Rye Barcott on the Value of Locally-Led Development

At a recent event MFAN co-hosted with the Trade, Aid, and Security Coalition and the Business Council for Global Development, Rye Barcott, former Marine Corps captain & Co-Founder of Carolina for Kibera, spoke thoughtfully about his experiences in Kibera and how they shaped his military service while inspiring him to help communities break cycles of poverty and violence.

Former Governor of Idaho Dirk Kempthorne introduced Barcott at the event, calling him a “tenacious, steadfast warrior” who brought compassion in service to others. He added that while Barcott’s story is already one of great human triumph, his journey has not yet culminated.

Barcott’s discussion centered on his new book, It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace, which chronicles his military service and how he started Carolina for Kibera as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina. He talked at length about his first visit to Kenya’s Kibera slum—one of the largest slums in Africa, if not the world—while pursuing research he felt would later help inform his military service. In Kibera, he found an opportunity to exercise a new model of development that would help curb ethnic tension and provide pathways for growth and stability.

In his book, Barcott writes, “The thought of my father prompted something more profound: At the core of our philosophy was the conviction that some of the poor have the solutions to the problems they faced. Many youth in Kiberia were eager to seize opportunities and lead the fight against poverty and violence. In the end, it was their fight, not ours. But we could help. If we quit, we failed them and we failed the vision.”

It was this idea of participatory development that prompted Barcott to create an organization that collaborated with local leaders in finding local solutions for problems in the community. What started as an inter-ethnic soccer league, a community clean-up program, and a health clinic has since evolved to include a Daughters United center, which is a safe space for adolescent girls to meet, and a scholarship program.

Barcott also spoke about the military’s role in the development enterprise and his personal struggle to find continuity between combat and civilian assistance. He said that while the officers understand the value of development for its ability to prevent conflict and violence at a much smaller cost than troops, the military’s short-term view doesn’t allow for effective capacity-building.

To learn more about Carolina for Kibera, click here.


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