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Archives for Democracy and Governance

Meeting with Somali-Americans About the Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Nancy Lindborg is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.

The face of famine is painfully personal for members of the Somali American communities in Columbus, OH and Minneapolis, MN. Yesterday, I led a community roundtable in each city, home to the two largest Somali diaspora communities in the United States.  I was able to express deepest concern, on behalf of the US government, for the people of Somalia and update them on urgent relief efforts underway by the US government throughout the Horn of Africa, where a serious drought is affecting more than 11 million people.

The USG is currently reaching more than 4.6 million people in the region who need emergency help, including $80 million of life-saving assistance to help 1.5 million people in accessible areas of Somalia.  The UN has declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia where humanitarian access has been limited by Al Shabaab.  USG is urgently supporting partners to provide food, health, water and sanitation assistance wherever they can access communities desperate for help.

I was also able to listen and learn from this dynamic community.  Somali Americans are a vital lifeline of support for their communities and families throughout Somalia.  I heard from dozens of community leaders who have mobilized their friends and neighbors to raise money for the drought through car washes, bake sales and fund drives.   They are supporting feeding centers and health clinics.  They have established NGOs dedicated to helping the growing number of orphaned children.  A young woman in Minneapolis, choking back tears, described her Facebook page where she is raising money for drought relief and posting stories of families struggling to survive.  As I heard from Jibril Mohamed in Columbus, “In 1992 I was a boy who fled the conflict and drought of southern Somalia and did the same long walk to the border that families are doing now.” Jibril is now determined to reach back with the same kind of helping hand he received.

In Minneapolis, a number of Somali NGOs have joined forces with the American Refugee Committee (ARC) in an initiative called Neighbors for Nations which unites and mobilizes diaspora community efforts to provide relief and development services in Somalia.

We have a short window of opportunity to reach the 2.85 million Somalis living in famine and conflict. The Somali American community is a critical partner in identifying ways to help save lives.  We need urgently to ensure life-saving assistance reaches people now and are committed to doing so.  I look forward to working with this dedicated group of citizens to save lives.

Learn more about the U.S. Government response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa.

TechCamp “Jump Starts” the Open Government Data Initiative in Moldova

On July 15 – 16, 2011, TechCamp Moldova brought together representatives of civil society, media, government and the private sector to explore how the government can make much of the data it holds public, and how civil society, utilizing the latest information technology applications, can use that information for the benefit of Moldovans. TechCamp Moldova was created through a collaboration of partners, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State Office of eDiplomacy, the Moldovan eGovernment Center and the Chisinau Information Communications Technology (ICT) firm Trimetrica. The partners contributed funds and their organizational talents to the event and initiative.

The concept of TechCamp grew out of the Civil Society 2.0 Initiative of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and TechCamp Moldova is the fourth that has been held so far. During a TechCamp, small working groups representing civil society brainstorm how they can apply information technology in their work, and then receive hands-on training from leading experts to give them the necessary skills.  The theme chosen for TechCamp Moldova was “Open Government Data.”

As U.S. Embassy Moldova’s Deputy Chief of Mission Marcus Micheli noted in his remarks, Open Government Data is necessary for a country to fully utilize the potential of information technology, as massive amounts of data which governments hold cannot be fully put to use unless they are made open—open to civil society organizations, businesses and educational institutions to use in creative ways to improve life for its citizens. These applications can improve public services, increase citizen awareness of and participation in government decision-making, and better utilize limited resources.

Although TechCamp Moldova generated ideas for new ICT applications, Moldovans have already been creatively applying ICT to mobilize citizen participation. Eugeniu Hristev of Trimetrica presented an application that allows users to submit information about improper trash disposal in Chisinau, and then gather in groups to clean up identified locations. Another example is, a website that collects information about the state of the roads, street lights, and other important issues in the municipality of Chisinau. Inspired by the presented information, TechCamp participants expressed interest in setting up a portal with citizen generated data to monitor corruption in the public sector, thus directly influencing levels of corruption in Moldova.

“TechCamp Moldova and Open Government Data should be viewed as part of the larger eGovernment Transformation Strategy of Moldova,” said Kent Larson, USAID’s Moldova Country Director. Moldova is striving to be a leader in ICT, having established an eGovernment Center to manage implementation of the Strategy.  With the support of USAID, Moldova recently succeeded in securing a $20 million World Bank credit to help it pursue this transformation.  TechCamp Moldova also provided valuable tools to civil society and the private sector that will enhance the technical assistance they are receiving through ongoing USAID programs.

South Sudan: The Hopes and Challenges with the Birth of a Nation

Rarely is the juxtaposition between joy and tragedy as stark as it is in the new nation of South Sudan and the changed nation of Sudan.

I had the honor to participate in the U.S. presidential delegation witnessing independence day ceremonies in Juba, South Sudan.  Along with Ambassador Susan Rice, General Colin Powell, Congressman Donald Payne, Special Envoy Princeton Lyman, and others, I rejoiced as President Salva Kiir took the oath as president of South Sudan last Saturday.  The independence of South Sudan, the world’s 195th nation, is a stern rebuke to the cynics of the world – the cause, one might say, of Juba-lation.  After decades of civil war resulting in more than 2 million deaths, the people of South Sudan now have the chance to chart their own destiny.  And we must be by their side during this journey.

As leader after leader – from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to African Presidents Jacob Zuma (South Africa), Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia), Goodluck Jonathan (Nigeria), and Yoweri  Museveni (Uganda) – stepped to the podium in Juba last Saturday to address 100,000 cheering celebrants, they welcomed South Sudan into the community of nations.  Most significantly, so did President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan with a remarkably conciliatory speech.  For his part, President Kiir called for peace with Sudan, transparent governance, health and education services so desperately needed in the South, and respect for human rights and human dignity.

This was our celebration, too, reflecting the commitment of successive American administrations to resolving this crisis.  Building on the outstanding work of Ambassador John Danforth and others to negotiate the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the U.S. Government has been the lead donor of humanitarian and development assistance needed to help the people and government of South Sudan turn the concept of independence into the still-to-be-achieved reality of a functioning government and a stable nation.

Under the direction of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Administrator Shah, USAID and its sister agencies have helped provide a million South Sudanese with access to clean water, increased primary school enrolment from one in five to more than 68 percent, provided assistance needed to carry out the January 2011 referendum that led to independence, and built roads, bridges, power stations, and health clinics.

Looking ahead, we are adopting a four-pronged strategy in concert with other bilateral and multilateral partners to strengthen South Sudan’s promising agriculture sector, create the environment needed for private trade and investment, build the human capacity needed to govern the new nation and provide essential services to citizens, and create an international mechanism to multiply the efforts of South Sudan global friends.

We look forward to co-hosting with the new Government of South Sudan an international engagement conference in Washington in late September that will allow the new government to present its vision for the future of South Sudan and engage with partners—governments, international organizations, and the private sector.

But South Sudan’s success also depends on peaceful relations with its new northern neighbor and on the stability of that country.  There, despite Bashir’s generous words on Saturday, the situation remains perilous.  It is critical that the Government of Sudan demonstrate its commitment to governing peacefully within its borders and allow full humanitarian access to assist those in need in Southern Kordofan, Abyei, and Darfur. The Sudan Government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (North) must agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities in South Kordofan.

Further, Khartoum and Juba must come together to rapidly resolve the remaining tough issues left over from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including distribution of oil revenues, citizenship determinations, full demarcation of the border, and resolution of the disputed region of Abyei in a spirit of cooperation.

The poetry emanating from the podium in Juba must now translate into the prose of building stable, democratic, and prosperous states in Sudan and South Sudan.  It’s our fight, too.

Before I left the region, I also visited camps of Somali refugees in Ethiopia and food distribution centers in Djibouti to help facilitate the global response to a severe drought and food crisis that threatens more than 10 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Djibouti.

Government Contractors and Trafficking in Persons—what we are doing to cut those links

On July 7, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that the ArmorGroup North America has paid $7.5 million to “settle accusations that they filed false claims on a contract to guard the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.”  The Associated Press article published by The New York Times on Friday, July 8, noted that “The State Department said that the company’s guards visited brothels in Kabul, that ArmorGroup North America’s management knew about the guards’ conduct and that the company misrepresented the work experience of 38 guards at the embassy. The brothel visits violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, according to the government.”

Unfortunately for those who work combating trafficking in persons (TIP), a story like this sounds all too familiar.  Over the years, many reports from human rights activists and scholars, including some of my own research, have documented the link between contractors and TIP.  In November 2007, while working at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I published an Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle about contractors in Kabul doing just this—visiting “Chinese restaurants” that were fronts for trafficked females.

The U.S. Government takes these reports very seriously.

This summer, USAID is working on a new strategy to combat trafficking in humans, and with colleagues throughout the U.S. Government, on a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement UN Security Resolution 1325—focused on women, peace and security. We are also committed to making sure that all implementing partners and their subcontractors, particularly those serving alongside military deployments, peacekeeping missions or anywhere with a heightened threat of human trafficking—whether for forced labor, forced prostitution, debt bondage or other forms of TIP—are in compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and the new USAID Code of Conduct on Combating Trafficking in Persons (PDF, 40KB).

Data is notoriously hard to come by that reflects what people working in country witness. We are considering fielding focus groups and a benchmark survey in some countries with military and peacekeeping deployments. Our aim is to gain a more precise understanding of the knowledge, awareness, and experience of those who have had or know those who have had contact with trafficking victims and/or experience with brothels while on assignment.  The data would be used to create a social marketing campaign to be used as a tool to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors.

This focus on implementing partners is just one part of the planned new strategy for combating TIP and our NAP for 1325.  We are working hard to develop other measurable, additive, time-bound commitments so we can be held accountable. Follow us on this blog to keep track of our progress and to stay abreast of this important issue. Our goal is to engage and work with those who share our commitment to tackling TIP issues.

Observing the Brave in Vilnius

by Sarah Mendelson, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

We’re Together, Even When We Are Not

The Arab Spring has left many activists at the Community of Democracies hopeful—perhaps none more so than Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. She wasn’t physically in attendance but virtually and spiritually, her presence was felt. She appeared in a video message recorded from somewhere in authoritarian Burma that enabled her to join us during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting on Thursday afternoon with democratic and human rights activists from around the world and then again at the Ministerial Friday. “Suu,” as she is called by a Burmese activist, connected the dots linking the Baltic experience and the Arab Spring to the struggle in Burma. She was the embodiment of grace and patience as she declared from her room, far away, that she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring to us.” This was her second appearance at one of the Community of Democracies gatherings having sent a message under similar circumstances eleven years ago.

When the video played in the meeting with activists, it was as if she was one of them. When it played in the ministerial, following addresses by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other foreign ministers, it was as if she too were a minister.

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USAID’S Work in Foreign Police Assistance: Lessons from the Field

Each year, the United States Government invests billions of dollars to train and equip police in countries that present a vital security interest such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, and Mexico.  In FY 2009, USAID spent $45 million to fund 40 civilian police assistance programs in 27 countries. Activities ranged from inclusion of civilian police in core development programs, such as those designed to reduce gender-based violence, to programs that focus explicitly on civilian police performance. Many people ask: “Why should USAID provide civilian police assistance?” The answer is simple. Civilian police are the largest representative of government in many countries and serve as lynchpins for a broad range of governance functions.

“For the average citizen, civilian police is the most visible symbol of government and an indicator of quality of governance. The relationship between civilian police and the community almost always mirrors the overall relationship between the citizenry and its government. Civilian police action, conduct and reputation tend to reflect on the ability of the entire criminal justice and, indeed, of the entire government, to carry out its functions effectively.”  (A Field Guide For USAID Democracy and Governance Officers: Assistance to Civilian Law Enforcement in Developing Countries, p15)

Many sectors, including agriculture, health and economic growth benefit from improved law enforcement.  For example, improved security can enable freer transit of goods to markets, increase investment in areas that may have been commercially underserved, or enable business expansion.  Effective policing is also critically important for reducing gender-based violence (GBV) and trafficking in persons (TIP).

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Harnessing the Power of Music to Combat Human Trafficking

Simon Goff, CEO of the MTV EXIT Foundation

“Human trafficking: No, No, No” rang out the chant from 20,000 people, repeating ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan’s call to action live from stage. They had travelled from across Thailand to be there and braved torrential rain, however, their spirits were not dampened. They were there to see their favorite artists perform and join a fight. A fight that is crucial for their futures.

In Chiang Mai at the 700th Anniversary stadium, MTV EXIT’s 26th concert in Asia was in full swing. The crowd had been treated to performances by Thailand’s top bands including ETC, Slot Machine, Thaitanium, and Australian popstar Kate Miller-Heidke. However, one of the highlights was a local all-girl band called Chaba that had won an MTV EXIT “battle of the bands” competition to perform in front of thousands. If the crowd daunted them they certainly didn’t show it. Between performances crucial information about human trafficking was delivered to the crowd by the artists as well as from the concert MCs, video presentations, and speeches from guests,  including Secretary-General Pitsuwan and the US Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney.

As the rain finally began to recede, the excitement amongst the audience reached fever pitch in anticipation of the headline act. Korean superstars Super Junior M were performing for the first time in Chiang Mai. As they took to the stage, they were met by deafening screams from their faithful fans. After performing one of their hits they addressed the crowd through an interpreter giving the all-important messages about the issue. After the concert, the work was not yet done.  The following day, band members had the opportunity to see the issue first hand, visiting a local shelter for survivors of trafficking. It was an incredibly positive experience with two young Thai survivors giving the band a lesson in Thai cooking.

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A Dream in a Nightmare in the Eastern DRC

A guest post by Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC.   Dr. Mukwege is the winner of the 2010-2011 King audouin International Development Prize and recently spoke at USAID in a roundtable discussion about gender based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The views in this post do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of USAID or the U.S. Government.

A few decades ago, the American pastor, Martin Luther King shook the conscience of his contemporaries in his speech with the famous line, I have a dream. This speech was written from the perspective of the “American dream”, a dream which is founded on the idea of rising up, of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It also implies an attitude, which consists of pushing back the boundaries much further, of refusing the idea of fate and of hoping for a better future.

It is interesting to note that Martin Luther King’s dream unfolded against the backdrop of a social nightmare.

Today everybody knows that women in the eastern DRC are living a nightmare. Hundreds of women are raped every day. They are kidnapped and reduced to sexual slavery. Others have been raped by dozens of armed men who take pleasure in mutilating their genitals – a savagery that is unprecedented in the region’s history. Meanwhile unscrupulous traders and multinationals have joined forces with these militias and have taken to exploiting the minerals in the region for the manufacture of mobile phones and computers.

I cannot stress this enough : the organised rape of women in the eastern DRC is designed to destroy all of society in this region. In a country where the unemployment rate for men is estimated to be over 80%, women constitute the main pillar of socio-economic life, because of their hard labour in the fields or their small businesses selling their products at local markets. In fact, women are responsible for children’s education; they also pay for the cost of tuition and of medical care. A raped woman is equivalent to the long-term destruction of a family with several children. What will happen in the future to these thousands of children who were conceived in rape? These children, who have no identity, who cannot trace their descent and who are rejected by their communities? How will they integrate in tomorrow’s society? In a region where indifference is killing communities, USAID’s grassroots work can make all the difference.

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Ordinary People Make Extraordinary Contributions to Combat Trafficking

About the author: Holly Burkhalter is Vice President of Government Relations for International Justice Mission

The sheer size of the State Department’s 11th Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released this week, is a reflection of the enormity and ubiquity of the crime of modern day slavery. Yet there is much to celebrate in the document as well. Courage, recovery, and heroic leadership by ordinary people are springing up in almost every one of the 184 countries in the report.

The ten heroes honored in this year’s report show what can be done when brave people—from government officials to survivors themselves—engage in the fight against slavery. Slavery and trafficking aren’t inevitable. As the TIP Report shows in countries around the world, serious government effort and partnership with essential NGO’s can bring slave traders to justice.

Take for example Darlene Pajarito, an assistant city prosecutor in Zamboanga City in the Philippines. Ms. Pajarito not only secured the first anti-trafficking conviction in the Philippines but has spread the effort by training, supporting and prodding other government officials. This kind of courage can be very dangerous; Ms. Pajarito put herself in harm’s way to make her country safer for the poorest, youngest, and most vulnerable. The Philippines is a country that has made significant progress in combatting trafficking over the years. Prosecutor Parajito is an important part of the reason why.

The power of redemption can be seen in the work of Leonel Dubon, one of this year’s extraordinary TIP heroes. Mr. Dubon provides shelter and services for adolescent girls who were victimized in Guatemala’s sex trade. When his NGO sponsor ran out of money, Leonel used his own retirement funds to support fifty children in his care.

Personally, my favorite story of redemption involves a group of ten Vietnamese girls who were sold into Cambodian brothels nine years ago. International Justice Mission (IJM) learned of the girls in 2002 and went to local authorities to demand their rescue. It wasn’t until the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Charles Ray, invoked the provisions of the newly-enacted Trafficking Victims Protection Act that the Cambodian authorities collaborated with my organization to rescue the children from brothels and apprehend the pimps, madams, and brothel owners who sold them.

At that time, there was very little aftercare capacity for such tiny children (the youngest was five; one was seven and had spent three years in the brothel), but NGO aftercare providers stepped in and the U.S. Government provided extensive assistance to create more facilities. Today, Cambodia has some of the best aftercare for young trafficking victims in the world. And while Cambodia has a ways to go to eliminate trafficking, the exploitation of very young children in prostitution has declined dramatically.

And the little girls? I am happy to tell you that they are well and happy and thriving. They live in small group homes with a house mother and have hopes and dreams of high school and college. Their future is now very, very bright.

Armenian Women Set Priorities for Increasing Political Participation

As featured from the National Democratic Institute

More than 300 Armenian women from different political parties, civic organizations, government agencies and geographic regions came together for a two-day conference in Yerevan last month to discuss policy solutions to the challenges they all face. Together, they called for increasing women’s political and economic participation, better access to health care and a reduction in domestic violence.

Armenian women at a two-day conference in Yerevan last month to discuss policy solutions to the challenges they all face. Photo Credit: NDI

While women make up more than half of Armenia’s population, they won just 12 of 131 seats in the last parliamentary elections in 2012. Men’s average monthly salary is more than one-and-a-half times that of women. The 2010 report by the World Economic Forum ranked Armenia 106 out of 131 countries for political representation and empowerment of women.

The “Women in Politics” conference, hosted by NDI with support from the United States Agency for International Development, produced a draft policy platform that women’s groups and political parties can use as a blueprint for change. In the political and economic areas, for example, the women proposed creation of a quota to increase women’s representation in national and local elected bodies and the passage of a gender equity law to improve business opportunities and working conditions for women.

In addition, all but a few conference participants signed a letter to the president of Armenia requesting a 30 percent quota for women on political party electoral lists. They also asked that women be placed on the lists at regular intervals, such as every other spot. Currently, 15 percent of a party list must be women, but their names are often placed near the bottom, where they are less likely to get elected. Under a list system, voters choose a party rather than an individual candidate. The number of seats the party wins is determined by its percentage of the vote, and the people who fill the seats are determined in the order they appear on the list.

Regarding health care and domestic violence, the platform proposed that the government fund preventive testing and health services for all women over 18, and that it pass legislation establishing a legal definition of domestic violence consistent with international norms. It is hard to combat domestic abuse effectively in Armenia — both legally and with public education campaigns — because people’s ideas vary on what domestic abuse is.

The women leaders plan to use the document to encourage political parties to address the issues as they create campaign platforms for next year’s parliamentary elections. It also offers potential platform planks for women who are considering running for office. Civil society groups can advocate for and monitor progress in how the recommendations are carried out.

The recommendations will be refined over the next several months by working groups focusing on the individual issues. The groups will include conference representatives, including women from both the capital of Yerevan and the regions, and political party and civil society members. Experts from academia, international organizations and government bodies also will be invited to lend their expertise.

The momentum and publicity surrounding the event had an immediate effect. In a speech the day after the conference, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan called for increasing the number of women in the executive and legislative branches to 30 percent. There is currently no quota for women serving in the executive branch and the few who do serve mostly as support staff.

A week after the conference, the National Assembly voted on a new election code, which included a requirement that women constitute 20 percent of party lists and, for the first time, that every fifth candidate after the second spot be a woman. These quotas would be some of the most progressive in the region. But there are two ways that parliamentarians are elected: by party list or by single member district. In the latter arrangement, a candidate runs to represent the district and its residents rather than the political party. The Armenian parliament is comprised of 56 single member district representatives and 75 members from party lists.

The draft election code also helps women seek single member seats by reducing the fee to run from 2.5 million to one million Armenian dram ($6,602 to $2,641). This provision will encourage less-established candidates with fewer resources, which women often are. In the last parliamentary elections, only five women competed for this type of seat and none was elected. The draft election code has passed the parliament and is awaiting the president’s signature.

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