USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Democracy and Governance

Home Coming

I’m normally not an anxious traveler but I’m experiencing some deep unresolved, existential anxiety.  As I write this, I’m headed to Vilnius, Lithuania, for the first time in my life.  Today, June 29, is the 70th anniversary of the massacre of all the remaining Jews in a village in Lithuania where my father was born. A strange and ironic day to choose for a return to “der heim” (Yiddish for “the homeland”.) Or, maybe, it’s exactly the right day.

For the next few days, Vilnius is hosting the Community of Democracies (CD). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and front line human rights and democratic activists from around the globe will be coming together to help new and fragile democracies. I will be representing USAID at this gathering and focusing my participation on  CD’s newest initiative, the Democracy Partnership Challenge. This new initiative aims to encourage and support transparency and democratic reforms  in countries that have had recent democratic breakthroughs.  For me, my years of work culminating in this trip to Vilnius is a bridge to my family’s history back in Lithuania—what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as ” the arch of history bending toward justice.”

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Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge

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

When was the last time you used your mobile phone to look up an address, stream a video clip, or play a game? Now think about the last time you used your mobile phone to support human rights, raise awareness for a cause, or contribute to sustainable development. What would the world look like if we spent as much time using our cell phones to contribute to development as we do watching YouTube or sending email? What new tools could be developed—or new uses for existing technology found—to solve some of the world’s most pressing development challenges?

Our new Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance—launching later this summer—will devote expertise and resources to tackle these very questions, paying particular attention to marrying innovation and the challenge of protecting against and preventing human rights abuse.

With USAID Forward, an ambitious and transformative reform agenda that changes the way the Agency does business, USAID is leveraging the capabilities of our partners and challenging development professionals, countries, and communities to create new relationships that leverage technology and development to deliver real results.  “Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge” is just one of the ways USAID is fostering creativity in technology and development.

In partnership with the Demi and Ashton Foundation (DNA) and NetHope Inc. (a consortium of international humanitarian organizations and major technology companies), USAID announced the Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge in Russia on June 14, 2011. The aim of the challenge is to develop the most effective mobile technology application to combat trafficking in persons in Russia. Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking.  A 2008 benchmark survey supported by the Ford Foundation suggests that 8 out of 10 young Russian women think that human trafficking is a very serious issue, and that tens of thousands of Russian women who were trafficked at one point in their lives are living today in Russia.  It is time we all did more to address their needs. The contest aims to raise awareness of sex and labor trafficking and help civil society organizations mobilize to provide services to survivors.

Contestants from Russia and across the region, including diaspora communities, have until August 8, 2011 to submit entries. The technology application that wins the Grand Prize will be implemented in Russia through a pilot project with a domestic anti-trafficking organization. The Grand Prize winner will also receive $15,000 and travel expenses to the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York. The First Prize winner will receive $10,000 and travel expenses to CGI.

Stakeholders from Russia and the wider region—including Russian anti-trafficking organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, technology companies, and the public—will have the opportunity to judge the submissions based on their usefulness in preventing trafficking, raising awareness, providing services to survivors, innovation, ease of use, and potential for large-scale application.

Check out USAID’s IMPACT blog this week for more stories about USAID TIP programs around in the world in support of the Department of State’s eleventh annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report release.

For further information, or to enter the contest, please visit the Stop Human Trafficking App Challenge. This site is also available in a Russian version.

For further information on USAID’s work on Trafficking in Persons, please visit: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/cross-cutting_programs/wid/trafficking/

Interpreting the Arab Spring at DRG: 2.0

The events of the Arab Spring have had tectonic effects on Middle Eastern civil society from Tahrir Square to Benghazi. Today at 11:30am, USAID is hosting a panel of policy experts, moderated by our own Deputy Administrator, discussing how the international community can best respond to this historic opportunity to support freedom and opportunity in a region that has had neither. We’d like you to join us for that conversation. Streaming live as part of our upcoming conference: DRG 2.0: Promoting Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in 2011, the panel will take questions via social media, and you’re invited to participate.

You can follow along and participate on Twitter @USAID #DRG2011.

On December 17th, 2010, a young Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire. This desperate act by a man with no hope for a better life resonated with millions of Arabs and propelled the region into a period of dramatic, disruptive change that continues to evolve on a daily basis. The actions of protesters across the region have been spurred by well-documented grievances, such as the lack of jobs and housing, petty and grand corruption, human rights abuses that robbed people of their sense of justice and dignity, and an overwhelming sense of disconnect between the state and society.

Prior to December 17th, citizens in Arab states across the region lacked any formal political or constitutional process to meaningfully engage with governments that would have allowed them to play an active role in solving these fundamental problems. Therefore, when people demanded change after decades of political, social and economic stagnation, these demands were inherently revolutionary.

The events that began in Tunisia are now being compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the revolutions that spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe in the months that followed. However, while the events in the Middle East are of similar historical significance, they are playing out in a far different manner. Rather than a uniform “model” for transition, the region is simultaneously seeing relatively peaceful transitions of great promise in Tunisia and Egypt, nascent and uncertain attempts at regime-led reform in Morocco and Jordan, protests being met by the full weight of the state’s security forces in Syria, foreign intervention in Bahrain, and civil war and international military and humanitarian action in Libya. The one commonality among these revolutions is that while national leadership has been radically changed, the bureaucratic infrastructure of autocratic and authoritarian states remains relatively unchanged and a major challenge for reorienting these governments.

Join us today as we discuss these issues in-depth during our panel “Interpreting the Arab Spring” 11:30 AM on Monday. Presenters include:

  • Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Adminstrator, Bureau for the Middle East, USAID
  • Lorne Craner, President, of International Republican Institute
  • Michele Dunne, Senior Associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and
  • Robin Wright, Senior Fellow at U.S. Institute of Peace

The session will be moderated by Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg

Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance 2.0

Next week, USAID is excited to be hosting DRG 2.0: Promoting Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance in 2011, and we’d like you to participate. What is DRG 2.0? Our own David Yang, Director of our Office of Democracy & Governance, says it best.

With the exciting emergence of the Arab Spring, USAID experts in Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance are taking stock of the challenges and opportunities presented by current events.  DRG 1.0 can best describe USAID’s history of efforts in response to the great wave of democracy preceded and accelerated by the fall of the Berlin Wall.  We’ve been working in support of democratic and human rights activists around the world for a good two decades.  But with the transformative events of the Arab Spring, we’re thinking about what we need to do differently in 2011 and beyond.

To do so we’re meeting with experts from around the world, including you, next Monday and Tuesday.  You’re invited to watch and participate at www.livestream.com/usaidlive (available 6/20, 8:30am) and via Twitter @USAID #drg2011. We’ll be covering everything from interpreting the Arab Spring, to promoting the rights of women, the disabled, and the LGBT community, and our panelists will be taking your questions. So tune in next week!

See below for a full schedule of events:

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U.S. State Department and USAID Support Journalism Training in Southern Sudan

In southern Sudan, Voice of America (VOA) journalist Shaka Ssali hosted training sessions from May 13 to 16 for journalism students and practicing journalists through the U.S. Department of State International Information Program (IIP) speaker program. More than 60 participants attended the training sessions coordinated by the U.S. Consulate in Juba and USAID.

In southern Sudan, journalists, students, and staff from USAID and the U.S. Department of State attended a journalism training workshop in May, 2011 as part of the Dialogue with Young African Leaders. Photo credit: USAID

Shaka Ssali, an American journalist born in Uganda and host of VOA’s “Straight Talk Africa,” was the first IIP speaker to visit southern Sudan. His visit was part of the Dialogue with Young African Leaders—a series of events held throughout Africa during the month of May to showcase the efforts of young African leaders, to engage with them in discussions about current challenges on the continent, and to help them discover ways to bring about positive change.

During the trainings, Ssali stressed the importance of accurate reporting, professionalism in journalism, and the critical role of free media in southern Sudan, which will become an independent nation July 9.

Responding to Urgent and Long-Term Needs in Sudan

Earlier this month, I visited Sudan, a nation poised to separate in July into two independent states following a peaceful referendum in January that USAID helped carry out. Since my visit, violence has erupted in Abyei, a disputed area on the north-south border, and threatened the fragile peace in the region.

Resolving the status of Abyei has long presented a difficult challenge. During my visit—together with UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and Norway Minister of Environment and International Development Erik Solheim—we stressed to the Government of Sudan and Government of Southern Sudan our concern about the destabilizing impact of uncertainty over the Abyei Area’s future.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah at a press conference in Juba on May 7th. Photo Credit: Government of Southern Sudan.

In response to the violence, we quickly activated our contingency plans. USAID partners are on the ground in areas where thousands of Sudanese have been displaced by fighting.  And we are working with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide emergency food aid, medicine, water, shelter, hygiene kits, and other assistance.

As we continue to address the emergency needs of people in and around Abyei—as well as in areas across the south affected by violence—we remain focused on helping bring stability and effective development to Sudan over the long term. During my visit, I met with Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit and announced that the United States would host an international engagement conference for southern Sudan after its independence.  The conference will enable the new nation to collaborate with other governments and the private sector on development priorities, especially in agriculture.

Nearly 87 percent of southern Sudanese rely on agriculture, livestock, or forestry to make a living.  Ninety percent of southern Sudan’s land is arable, but less than 10 percent is currently cultivated.

I met men and women farmers, who described to me how they struggle to expand their farms, buy quality seeds and fertilizer, and move their products to market.  Because of the challenges they face, the agricultural yield in southern Sudan is only 0.3 metric tons per hectare, despite good conditions and available land.  But the average yield worldwide for sorghum, for example, was 1.46 metric tons per hectare in 2009-10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  It’s easy to see how much potential is being lost.

I’m proud that this is an area in which the United States and our partners can help.

During my visit, I signed a communiqué with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the International Fertilizer Development Center to work with the Government of Southern Sudan to develop the commercial agriculture sector. By increasing productivity, supporting agribusinesses, and improving research and technology, we can begin the process of an agricultural transformation in southern Sudan.

We are working in many other areas to help bring basic services and opportunities to the people of Sudan. In Juba, I especially enjoyed visiting a USAID-supported radio station that not only provides news and information, but also offers lessons in English and mathematics that schools use as part of their regular instruction.  It was a powerful and effective way to extend the reach of education.

As the independence of southern Sudan approaches, we will continue to help build a peaceful, stable region and a better future for all the people of Sudan.

How Free is Your Media? A USAID-Funded Tool Provides Insight

On May 3, the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day. Reflecting on the day’s events, a few important questions arise about what role the media plays in a community and in a democracy.

First, how does freedom of the press compare to freedom of speech? Not only do journalists need freedom to speak and write without fear of censorship, retribution, or violence, but also they need professional training and access to information in order to produce high-quality work. Furthermore, journalists need to work within an organization that is effectively managed, which preserves editorial independence. People need multiple news sources that offer reliable and objective news, and societies need legal and social norms that promote access to public information.

Second, why is the media important? We care about the media because it is a powerful and critical tool for ensuring that citizens understand the state of their community, country, and world. In this way, citizens are equipped to participate in the democratic process. Media gives a voice to the people and helps to hold governments and institutions accountable for their actions. Media is also the way to spread critical community messages, such as how to prevent HIV infection, where to vote in the next election, and how to address difficult issues with balanced, well-informed analysis so as to promote peace and tolerance.

Lastly, how do we measure how well (or poorly) the media sector is functioning, and how do we gauge progress? With great interest in this subject, USAID has supported comprehensive, multi-year assessments carried out by IREX, which are reported in the Media Sustainability Index (MSI). This tool analyzes challenges in the media sector by country and allows for tracking of progress from year-to-year.  In this way, it helps USAID to better identify media development gaps and possible areas for technical assistance. The 2009 edition of the MSI for Africa is now available, and editions are also available for the Europe & Eurasia and Middle East regions. With multiple years of surveys now completed, the tool spurs discussion and understanding of both the current status of the media in a given country and region as well as the trends over time.

The MSI is both a quantitative and qualitative tool. It draws on a set of panels composed of local media and civil society experts from each country, and the resulting index assesses five objectives important to a successful media system, which include the quality and professionalism of journalism as well as the management and independence of media businesses. The results also capture the rapidly changing new media landscape on the continent.

MSI’s data is used by a variety of advocacy and human rights groups, as well as USAID, other donors, and academics who are interested in tracking the role of the media in larger development processes. Findings from the MSI can inform how we channel our resources; for example, the latest edition of the MSI reveals that weak business management and professional journalism skills are some of the key factors challenging the media sector in African countries today.  In response, USAID programming in countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and the DRC are better cultivating local skills and building the professional capacity of media.

From the Field: Our Ongoing Efforts in Egypt

Submitted by: David Yang, USAID Office of Democracy & Governance

Photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

For the past two months, USAID has responded rapidly to the historic events in Egypt. We are pivoting our existing portfolio of 36 democracy programs implemented by Egyptian, U.S. and international organizations to support the new opportunity.

During the protests, our partners deployed observers throughout the country to report on the democratic movement, provided legal and humanitarian aid to protesters and detainees, and disseminated information to local communities so that those not directly involved in the demonstrations could participate in the debate on political reform.

In support of the referendum on constitutional amendments, USAID’s partners trained domestic election observers and conducted media campaigns to encourage voter participation, especially among youth and women. Looking to the future, USAID grantees are advising at least 30 new political parties that aspire to contest the parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.

Haiti: First Impressions on the Runoff Election

Submitted by Ben Edwards, USAID/Haiti

Like most days in Port-au-Prince, Haitians began to fill the streets at sunrise.  On this Sunday, however, they were headed to the polls, eager to exercise their democratic right in the presidential runoff and parliamentary elections.

Voters at many polling stations waited calmly in line for their turn to vote.   At a few other polling stations that opened late, long lines of would-be voters seemed anxious about the missing their chance to vote.

I was part of a small U.S. Government team that traveled to several polling stations around the city.  As we roved from polling station to polling station, we identified those that were running smoothly and those that were experiencing problems.

It was my first time as an election monitor, so I was lucky that my two team members were experienced experts.  Our team leader, Denise Dauphinais, also heads USAID’s elections support program in Haiti.  She shares her first impressions of the polling stations she visited in the video embedded in this blog post.  Among her impressions, she notes:

  • There appeared to be more people in and around polling stations than there were during the first round of elections last November.
  • There were logistical problems early in the morning that caused some polling stations in Port-au-Prince to open late, but the Provisional Electoral Council and United Nations seemed to address them.
  • The mood appeared more comfortable and calm than it did during the first round of elections in November.

Dauphinais and the rest of our small team were part of a much larger effort to support the elections on Sunday.  The U.S. Government disbursed a number teams – more than 40 people all told – across the country to monitor election-day activities.  The international community, led by the Organization of American States and the United Nations, and a cadre of domestic partners also provided important services throughout the day: election observation to vote counting to name a few.

Support for elections in Haiti may have been most visible on Sunday, but it was only the latest crescendo in an effort that took millions of dollars and months of planning by Haitian institutions and the international community.  The U.S. Government alone invested more than $15 million in support of both rounds of elections, including:

  • A public information campaign using SMS messages, radio, television, billboards, and a call-center to inform people about the location of their polling station;
  • Training for poll workers and election observers; and,
  • Equipping poll stations with supplies such as ballots, ballot boxes, and tamper-evident transport bags.

As we wait for the preliminary results to be announced by March 31, and final results by April 16, both Haitians and the international community are no doubt hoping that the relative calm on Sunday is a sign of what’s to come.

Voters Chose Secession for Southern Sudan, Provisional Referendum Results Show

Provisional results announced in Juba Sunday for the referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan indicate that southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to secede and form a new nation. Of more than 3.8 million votes cast, nearly 99 percent chose secession, and just over 1 percent chose unity with northern Sudan.

Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Chairman Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil and Deputy   Chairman Justice Chan Reec Madut, who is also chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in Juba, jointly declared provisional results of the referendum, which is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war in Sudan.

“The people of South Sudan are … indebted to the government and people of the United States of America, USAID,” Justice Chan said in remarks at the announcement. “The Southern Sudan referendum on self-determination could not have taken place on time without the support of the international community,” he said.  “Our international partners and friends put in robust material, technical, and moral support that is still literally lapping on our doorsteps.”

USAID provided comprehensive assistance to help carry out the referendum, including technical and material assistance, civic and voter education, and support for domestic and international observation of the process, and funded out-of-country registration and voting in eight diaspora countries, including the United States.  This assistance is part of USAID’s broad goal of supporting peace in Sudan, including by helping to implement all provisions of the CPA.

Final results of the referendum are expected to be announced February 7 in Khartoum if no legal challenges are filed, and February 14 if legal challenges must first be addressed.  If secession is the final outcome of the referendum, establishment of a new nation would not occur before July 9, 2011, when the CPA expires.

Read more about USAID’s programs in Sudan.

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