Noteworthy News — 8.7.09

This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community. 

What we’re reading this week:  USAID losing power without Administrator…Paul Farmer out of the running for USAID Administrator…Obama Adminstration considers new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan…Secretary Clinton talks trade on visit to Africa…The benefits of private investment in Africa

Aid Reform in Washington

  • Leadership Vacancy Raises Fears About USAID’s Future (Washington Post, August 5)
    Clinton has backed the use of “smart power” — employing a full range of economic, military, political and development tools in U.S. foreign policy — but many aid experts are questioning whether the U.S. Agency for International Development could lose clout under her plans.  “Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have said how important development is. Increasingly, it’s a painful contrast between their rhetoric and the reality of having no leadership” at USAID, said Carol Lancaster, interim dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who served as deputy administrator of the aid agency under President Bill Clinton.
  • Concerns Mount About Foreign Aid Vacancy (CQ, August 5)
    Paul Farmer, the leading candidate to head the U.S. Agency for International Development, is no longer in the running for the job, according to several Hill aides and people in the foreign aid community.  “It’s not clear to me what the administration’s problem is here,” said Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that he was not critical, just “mystified.”  It is uncertain whether Farmer took himself out of the running or whether the vetting uncovered issues that would complicate his confirmation.

Other News

  • Obama’s Battle Against Terrorism To Go Beyond Bombs and Bullets (Washington Post-Interview with John Brennan, August 6)
    U.S. officials are advancing American ideals — promoting political participation and economic development — and attacking the factors that breed terrorism, Brennan said. “We are not saying that poverty causes terrorism, or disenfranchisement causes terrorism, but we can’t mistake there are certain phenomena that contribute to it,” he said. “Terrorism needs to be fought against and certainly delegitimized or attacked, but some of the underlying grievances that might in fact lead individuals astray to terrorism cannot be ignored.”
  • Kenya’s Troubled Past Shadows Start of Clinton’s Trip (New York Times, August 5)
    The new American policy for Africa would be trade, not aid. “We want to be your partner, not your patron,” she said.  She laid out plans to channel development dollars to agriculture and infrastructure, to increase support for African entrepreneurs and, at the same time, to cut back on all the overhead that often goes to American contractors.
  • Just When Africa’s Luck Was Changing (New York Times-Ron Nixon, August 3)
    According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the amount of private investment going to Africa had begun to outpace aid. M. Nathaniel Barnes, Liberia’s ambassador to the United States and the country’s former finance minister, says that while foreign aid is still crucial for African countries, it usually focuses on humanitarian issues like emergency food and shelter or medical supplies. In contrast, he said, foreign investment provides long-term sustainability and growth.  “Instead of talking to Usaid, I’d rather be talking to a company like Nike,” Mr. Barnes said. “Having a partner like that means jobs and economic growth, and you just don’t get that from aid. 

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