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The New York Times “Room for Debate,” the premier forum that invites experts to debate timely issues, poses that question to four respondents this week in “Can’t Afford Aid, or Can’t Afford to Cut It?” MFAN Co-Chair David Beckmann is one of the featured respondents.
Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, writes, “Whether we like it or not, whether we have serious economic problems in our country or not, our fate is inexorably tied to the fate of poor peoples around the world.”
Ambassador Mark Green is also featured, making an articulate case that outlines why foreign assistance is critical to our economic security and opportunity.
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See below for a guest blog from Livingstone Sewanyana, a human rights lawyer and the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. This is the third post in our field feedback series; click here to read a post from Save the Children in Guatemala and Women Thrive in Ghana. This post was originally published on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.
My name is Livingstone Sewanyana and I am a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) in Kampala, Uganda. I have worked in the field of human rights for 25 years at the national and international level. I support USAID’s Implementation and Procurement Reform and I signed this letter to send a message to the U.S. Congress that if they also want to fight corruption and promote development, they must work more with the principal actors in the development process: local people. I have seen that development dollars, when directed at both the civil society groups and local governments, add more value and reduce the risk of waste and abuse. More support to local civil society actors means more support for campaigns against corruption. In Uganda, civil society groups like the Coalition Against Corruption and the Uganda Debt Network, among others, have spearheaded campaigns against corruption. Citizens are monitoring electoral votes to protect democracy, and Ugandan civil society has been instrumental in shining a light on development projects where there have been failures or misuse of funds. In one high profile case, when the Ministry of Health misallocated funds, some of which came from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, it was citizen groups monitoring health care delivery that discovered that funds were being misused. As Ugandan citizens, they were highly motivated, watching their fellow countrymen and women die due to lack of drugs and other related services. It was precisely because of strong civil society groups that the Global Fund was aware of the corruption. It was civil society efforts that led to an audit, which uncovered massive misuse of funds. Even a sophisticated operation like the Global Fund, which has in place safeguards to reduce corruption and increase transparency, needed local partners to hold their government accountable.
But the fight against corruption isn’t just about money – it is also about education, trust building and partnership. Groups like the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative work with both civil society organizations and local governments.
On the government side, we train local leaders, judiciaries and Members of Parliament and their staff on human rights issues and legal procedures. This is especially important because Uganda adopted a decentralization policy in 1997 with an objective of bringing services nearer to the people. While local governments are closer to the people and can be very useful, they do not always have the knowledge, skills and motivation to achieve this objective. So the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative has for several years engaged local government in programs that enhance their human rights knowledge, skills in budgeting and policy formulation and monitoring, and help them set up committees to develop initiatives targeting women, the disabled, and youth.
On the civil society side, we work with citizens to ensure they know their rights and can speak out when they detect problems or rights being violated. In order for these anti-corruption campaigns to be successful, there must be space for people to come out and blow the whistle and know that they will be protected. Having the support of strong partners and leaders like the U.S. can go a long way in making it easier to blow the whistle.
As a human rights activist, I support initiatives like USAID Forward where the U.S. government works more directly both with my government – even though it is not perfect – and through local civil society groups like mine, because direct support to these groups reaps high rewards in creating a better Uganda.
See below for a guest post from MFAN partner Sarah Jane Staats, director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Project at the Center for Global Development. This post originally appeared on the CGD blog.
The United States’ strategy towards Africa has shifted from “how much aid” to how to attract trade and investment, said White House Deputy National Security Advisor Michael Froman in a major speech (see video below) at the Center for Global Development this week. The standing-room only crowd seemed to welcome the emphasis on aid-plus, or more than aid approaches in Sub-Saharan Africa. CGD President Nancy Birdsall praised the administration’s “excellent vision” around the tough issues of economic growth and equal opportunity. The strategy does a great job of capturing the Obama administration’s efforts over the last three and a half years. But forecasting whether more of the vision (and which parts) can become reality in the remainder of this US presidential term and beyond will be difficult.
Froman, just back from leading a ten-day trip to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria began his CGD remarks with a refresher on the Obama administration’s efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa: President Obama’s 2009 speech in Ghana, food security and child survival commitments, the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, and the White House-led Partnership for Growth effort in Ghana and Tanzania.
In his remarks, Froman focused on economic growth, trade and investment (one of four pillars in the administration’s new strategy towards Africa and the result of a presidential policy directive that presumably replaces National Security Presidential Directive 50 signed in 2006 by President Bush). Froman spoke of the difference in the US government’s approach to the region from when he traveled to Africa as a Treasury official nearly fifteen years ago. “If there is one way to summarize the change, it is that the focus has shifted from how much aid will be provided to how best to create the enabling environment for the trade and investment necessary to drive broad-based economic growth—the only true path toward development,” he argued.
CGD President Nancy Birdsall encouraged event attendees to disseminate the “really good vision” embodied in Froman’s remarks, “that development is about more than assistance, it includes assistance of course, but fundamentally it’s about growth, equal opportunity, governance—the tough issues.” She added her hope that members of the development community will follow the implementation of that vision “independent of what happens in our own elections this fall.” (Birdsall also encouraged Froman to consider two additional development approaches: payments for measured progress against reductions in transit times akin to the Cash on Delivery Aid idea, or direct cash payments–from developing country governments to their citizens–for oil revenues as explained in CGD’s Oil2Cash initiative.)
It’s great to hear more about the Obama administration’s aid-plus efforts towards Africa from a senior White House official, especially given the expectations that a President Obama would do much in the region. And while the move beyond just aid has been a long time coming, it’s good to see it still going in that direction. I agree with Nancy Birdsall that the focus now shifts to implementation. But I am perhaps a bit more worried about how much time is left in this presidential term to make the good vision a reality, and what happens next.
Here are a few bright spots:
The FY13 budget reflects the strategy’s food security and child survival priorities.
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, led by USAID, brokers regulatory and policy reforms to attract private investment.
The House and Senate passed versions of a bill (HR 5986 and S 3326) yesterday that extend some African trade preferences under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (and adds South Sudan to the list of countries eligible for AGOA).
But there are some clouds:
The House and Senate have already passed a six-month continuing resolution, acknowledging that they won’t make any real progress on the FY13 budget before the fiscal year begins on October 1st. (For more on the budget, check out USGLC’s excellent new Budget Watch.)
We’re still waiting for evidence that the policy and regulatory reforms in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition take place and that the private sector investments follow. (I’m hoping if I’ve missed something, readers will point me to evidence this is underway!)
The good vision isn’t codified or supported by a bipartisan Congress in contrast, for example, to the Millennium Challenge Corporation and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief created during the Bush administration. (And while it’s a good thing this administration hasn’t set up new agencies–like the MCC and PEPFAR–that would add to the fragmentation and proliferation of aid agencies, the good vision without a clear home can more easily be washed away.)
My hope is that the bright spots and work underway will keep moving the good vision to reality, and that the reality of US politics won’t get in the way. Ideally, the good vision is strong enough to outlive a change in personnel (which will happen even in a second Obama administration) or a total change in administration.