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! How the Next Administration can enhance US Engagement in global development (Brookings, George Ingram, October 21, 2020) – In January 2021, U.S. policymakers will be faced with the most complex set of international crises since the end of World War II, creating imperatives to design and implement a coherent set of domestic and international policies to stem the still raging COVID-19, to “build back better” from the pandemic’s worldwide devastation on economic and human well-being, and to restore trust and confidence in America from four years of withdrawal from world leadership and denigration of international alliance and allies. At the same time, they will confront a set of ongoing challenges that have only grown worse—climate change, permanent wars and instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya; an Iran and North Korea with growing nuclear capability; state fragility; racial and social inequities that are causing human suffering and political instability, disinformation, and emboldened authoritarianism. Backed by a strong defense capability and coherent domestic policies, the principal tools for dealing with these international challenges are diplomacy and development. Unfortunately, the key means for exercising these tools have suffered from neglect and disparagement: for the State Department, four years of disrespect of diplomacy and the career service, and at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), four years of proposed budget cuts and one year of political appointees with radical social/political views at odds with USAID development knowledge and culture. Fortunately, both agencies are staffed by dedicated, resilient professionals who will respond quickly to new leadership that will bring respect and who will rebuild based on the knowledge and experience of the career staff.
- New! U.S. to Offer Loans to Lure Developing Countries Away From Chinese Telecom Gear (Wall Street Journal – Stu Woo, October 18) — The U.S. government is embarking on a push to persuade developing countries to shun Chinese telecommunications equipment, offering financial assistance to use alternatives that Washington says are safer and have fewer strings attached. The U.S. is ready to offer loans and other financing, potentially worth billions of dollars in total, to countries to buy hardware from suppliers in democratic countries rather than from China, said Bonnie Glick, the deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is spearheading the effort. The agency, better known for providing food assistance than technology, will dispatch staff to meet politicians and regulators in the developing world, she said, aiming to persuade them that using telecom equipment from two Chinese giants, Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp. is a bad idea. The offer of financial assistance represents a new tool Washington is deploying as it broadens the tech Cold War with China. The Trump administration has been trying to curb Chinese technological advances over what it says are concerns about spying and trade practices.
- New! Trump taps new Western Hemisphere chief (Politico, October 13, 2020) — The White House has tapped Josh Hodges to be the top official focusing on the Americas at the National Security Council, according to a Trump administration official familiar with his hiring. Hodges, 37, was most recently the senior deputy assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He started last week as senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs on the NSC staff and a special assistant to the president. He replaces Mauricio Claver-Carone, who last month was elected president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the first American to hold the position. Claver-Carone left the NSC on Sept. 30 and started his new job in early October. The administration official called Hodges “a protégé” of Claver Carone and said he was “well respected across the White House and interagency.” “Josh was a wonderful colleague who spearheaded USAID’s efforts in support of our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean during the pandemic,” Claver-Carone said in a statement. “He will be key to expanding those efforts once a vaccine becomes available, and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity.”
- New! Q&A: “We cannot wait” — USAID sees urgency in pandemic (Devex — October 2, 2020) — Jim Barnhart returned to Washington from his post in Jordan to head the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security in the middle of a pandemic that threatens to push hundreds of millions of people into hunger. The new bureau, created during USAID’s transformation, brings together a host of disciplines previously scattered across the agency — including food security, nutrition, water, resilience, and sanitation and hygiene — under the same roof to improve efficiency and promote multisectoral collaboration. Barnhart, who served as deputy assistant administrator in the old Bureau for Food Security before he went to the Middle East, also now heads Feed the Future as the global hunger initiative turns 10. “I came back into the role now heading the bureau with a certain set of expectations that I was well versed in the way the bureau was operating,” Barnhart said. “But the transformation that we underwent in adding water, elevating resilience, and nutrition to the bureau has really been something that I’ve had to get up to speed on very quickly because that’s new, and it’s exciting.”
- New! The Payne Fellowship: Boosting Diversity at USAID (AFSA, October 1, 2020)– The Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship program was established in 2012 to attract outstanding emerging leaders from historically underrepresented backgrounds, as well as those with financial need, to international development careers in the USAID Foreign Service. With strong congressional support, the program is funded by USAID and administered by Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center. Since its inception, the Payne Fellowship has opened the door for qualified, educated and diverse young professionals to help USAID leverage their experiences as development professionals and diplomats. To date, 39 fellows have graduated and joined the USAID Foreign Service, and 20 more are currently completing the program. At the same time, over the past few months, several news articles, letters to the USAID Administrator and a Government Accountability Office report have all pointed to the lack of diversity at USAID, particularly in senior leadership positions. Simultaneously, there have been several internal dialogues and “listening sessions” at USAID about implicit bias, institutional discrimination and racism. The civil protests and anti-racism efforts in the United States and around the world highlight the difficult balancing act that Foreign Service officers navigate in terms of the American ideals of freedom and equality, and the implementation of those ideals in the United States and abroad. When coupled with other effective programs and initiatives, the Payne Fellowship is poised to help USAID address some of these issues.
- New! Update: USAID pauses all diversity and inclusion training (Devex – Michael Igoe, September 30)–The U.S. Agency for International Development has paused diversity and inclusion trainings in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order on combating race and sex stereotyping. The guidance released by USAID on Wednesday night, and obtained by Devex, ordered the heads of all bureaus to “put a hold on upcoming diversity and inclusion trainings, seminars, and other related fora as we, in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), conduct a review of the content of these programs.” The guidance said implementation of the executive order would be led by Rick Guy, deputy director of the Center for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. “I know that there are many unanswered questions regarding the implementation of this Executive Order. Not only are there questions about our own training, but there are also questions about training undertaken by our implementing partners as well,” said the guidance, signed by USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa.
- New! There is hope for the future: Create USAID 2.0. (The Hill— 09/30/20.) John F. Kennedy inspired America with his big vision for a bold America. In his first year of office, President Kennedy established the United States Agency for International Development to serve as a beacon for freedom, a counterweight to the Soviet Union, and a model for newly independent nations breaking free from the bondage of colonialism. The agency soon became a respected leader throughout the world — serving as a lodestar of a powerful, generous, and influential America abroad. That vision — and success — persisted for decades. Then Donald Trump became president. Under his administration, the USAID has been practically irrelevant as a global thought leader, excluded from the White House COVID-19 Task Force, and beaten down at the staff level.America cannot shape the next generation if it abandons the institutions and the values that gave rise to its strength in the post-World War II era. There are new challenges ahead, of course. The summer of 2020 highlights the risks. A global pandemic, massive wildfires in the West, and hurricanes in the southeast foreshadow the future for the U.S. and the world. Together, these threats present existential challenges, but also great opportunities. To “get its swagger back,” in an ironic nod to Mike Pompeo, USAID needs a hard reset. USAID 2.0 will have to build dynamic global climate and health surveillance systems, unleash private capital and talent, innovate, and partner more effectively. Donald Trump does not value USAID, but a Biden administration could re-vision USAID even while the country is climbing out of a failed COVID-19 response, a collapsed economy, extreme political partisanship, and massive debt.
- New! USAID dissent memo details frustrations with Trump appointee (Politico – September 22, 2020) — Officials at a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development that tries to prevent conflict are so fed up with their new boss that they’ve crafted a lengthy memo chronicling their frustrations in the hopes Trump administration officials will intervene. The turmoil in USAID’s Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization is just the latest strife to hit the agency since spring, when the White House began filling it with a slew of new political appointees after its previous administrator quit. The officials’ 13-page memo targets Pete Marocco, a political appointee who has left a bitter trail at other government departments where he’s served. Marocco now leads USAID’s Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization. The memo was put together by a very small group of experienced staffers in the bureau’s Office of Transition Initiatives, a USAID official said. That office, which has a variety of programs that help countries moving toward democracy or trying to stabilize after conflicts, has come under extra scrutiny by Marocco. Dated Sept. 17, the document was sent to USAID’s inspector general and placed in its Dissent Channel, where it is meant to reach USAID top leaders. The memo, a copy of which was shared with POLITICO, casts Marocco as a micromanager who is disrupting numerous aspects of the bureau’s work, marginalizing many of its employees and giving vague directives that are a challenge to implement. As a result, the complaint says that “thousands of hours of staff time” are being “spent unnecessarily and unproductively.”
- New! Opinion: Why development matters (Devex – Brian Atwood and Paula Garcia Tufro, September 21)–COVID-19 has laid bare a stark reality: We cannot wait until an infectious disease reaches our shores to take action. The world’s richest nation needs to invest in preventive measures and cooperate with others to detect and mitigate the impact of dangerous viruses and other transnational threats. We have done this effectively in the recent past. Working with the World Health Organization and other international partners, the United States successfully fought past coronaviruses such as SARS and H1N1 — and halted the spread of Ebola in Africa. Former U.S. President Barack Obama administration’s Global Health Security Agenda and USAID’s PREDICT programs were specifically designed to detect the transfer of pathogens from animals to people — and to prevent epidemics from becoming pandemics. The current President Donald Trump administration’s decision to weaken these programs, even proposing to cut their budget by almost 30%, has had disastrous consequences. Fortunately, a bipartisan coalition in Congress rejected the proposed cuts. It is worth noting that some of the most ardent proponents of development have been former senior military officers. This raises a crucial point about the value of development funding: Such investments serve our national security in the short term while simultaneously advancing our national interests over the long run. They foster a more peaceful and prosperous world — and a more democratic one was well
- New! The Case for Cash—Beyond COVID—Gains Strength: New Data on Comparative Cost-Effectiveness (CGD, September 15) — USAID deserves a lot of credit for its nascent efforts to understand more about the cost-effectiveness of some of its programs. I hope to see these efforts continue and expand. But a key next step for USAID should also be expanding its ability to pursue those approaches that offer the biggest bang for the buck. That may be rethinking the design of some of its “traditional” programs; it should also include expanding what it can do with cash. Whether due to perceived risk or limited experience with cash programming modalities, the US government has been slow to embrace the use of cash as a tool for furthering development (outside of humanitarian response settings). And, indeed, cash transfers won’t always deliver the most value for money, and they’re not the right tool for every development
- New! Who owns what? (The Economist, September 2020) —Twenty years ago a Peruvian economist made a startling observation. People in poor countries are not as poor as they seem. They have assets—lots of them. But they cannot prove that they own them, so they cannot use them as collateral. Hernando de Soto estimated that the total value of informally owned land, homes and other fixed assets was a whopping $9.3trn in 2000 ($13.5trn in today’s money). That was more than 20 times the total of foreign direct investment into developing countries over the preceding decade. If small farmers and shantytown-dwellers had clear, legal title to their property, they could borrow money more easily to buy better seeds or start a business. They could invest in their land—by irrigating it or erecting a shop—without fear that someone might one day grab it. Property rights would make the poor richer, he argued. Since his book, “The Mystery of Capital”, was published, its ideas have spread. Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have pursued vast titling projects, mapping and registering millions of land parcels. India wants to use drones to map its villages. Ethiopia has registered millions of tracts. Rwanda has mapped and titled all its territory for $7 per parcel, thanks to cheap aerial photography. Studies suggest that titling has boosted agricultural productivity, especially in Asia and Latin America. The World Bank wants 70% of people to have secure property rights by 2030.
- New! USAID’s draft policy retrenches on gender equality (Brookings by George Ingram and Nora O’Connell, September 10, 2020) — The U.S. Agency for International Development has a long and honored record on advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality, supported by leaders in both parties in various administrations and Congress. While priorities shift, USAID’s policies and programs have increasingly recognized both the right to gender equality, as well as the importance of gender equality to developing strong economies and stable societies. But now, in a draft revision of USAID’s policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment, the administration proposes to step back in time. The draft gender policy is being released while the world is grappling with a global pandemic that has both revealed and exacerbated the extent of gender inequality. Women and girls are taking on greater caregiving responsibilities, making it harder for women to earn a living and girls to return to school. Many countries have reported increases in gender-based violence and child marriage. As USAID looks ahead to what’s over the horizon in a post-COVID world, having a strong, technical, forward-looking gender policy is vital. Unfortunately, the current draft will undermine USAID’s ability to meet these challenges.
- New! Trump Administration Orders U.S. Diplomats to Curtail Contact With WHO (Foreign Policy, September 9)–Despite the White House decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization in the midst of a deadly pandemic, American officials have sought to maintain some U.S. influence at the global health agency, promoting a far-reaching reform initiative and granting U.S. diplomats the authority to continue working on WHO programs that fight polio, HIV, and other infectious diseases. But that effort has been undercut by a new set of orders from the State Department to sharply curtail diplomatic contact with WHO officials—even though the United States will remain a member of the global health agency until next summer—as well as a U.S. decision to cut funding for the WHO. The contradictory currents in U.S. policy underscore the challenges facing the Trump administration as it grapples with the fallout of a pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans: It wants to punish the WHO for what it claims is an unwillingness to hold China accountable for failing to act swiftly to contain the coronavirus. But it still relies on the U.N. agency to confront a broad range of deadly diseases that could spread across U.S. borders if not properly tackled abroad.
- New! USAID to shut down its coronavirus task force (Politico, September 8, 2020) — The U.S. Agency for International Development, which has been on the front lines of the battle with the coronavirus, is about to shut down the task force it set up to tackle the still-ongoing pandemic. The decision is being met with concerns by some who fear it will lead to greater dysfunction at USAID, which already faces personnel and structural turmoil. Others, however, say the task force was poorly managed and that its functions can be delegated. The task force is set to be deactivated on Wednesday (September 9, 2020), according to an internal note to staffers that was shared with POLITICO. The decision to end the task force also comes as President Donald Trump and his aides downplay the pandemic in the run-up to November’s elections. During the Republican National Convention, for instance, economic adviser Larry Kudlow spoke of the pandemic in the past tense, while a large, sparsely masked crowd packed the South Lawn of the White House for the president’s acceptance speech. According to the aid agency’s note and people familiar with the issue, the responsibilities of the USAID task force will be handed to other agency bureaus and divisions. “As we approach the deactivation of the Task Force on Sept. 9, the entire team is focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key functions back to Bureaus and Independent Offices,” the note read.
- New! Trump nominee to head Interamerican Bank divides countries in hemisphere (Washington Post, September 8, 2020) — Far from the major foreign policy battlefields of China, Russia and the Middle East, a conflict is brewing much closer to home that may have far-reaching effects on the Americas. At the end of this week, governors of the Inter-American Development Bank are due to vote for the new president of the hemisphere’s premier international lending institution. The winner, for a five-year term, is virtually certain to be the Trump administration’s candidate, Mauricio Claver-Carone, the current head of Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council. His candidacy marks the first time the United States — by far the bank’s biggest donor — has even put forward a nominee for the 61-year-old institution, which by tradition and political agreement has always been headed by a Latin American. It has created rifts among the region’s big countries and resignation among some of the small ones, and been met with silence from most of the bank’s donor nations in Europe and Asia, which have voting “shares,” but are anxious to avoid yet another fight with the United States. On one side in the region itself are Brazil and Colombia, both considered close Trump allies, which support Claver-Carone. On the other are Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Costa Rica, which resent the way the nomination was made, breaking precedent with no consultation or warning of the abrupt June announcement of Claver-Carone’s candidacy. Couching their public opposition in concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the nations have called for postponing the vote until next year. In a briefing for reporters last week, Michael G. Kozak, U.S. assistant secretary of state for the hemisphere, dismissed those worries as “specious,” and said that leaving the bank presidency vacant for months following the October departure of the current officeholder, Colombian Luis Alberto Moreno, is “not a viable proposition.”
- New! USAID shutting down task force set up to tackle coronavirus pandemic (The Hill, September 8, 2020) —The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will discontinue its coronavirus pandemic task force, which is set to be shut down Wednesday, according to an internal memo first shared with Politico. “As we approach the deactivation of the Task Force on Sept. 9, the entire team is focused on ensuring a smooth transition of key functions back to Bureaus and Independent Offices,” the note read. The move comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, with the death toll nearing 190,000 in the U.S. and 900,000 worldwide. Despite this, the Trump administration has increasingly presented the pandemic as largely in the past, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow referring to it in the past tense at the Republican National Convention. The White House has mostly ended its pandemic-related briefings and, after becoming the face of the federal response, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have been largely out of sight. An administration official expressed concern about how the lack of a coordinating task force would affect the fight against the pandemic. “Now everyone is going to be fighting because there is no central place,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Politico.
Another official, however, said the task force had too broad a mandate to be effective. “It was far too large and bureaucratic,” the official told the publication. Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa said in testimony to Congress this summer that many of the task force’s responsibilities would be handled by a new planning cell called “Over the Horizon” in the long term. “While USAID’s COVID-19 Task Force has managed the near-term challenges directly related to the pandemic, Over the Horizon will perform research, conduct outreach, and prepare analyses around key strategic questions to help the Agency prepare for lasting challenges to the development and humanitarian landscape in the medium to long term,” he testified.
- New! New study shows benefits, limits of cash transfers (Devex, September 3, 2020) — Cash transfers to young people in Rwanda were more effective than a job training program in helping them build assets, increase savings, and improve productivity, according to a new study released Thursday. This latest research adds to the small but growing body of knowledge about cash benchmarking, or using the impact of cash as a baseline for program evaluation. This latest research compared the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Huguka Dukore/Akazi Kanoze program, which aims to provide vulnerable youths in Rwanda with employability skills, with cash transfers of various sizes. The study, commissioned by USAID and carried out by independent researchers, is the midpoint evaluation of the impact, conducted 18 months after the baseline study. Final results will be released after another evaluation at the 36-month mark.