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Archives for Democracy and Governance

International Day of Democracy: Strengthening Citizen Voices

International Day of Democracy was September 15, 2013.

In the past 40 years, the world has seen extraordinary shifts in how countries are governed: authoritarian governments fell in Latin America, Africa, East/Central Europe, and Eurasia. The Berlin Wall was torn down, and the Arab world awoke. Today, electoral democracies make up 61 percent of the world’s governments, according to Freedom House.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy—Strengthening Voices for Democracy—reminds us of the importance of people’s voices, both expressed directly and through their elected representatives, in today’s political, economic, social, and technological debates. The ability of all citizens to decide how they are governed and participate meaningfully in political processes is at the core of democracy.

A group of Kenyan youth marching for peace before the general elections in March 2013. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

A group of Kenyan youth marching for peace before the general elections in March 2013. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

At USAID, we have placed this theme at the center of our new Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. The Strategy is based on the premise that support for the establishment and consolidation of inclusive and accountable democracies is fundamental to sustainable development. The new Strategy refocuses our work on the key principles of participation and accountability, and on empowering reformers and citizens from the bottom up.

In transitioning countries such as Libya, we are supporting elections, access for persons with disabilities, elected congress and councils, women’s leadership, civil society, and capacity-building for leaders who will shape the debate on the country’s first democratic constitution.

To build on the global movement for transparency and accountability, our Grand Challenge for Development Making All Voices Count is supporting the use of technology and innovation to amplify the voices of citizens in emerging democracies and to enable governments to listen and respond.

For the first time in USAID’s history, our new Strategy also elevates human rights as a key development objective, ensuring that development is truly inclusive. This builds on the work that our field missions are already doing—such as in Malawi, where USAID is working to protect vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disabilities and LGBT persons and advocating for their fair treatment by law and in practice, and integrating these concerns across our programs.

As USAID continues to adapt our democracy, human rights and governance programs to the changing global context, we remain steadfast in our support for the aspirations of individuals to shape their own futures.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

Addressing the Crisis in South Sudan’s Jonglei State

This originally appeared on The White House Blog

In response to the political crisis in South Sudan and the deeply troubling violence in Jonglei state, today the White House hosted NGOs and advocacy groups to discuss the situation and confer on how the United States – in concert with partners and allies around the world – can help end the violence and support South Sudan’s democratic development.

At the meeting, National Security Staff Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Steve Pomper, and I invited advocates and humanitarian workers to exchange information on the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jonglei, and explore ways we can work together to raise awareness and address it.

National Security Staff Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Steve Pomper, and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs Grant T. Harris discuss the situation in South Sudan at the White House, July 24, 2013. Photo credit: White House

A significant portion of the conversation focused on what the United States and its partners can do to address disturbing reports of human rights abuses, attacks on civilians, and ethnically motivated violence taking place in Jonglei, including reports that elements of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army have been complicit in the abuses.

We also discussed a looming humanitarian crisis. USAID experts estimate that over 100,000 civilians, predominantly from the Murle ethnic group, have been displaced since May with little access to needed emergency aid.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with partner countries, humanitarian organizations, advocacy groups, and others to shine a light on the crisis, press for an immediate end to the violence, and meet the urgent humanitarian needs of those affected by the conflict.

The United States remains strongly committed to promoting peace and prosperity in Sudan and South Sudan, and will continue to encourage South Sudan to stay true to the vision it laid out for itself two years ago at its independence: of democracy and good governance, justice and accountability, and respect for rule of law and the human rights of all of South Sudan’s people.

Grant T. Harris is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Jeff Borns on Democracy-Building in Southern Africa

This blog is part of a new interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

Recently, we chatted with Jeff Borns, Mission Director of USAID South Africa to learn more about our democracy-building initiatives in the region and how they impact governance at local levels. 

Can you tell us more about what is needed to build up a democracy? Is it just about voting?

What happens on election day is just one piece of democracy. The voting process must take place in an environment that respects the rule of law and has strong institutions like parliaments and independent judiciaries. This is not only necessary to a democratic government, but also necessary to development. And when you have the assurance that comes with these elements of good governance, it is easier for companies to invest and for economies to take off.

Southern Africa elections professionals on a USAID-financed program learn from members of the Independent Electoral Court in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo credit: UNISA

What is USAID doing to support democracy-building in Southern Africa? Can you give us an example?

USAID supports regional democracy-building and governance efforts by encouraging improvements to regional election management. This includes providing technical assistance and training to electoral management bodies in the region, as well as providing training and support to election professionals. These election professionals often toil in the shadows, and are rarely given development opportunities or the time and place to build professional networks. Through a five-year grant to the University of South Africa (UNISA), in partnership with the the South Africa Independent Electoral Commission, USAID is training and connecting election professionals with one another and helping them improve their technical skills to support free, fair and open elections around Africa. UNISA is the largest distance-learning university in Africa–a third of all higher education students in South Africa are enrolled there. With this grant, USAID and UNISA hope to support the training and connecting of over 375 elections professionals from across Africa.

What does this mean, in practical terms?

By teaching new skills, and by creating a web of dedicated, trained professionals, USAID is supporting a connected cadre of election experts.

Midway through the grant, results are already streaming in. It’s very exciting! Elections management officials are now clamoring to send their technical staff to the training, and UNISA has observed significant changes in the professionalization of elections bodies in participating countries. This year USAID will support two trainings of 75 officials at UNISA’s campus in Pretoria, South Africa. The selected elections professionals spent three weeks in classroom learning followed by a week of fieldwork at the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa.

The intangible benefits of the program are huge, and we anticipate that this trend of fantastic results will continue. USAID is providing the building blocks to a grassroots network of highly qualified, highly motivated election professionals – which will be tremendously beneficial to the region and population as a whole.

Learn more about our work in Southern Africa.

Follow @USAIDAfrica and @USAID_SAfrica on Twitter!

USAID’s Investment in Africa

As President Obama embarks on his trip to Africa, USAID is proud to take this opportunity to highlight the important work we are doing to partner with Africans in new and innovative ways to build a peaceful and prosperous future. For the first time in over a generation, sub-Saharan Africa is seeing steady progress toward ending extreme poverty, fueled by robust economic growth and better governance and service delivery in many countries. These gains have been supported by USAID’s investments in improved agriculture, health care, and democratic institutions, and our increased focus on women and a new generation of African thinkers, entrepreneurs, and innovators, each of which are delivering transformational results. In concert with partners throughout Africa, we are working toward ending poverty and providing millions a foothold in the global economy—and helping to realize the promise of the world’s most youthful region.

Women in Senegal. Photo credit: USAID

The President will visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania–some of USAID’s most important development partners–but his messages are relevant for the entire continent. USAID with thousands of grassroots organizations, communities and local businesses in 42 African countries to achieve these shared goals. Some examples of these partnerships are featured in this collection of stories about our work in Africa.

Throughout the President’s trip, our teams on the ground will provide regular social media updates. Be sure to follow Administrator Shah on Twitter (@rajshah) as he accompanies the President and join the conversation using #USAIDAfrica! Follow us also on Facebook and our Impact Blog for real-time stories from our missions in Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. We look forward to continuing the conversation with you throughout this trip and beyond.

From The Field: Getting Creative in Supporting Local Governance

Amid the political reform movements that swept through the Middle East and North Africa in the past three years, the government in Morocco responded with a new constitution promoting enhanced citizen participation.

Building a democratic, constitutional state – founded on the principles of participation, pluralism and good governance – is critical for lasting peace and stability, and this new constitution takes steps in that direction. Last month I attended an open forum between citizens and local government officials that aimed to bring those principles to life.

What are creative ways a government and its citizens improve communication with each other? The ideas from the youth leaders, newly elected female municipal officials, and municipality staff, and their enthusiasm to engage with USAID, particularly impressed me.

Former USAID/Morocco Mission Director, John Groarke (left), speaks with members of the youth council and local press. Photo credit: USAID

Hasnae Zahiri, an energetic young woman recently elected president of a rural municipality, told me that USAID’s support for the creation of an Equity & Equal Opportunity Commission helped pave the way for women’s political participation in her district. Of the thirteen members of the committee, four are women from rural areas.

Likewise, Anouar Ahmed Cherif, a member of a local youth council formed with USAID support, told me: “Before the council, our relationship to the commune [municipality] was merely administrative. Now, we have six members who attend the commune meetings and propose ideas and projects.” As a result of his council’s recommendation, a proposal is circulating to transform a nearby forested area into a public park.

To improve government transparency and reduce the risk of corruption and fraud, USAID is helping to establish internal auditing systems within local municipalities. USAID training resulted in the launch of an investigation into an increase in unauthorized construction projects in the city of Safi. Thanks to the program’s success in providing oversight, the municipality is planning to help neighboring communes establish the same system.

These few examples illustrate the important role USAID is playing in helping government institutions at various levels become more inclusive and effective. The work is hard, and results take time to achieve. But the civil society groups, young democracy activists, and empowered political movements shaping the country’s future inspire me as USAID continues helping them in their endeavors.

John Groarke is the former Mission Director of USAID/Morocco. He has served in the Agency for the past eighteen years. 

Working to Keep Civil Society Open

Larry Garber and Sarah Mendelson are, respectively, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning and for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Seconds after landing at Dulles Airport this past Tuesday, scrolling through the dozens of emails that have accumulated while flying from Europe, the many marked “Urgent” caught our eye: earlier that day, news broke that in Egypt 43 activists had been convicted of criminal offenses relating to their work promoting democracy and human rights that they performed while working for U.S. and German funded non-governmental organizations (NGO).

Ironically, we were arriving from Brussels, Belgium where we had held a day-long consultation with European Union and NGO counterparts to discuss the very grave topic of “closing civil society space.” Our European colleagues and we agree on the scope and seriousness of this rising threat to our ability to carry out development activities worldwide and on the need to coordinate our responses.

For the past year, we have led an internal USAID working group that has watched with dismay as governments have imposed restrictions on registration, funding and basic freedom of association, all designed to limit the activities of civil society in their countries. In Russia and Bolivia, the governments went so far as to expel USAID Missions. Experts will point to multiple reasons for these unprecedented actions, but fundamentally the governments sought to end USG support of civil society organizations. And now in Egypt, the government has criminalized the activities of our implementing partners, imposing severe prison sentences on both Egyptian activists and citizens of other countries, while intentionally mischaracterizing their work in support of democracy and human rights.

We have tracked this global phenomenon with a mix of dread and determination. We have collected the experiences of our field Missions, many of which have creatively sought to counter the trend, taking into account unique socio-political contexts. We have catalogued these responses under three broad categories of “prevention,” “adaptation” and “continued support,” have shared the specific examples of Missions’ responses across the Agency, and encouraged our Missions to maintain their commitment to expanding civil society space and to working with a broad range of non-governmental actors.  We have engaged with both our international implementing partners and other donors to share experiences, as well as worked with State Department colleagues to sound the alarm. Perhaps most important, we have communicated to relevant partners in the field that we will not abandon them.

Some describe the closing space phenomenon as the “new normal.” If this is indeed the case, then the consequences for achieving our development goals, as well as the ambitious new development goals presented last week by the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, will be severely compromised. However, we are convinced that with concerted international attention dedicated to the issue by both diplomats and development professionals and using innovative approaches, we can keep civil society space open and ensure that the aspirations of people around the globe for freedom and dignity will be achieved.

Larry Garber and Sarah Mendelson are, respectively, Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. 

Connecting Parliament to the People in Timor-Leste

It was a bright morning on April 19 in Maliana town as participants gathered for an unusual meeting. The meeting brought members of Timor-Leste‘s Parliament to the capital of Bobonaro District, southwest of the capital Dili, to hear from members of the public. The public forum was part of USAID’s Fostering Meaningful and Responsive Representation project, implemented by the International Republican Institute (IRI). The project’s activities include support to political parties as they find effective ways to interact with constituents.

Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest democracies, gaining its independence in 2002. Over the past 11 years, voters have participated in seven free and fair elections, most recently in 2012, when they elected a new president and new Parliament.

Citizens from Bobonaro District, southeast of the capital Dili, voice their opinions and concerns to members of the Timor-Leste Parliament at a USAID-supported public forum in April 2013. Photo credit: Paul Randolph, USAID

Seats in Timor-Leste’s Parliament are party-based, and on election day voters choose a party rather than an individual candidate. Members of Parliament are drawn from the party lists based on what percentage of the popular vote each party received. This means that parliamentarians don’t have specific geographic constituencies.

In every democracy, it’s crucial that parliamentarians meet their constituents regularly to explain how they are serving communities as their elected representatives and listen to the views of citizens to incorporate them into legislation and public policies.

That kind of interaction is often difficult in Timor-Leste, where the population of just over 1 million people is spread across the island in a dozen district capitals, many small towns and scattered rural communities. Roads to the capital are in bad condition and transportation costs are high. It’s often impossible for citizens to make their way to Dili to gain attention for their views and concerns.

With significant transportation challenges and a nationwide constituency, it’s not easy to reach out to citizens to get their input. So the USAID responsive representation project is finding effective ways to increase parliamentarians’ interaction with the public.

One way of facilitating more interaction between parliamentarians and citizens is through a public forum, like the Bobonaro meeting. This was the second in the project’s series of constituency outreach activities focused on “Listening to the People’s Voice.” The series itself is a first for this Parliament.

Parliamentarian Mateus de Jesus (CNRT) shows notes received from constituents during the “Listen to the People’s Voice” forum in Maliana, Timor-Leste, in April 2013. Photo credit: Paul Randolph, USAID

This forum enables members of parliament to meet and interact with citizens outside Dili. They can explain their party’s stance on major issues of public interest and, more importantly, listen to constituents’ viewpoints.  In particular, parliamentarians said that they are eager to hear feedback and local concerns because they were just elected in July 2012.

Four parties won seats in Parliament in the 2012 election. Three form the governing coalition: the National Congress of Timor-Leste Reconstruction (CNRT), the Democratic Party (PD), and the National Reconstruction Front of Timor-Leste (Frenti-Mudanca). The Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste (FRETILIN) is now the opposition party, having governed Timor-Leste from 2002 to 2007. Three of the four parties sent parliamentarians to the public forum.

The 100 participants in Maliana represented a typical cross section of Timorese society – students, teachers, community leaders, representatives from NGOs, women and youth organizations, local offices of political parties, and district offices of government ministries. Participants raised many concerns, including poor rural road conditions, poor quality of small infrastructure projects, a lack of medical supplies at the district hospital, and the need for ambulances. Students highlighted a lack of books in their schools and limited access to scholarships for rural students. Others talked about their concerns related to government social programs, such as pension payments for veterans and the elderly people that do not always reach their recipients. Many voiced their concerns about the government’s plan to adopt and implement a new decentralization policy.

Parliamentarians said that they shared most of the participants’ concerns, and promised to channel those concerns to the relevant government ministries. They also said they would urge the government to address those concerns appropriately.

At the end of the forum, both parliamentarians and participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to better communicate with each other. After the forum, Mateus de Jesus said this USAID-supported outreach activity was the first such opportunity for the current legislature, helping parliamentarians improve their outreach activities and connecting parliamentarian with their constituents. ” This forum was very important so that we can hear directly from the people living in the districts,” de Jesus said.  ”As parliamentarians, we’re aware that most of the issues raised during the forum relate to government capacity.  However, as representatives of the people, we can channel these concerns to the relevant ministries or departments and demand accountability.”

Timor-Leste’s parliamentarians are demonstrating their commitment to reach out to constituents, helping to fulfill their role of overseeing the executive branch. As one of the participants said, “It’s good that today we have the chance to meet the parliamentarians in the district and convey our concern directly to them, but we hope that parliamentarians will conduct such forums regularly in the future as part of their own agendas, and that they must will their authority to ensure that our concerns are addressed.”

Based on this success, USAID’s representation project will help expand these opportunities to other districts in the next few months.

I hope that Timor-Leste’s parliamentarians and party benches will continue to schedule more frequent outreach forums themselves and develop their own best strategies for meeting constituents, listening to their feedback, and ensuring that their concerns are addressed appropriately.

As parliamentarians begin to strengthen these kinds of mechanisms, and development partners like USAID continue to assist, I think that it would not be a far-fetched hope that in the future the relationship between Timor-Leste’s parliamentarians and citizens will be as bright as the morning sun that day in Maliana.

Glass Half Full in this “Almost Revolution”

Larry Garber serves as deputy assistant administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning

Last week I participated in two panel discussions organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that addressed two important development issues: 1) “Closing Space for International Assistance,” a roundtable discussion that included over 20 participants from various U.S. Government agencies, implementing partners, and think-tanks; and 2) the role of politics in the work of development agencies as described in a new book Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution.

USAID confronts the issue of closing space in a number of different country settings. Recently, Agency efforts have catalogued the diverse and creative Mission responses to the problem under the rubrics of prevention, adaptation, and continuing support. In addition, we have engaged implementing partners–both those involved in Democracy, Rights and Governance and in more traditional development sectors–and donor counterparts regarding the challenges we all face.

The second panel discussion involved the launch of a new book by Tom Carothers and Diane de Gramont, entitled Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution. As I stated in my remarks at the launch, the book is a must-read for all USAID staff, whether they are in policy making or operational positions, and whether they are based in Washington, D.C. or serving in the field.

The book describes how the development community shifted over a period of 50 years, from a generally apolitical, technical orientation during the 1960s, 70s and 80s to a recognition in the 1990s that both political goals and political methods are essential for achieving development results. The book acknowledges the progress that many donor agencies, including USAID, have made in introducing democracy and governance programs into their portfolios and in encouraging robust political analysis as part of their strategy and project design processes.

Carothers and de Gramont include many examples from USAID. There is an extended quote from the 2010 Ethiopia Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) (PDF), which forthrightly describes the “competing objectives of engaging and assisting Ethiopia as a high profile example of poverty and vulnerability to famine, and addressing the major challenges and constraints to democratic space, human rights abuses and severe restrictions on civil society.” There is also a wonderful quote from a Mission Director serving in Africa, who extols the virtues of political economy assessments and “insists that all newcomers read the report as part of their briefing materials.”

And yet, the authors conclude that this transformation is only an “almost revolution.” I share their view that the glass is half full, yet also hope that the book will motivate a profound debate within the broader development community as well as USAID regarding the proper relationship between politics, political methods, and political goals on the one hand, and an emphasis on the achievement of traditional development results on the other hand.

Let the debate begin!

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