the “poor” category.
  • New! Arrival of new conflict chief at USAID ratchets up internal tensions (Politico, July 8, 2020) — An influx of political appointees is roiling the aid agency. The arrival of a new political appointee is spawning confusion and concern at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where earlier staff changes have already led to serious internal tensions.  Pete Marocco, who to date has held positions or details at the departments of Defense, State and Commerce under President Donald Trump, has now joined the aid agency, a USAID spokesperson confirmed. His transfer from the Pentagon to the aid agency, which manages roughly $20 billion in foreign aid each year, is being greeted with all the excitement of a root canal.  Marocco left a bitter trail at the Pentagon and in Foggy Bottom, dogged by criticism that he created a toxic work environment by undermining and mistreating career staffers. POLITICO spoke to seven U.S. government officials worried about Marocco’s move to yet another agency, including three who reached out to a reporter independently and two who worked with him directly.  Marocco, who previously was a deputy assistant secretary of defense for Africa affairs, is expected to run USAID’s soon-to-be-established Conflict Prevention and Stabilization bureau, a job that would give him sway over a range of programs designed to help strengthen institutions in fragile states overseas. But the agency has not announced the hire yet, and a USAID spokesperson would say only that his title will be “senior adviser” for now.
  • New! Supreme Court says fight against HIV/AIDS overseas may include policy denouncing prostitution (USA Today, June 29, 2020) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the fight against HIV/AIDS overseas may require foreign groups receiving federal funds to pledge to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking.  Following on their 2013 decision that U.S. organizations cannot be subject to that requirement, the justices said foreign affiliates of those organizations lack the same free speech rights. Both U.S. and foreign groups work with prostitutes to stop the spread and improve the treatment of HIV/AIDS.  Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the 5-3 opinion and was joined by the court’s other conservatives. Three liberal justices dissented. Associate Justice Elena Kagan was recused from the case.  During oral argument in May, some conservatives on the court expressed concern that freeing foreign entities from the pledge could have implications for other areas of U.S. foreign policy.  Of the current justices, only Associate Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in 2013, reasoning that the First Amendment does not require the government to remain neutral on the issue.
  • New! A quiet revolution for women in US foreign and security policy? (The Hill, June 22, 2020) The Departments of Defense, State, USAID and Homeland Security recently launched plans regarding women in U.S. foreign and security policy. The joint rollout unveiled the Trump administration’s roadmap for changing the way America and its allies and partners integrate women and their concerns into foreign aid, diplomacy and military operations.  The long-awaited plans flesh out the Women, Peace, and Security agenda, established at the United Nations Security Council 20 years ago, enacted into law in 2017, and enshrined as a national security strategy last year. Their purpose is to get more women to the table in peace processes to avert and reconcile conflict, fairly distribute aid to women in post-conflict settings, and protect women and girls in wars and disasters.
  • New! Democratic senators call for investigation into USAID aides over controversial comments (Politico, June 18, 2020) — Seven Democratic senators on Wednesday demanded an investigation into reported homophobic and Islamophobic statements made by Trump appointees to the U.S. Agency for International Development.  The calls for an investigation follow concerns raised by USAID staffers about the political appointees, whose controversial views have been unearthed by reporters in recent weeks.  “It is of the utmost importance that personnel in leadership positions at the Department of State and USAID are above reproach in espousing the values of the American people worldwide and showing respect for their colleagues,” the senators wrote in a letter to acting USAID Administrator John Barsa. “It is equally important that employees hear from their leadership at the USAID an unequivocal commitment to addressing institutional prejudices.”
  • New!  Opinion: Calls for racial justice are a wake-up for the global development community (Devex, Paul Weisenfeld, June 17, 2020)The world is now convulsed with protests condemning police brutality against black Americans and calling for racial justice. The events of the past several weeks have rightfully caused those of us living in the U.S. to reflect deeply on our long, painful, and often violent history of racial inequality. For our community that works in international development — most often focused on the challenges abroad — this has been a wake-up call.  I am heartened that organizations working in international development are no longer just staying in the comfortable space of talking about problems elsewhere; they are committing themselves to real change at home that addresses racial injustice…..It is vital that we reflect deeply on what we can do to support positive social change and justice within our own organizations and in the broader society, both through our work and through our own actions. Just like in our international development work, this means fighting for sustainable change and not going back to business as usual when the protests die down.
  • New! Opinion: A new day — solving the other epidemic of systemic racism – (Aaron Williams, June 9, 2020) — I had the privilege to serve as the head of USAID in South Africa, and I saw first-hand the anguish, suffering, and destruction that racism and hatred caused in that nation.  Institutional racism had to be acknowledged and dealt with in the most direct manner. The world was astonished and impressed with the moral and determined leadership exercised by then-President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as they led their country in confronting the evil legacy of apartheid. In large part, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1995, was a crucial component in enacting the fundamental changes required for the democratic transformation of South Africa. Mandela did not seek revenge, but instead sought out a path that would create a future that would benefit all South Africans.  U.S. international and foreign affairs organizations should rise to this challenge, and seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broad-based policies and programs that will promote diversity and social justice in both their U.S. and overseas offices. They play a prominent role — as principal partners with the U.S. government — in the country’s global leadership, and thus should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our country.
  • New! Trump administration nominates American to head Inter-American Development Bank, breaking with tradition (WashPost, June 16, 2020) —The Trump administration said Tuesday it will nominate Mauricio Claver-Carone, the current head of Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, as president of the Inter-American Development Bank, breaking an unwritten agreement since the bank’s inception in 1959 that it would be led by a Latin American.  The nomination effectively closes the door to a number of Latin American countries that planned to nominate their own candidates for the September election to replace Colombian Luis Alberto Moreno, who has served three five-year terms as bank president. In its 60-year history, the IDB has had only four presidents, all of them serving multiple terms.
  • New!  Boris Johnson Scraps U.K.’s Aid Ministry in Foreign Policy Shake Up (Bloomberg, June 16) — Boris Johnson said the Department for International Development, which oversees Britain’s foreign aid budget, will be folded into the Foreign Office as part of his post-Brexit plans for “global Britain”. “We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, though the latter is vital for European security. We give ten times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the Western Balkans, who are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling,” Johnson told Parliament, saying the new department will be named the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Figures released in April show that the U.K. spent more than 15 billion pounds ($19 billion) on development assistance last year, with 73% of that going through DFID. Africa received the largest share (56%) of the department’s region-specific spending in 2019. Donor countries are asked to contribute 0.7% of their Gross National Income to Overseas Development Assistance, after a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in 1970.
  • New!  USAID Staff Demand Action from Agency Leaders Over ‘Systemic Racism’ (NBC News, June 11, 2020) — Staff members at the U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday urged their leadership to take dramatic action to address “systemic racism” at a moment when the world is questioning America’s credibility as an advocate for human rights, according to an internal letter to the agency’s chief.  “We are proud of our work overseas to prevent violence, encourage security sector reform, and promote democracy and good governance in countries with deep ethnic and religious divisions,” said the letter obtained by NBC News. “Yet USAID’s credibility and effectiveness abroad are undermined by systemic racism and injustice at home.”
  • New! Former diplomats and civilian officials condemn Trump administration’s response to protests (WashPost, June8, 2020) — A group of former civilian officials who served in diplomatic and national security roles issued an open letter criticizing the Trump administration’s response to nationwide protests over racial injustice.  The letter, now signed by nearly 500 people, expressed alarm over the use of the military to confront demonstrators in the nation’s capital last week, including at Lafayette Square and the Lincoln Memorial.  “Our military is composed of and represents all of America. Misuse of the military for political purposes would weaken the fabric of our democracy, denigrate those who serve in uniform to protect and defend the Constitution, and undermine our nation’s strength abroad,” the former officials said.
  • New! New Trump Appointee to Foreign Aid Agency Has Denounced Liberal Democracy  and “Our Homo-Empire” (ProPublica, June 5, 2020)A new Trump appointee to the United States’ foreign aid agency has a history of online posts denouncing liberal democracy and has said that the country is in the clutches of a “homo-empire” that pushes a “tyrannical LGBT agenda.”  In one post, Merritt Corrigan, who recently took up a position as deputy White House liaison at the U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote: “Liberal democracy is little more than a front for the war being waged against us by those who fundamentally despise not only our way of life, but life itself.” Asked about Corrigan’s writing, acting USAID spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala said the agency has a “zero-tolerance policy of any form of discrimination or harassment based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or any other possible distinguishing characteristic that can define any of us.”
  • New! Former senior-level U.S. government international conflict experts call for immediate action to address significantly worsening conflict dynamics in the United States (Alliance for Peacebuilding, June 1, 2020) — Americans can no longer hide behind a vision of US exceptionalism. The impacts of long-standing structural racism, inherent to the country since the founding of our nation, have created deep and legitimate grievances. Ignoring or failing to address long-standing structural racism is made more difficult when forces, both foreign and domestic, are lined up to advance polarization across our country. The tragic death of George Floyd is the latest spark, triggering an essential and urgent demand for action. While simultaneously, it is also providing an opportunity for antagonists to stoke the flames of polarization, invoking hard security responses, and dividing Americans during a global pandemic when solidarity is most needed.*

 

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