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Grading Donors on Land Rights: Where We Are, and Where We’re Going

In 2010, I was sitting in a meeting at the World Bank where initial principles were being discussed for guiding large-scale agricultural investments– which had grown dramatically after the food price spike of 2008.

Governments, the private sector, civil society and others want to promote investment in ways that benefit all local communities, investors and governments; and improve economic growth and food security for many of the worlds most vulnerable populations.

However, four years later, the global community is still deeply engaged in developing these guidelines for the private sector, now known as the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) and led by the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

While we do not yet have investment principles for the private sector, we do have guidelines for host governments to use in developing land policies, laws and procedures to promote good land governance, including in the context of investment. They are called The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. Secure property rights are the gateway to broad-based economic growth, improved food security, reduced violent conflict, and improved natural resource management and, by extension, one of the best tools to address global climate change. Weak land and resource rights limit investment (of any size),threaten good natural resource management, often promote conflict and pose special problems for vulnerable groups including minorities, indigenous people, the poor, and women.

This past week, nearly 1000 experts and influencers in the land rights sector gathered at the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty to present field-based research, announce new initiatives and to develop innovative partnerships. Many of these presentations and announcements are rooted in the desire to implement aspects of the Voluntary Guidelines.

I had the pleasure of chairing the Voluntary Guidelines negotiations back in 2011 and 2012 for the eventual adoption of this seminal agreement. Having had a unique position to participate in the negotiations, and now managing USAID’s global program supporting the Voluntary Guidelines, I feel compelled to take stock of where we are now and what have we accomplished in the past two years and, most importantly, to ask where we should go next.

Asilya Gemmal proudly displays her land certificate

Youth Benefit from Land Certificates (Photo: Links Media)

So Where Are We Now?

I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a global consensus among bilateral and multilateral institutions, the private sector, and civil society organizations that the Voluntary Guidelines are the guiding doctrine for emerging-economy governments to be able to recognize and promote the protection of property rights around the world.

In the two years since the Voluntary Guidelines were adopted, donors and development agencies have started to align their bilateral and multilateral assistance programs supporting property rights and improved resource governance to them.

Throughout 2012 and 2013 USAID led an initiative through the Global Donor Working Group on Land that collected information on the land and resource governance programs of 16 donors and development agencies to help us better coordinate our programs, and understand their successes and pitfalls as they pertain to supporting the Voluntary Guidelines. The result is a comprehensive database of 445 programs, being implemented in 119 countries, with a value of over $2 billion.

In December the Governments of Ethiopia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany formed a partnership to support the Voluntary Guidelines and promote greater transparency in rural land governance. This partnership was a result of coordinated work under the 2013 G8 transparency initiative on land.

Proud Holders of Land-Use Certificates

Proud Holders of Land-Use Certificates (Photo: Nina Terrell/USAID)

And Where Are We Going?

While the development community has made important progress supporting the Voluntary Guidelines, I believe we have far more to do.  Here are some suggestions:

  • While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has developed initial advice, we must strive to develop additional guidance for emerging economies, including “how to” manuals for the Voluntary Guidelines that make them easier for governments to implement.
  • We should also increase our efforts to raise awareness, provide training, and build capacity at the local level to bridge the gap between global best practice and what is understood and pursued on the ground in the developing countries.
  • The development community should also recognize that the private sector plays a key role in the success of this process. The private sector is moving forward—in consultation with civil society and donor organizations—to develop better practices for acquiring land for commercial agriculture, extractives, and biofuels. Last year, the Coca-Cola Company negotiated an agreement with Oxfam to respect local property rights along its supply chain. PepsiCo and eight other large companies have recently agreed to do the same under the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign.
  • Another possible next step could be the development of a certification standard – as was done with Fair Trade Coffee or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – under the rubric of “Fair Land.” Industry certification would set an acceptable expectation for how companies will invest and conduct business with respect to land rights in emerging economies and could help build the private sector expertise required to effectively manage land throughout supply chains. Such a scheme would also empower civil society to monitor investments in a more systematic way and allow consumers to reward companies that behave responsibly and apply pressure to those that do not. Through certification, we might see an uptick in investments leading to local economic growth that could propel the bottom billion out of extreme poverty.

These ideas and recommendations were echoed in more than two dozen meetings USAID hosted with private sector, civil society, development partners and academia at this year’s World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty.

If we want a stable world, where market-based democracies thrive and trade and job markets expand, we must focus on empowering every global citizen to make private decisions about how they will acquire, use, enjoy, and dispose of property.

The Cost of Corruption

Many consider corruption to be an unavoidable cost of doing business around the Middle East and North Africa. The costs of corruption are obvious, and widely acknowledged. It is commonly accepted that corruption limits development, siphons off critical development resources, causes citizens to lose confidence in their governments, and undermines the region’s progress toward democratic reform. In spite of this, many just assume that corruption is here to stay, and that there’s little ordinary citizens can do to push back.

USAID-supported youth CSO coalitions share perspectives on constitutional reform, youth representation in parliament, and other government initiatives affecting youth.

Credit: USAID/K. Rhanem

In recent years, USAID has played a key role in supporting regional anti-corruption efforts. In partnership with Transparency International, we launched the ACTION program – Addressing Corruption Through Information and Organized Networking – in order to study corruption in the region and develop a roadmap for addressing it. The project examined corruption in Yemen, Morocco, Egypt and West Bank/Gaza. Last fall, activists from around the region gathered to present a series of case studies detailing examples of corruption, the costs corruption imposes, and potential solutions.

A critical first step in addressing corruption is ensuring that regional legislation protects citizen access to information. As Palestinian journalist Ahed Abu Teima observed, “access to information, and the provision of information to journalists, reporters and the media, is one of the most important factors in the success of anti-corruption efforts.”

The project documented how existing legislation in all four countries limits access to information critical to identifying corruption, for example through secrecy laws in Egypt and Morocco. As a result, citizens and citizen groups are unequal partners in their relationship with government institutions, undermining a country’s democratic development. Adequate legislation is a necessary first step in the battle against corruption. “The only way, the best way, to end corruption is to establish transparency on a broad scale. That isn’t going to happen without the passing of a law,” said Egyptian professor Khaled Fahmy.

ACTION launched an anti-corruption portal that for the first time provides Middle East and North Africa-region activists, academics and media professionals with research and action-oriented tools and resources. The project also developed a series of video case studies profiling anti-corruption activists in each of the four countries.

Initiatives such as ACTION are making a difference. In 2011 Morocco included language ensuring access to information in its constitution, and in 2013 drafted a corresponding law. In 2012 Yemen enacted an access to information law and may include it as a constitutional right. Prior to the change in Egypt’s government in July 2013, the government had drafted an access to information law and included the right in the 2012 constitution. Egyptians are now waiting to see how these commitments are carried forward by the transitional administration.

Disclosure of governmental activities and access to information are core principles of open government and democratic reform. They are essential tools in battling corruption, and promoting accountability, transparency and integrity. Through efforts such as our partnership with Transparency International, we are helping to lay the long-term foundations for a successful transition to democracy around the Middle East.

Registering for Democracy in Yemen

Yemen is poised to launch a high-tech Biometric Voter Registry (BVR) system representing a significant step forward in the development of a credible voter registry in that country. During my recent visit to Yemen, I met with the chairman of Yemen’s Supreme Commission of Elections and the Referendums (SCER) Judge Mohammed Hussein Al-Hakimi to learn first-hand about the opportunities and challenges that exist for Yemen’s upcoming electoral processes.

During her recent visit, USAID DAA Elisabeth Kvitashvili practices registering with Yemen's new biometric voter registration system.   Photo credit: USAID

During her recent visit, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili practices registering with Yemen’s new biometric voter registration system.
Photo credit: USAID

For a country with previous voter registries acknowledged to contain duplicate and under-age voters, as well as “ghost” voters, the use of the new registry will generate a list of voters that is far more rigorous and less susceptible to fraud. Past voter registries were compiled manually and took upwards of two years to complete.

Funded by international donors, including USAID, the registry is a public sector IT project with software procured in Yemen and ranks among the most sophisticated in the world.  I was eager to try it out and so I was fingerprinted–both hands–on a screen that “captured” my fingerprints and then photographed with special eye recognition technology.

The new biometric registration process will generate a far more accurate voters list. It will also provide the government, in particular the Civil Status and Registration Authority, with the basis to complete their civil register and assist in the issuance of a national identity card.  To our knowledge, this is the first biometric voter registration project undertaken in the Middle East and North Africa region and is on par with recent, high-quality projects, such as one developed in Kenya last year.

The registry is housed with the SCER which is charged with carrying out the registry in advance of national elections scheduled in the next year. The elections will follow a constitutional drafting process and referendum, both of which will receive major technical support from USAID.

As an essential foundation for a modern civil Yemeni state, the country’s upcoming constitutional referendum is an important process of giving citizens an opportunity to register their opinion on the outcomes of the recently completed National Dialogue Conference.

Improving Agriculture to Help Lift Nigerian Families Out of Poverty

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Alex Thier (far left) looks on as a Nigerian farmer checks the starch level of his cassava crop. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Standing at the gates to the Nigerian cassava processing plant, Thai Farms, we held our breath while watching a local farmer anxiously weigh a sack of his latest cassava crop. Cassava, a starchy local staple crop, takes 12 to 24 months to grow, but begins to rot after only 48 hours out of the ground.  So for this local farmer, transporting and being able to quickly sell his crop is essential to getting a good price.

To determine purchase prices, cassava is weighed and then tested for starch content through a simple, yet ingenious method of submersing the cassava tubers in water to test buoyancy. The higher the starch content, the more cassava flour is produced and the more money the farmer earns per kilo. The farmer breathed a sigh of relief when the starch content turned out to be high enough for the factory to buy his produce, but not high enough to fetch the best price.  The farmer left relieved, but somewhat disappointed and hopefully inspired to plant improved varieties next season.

In Nigeria, more than 70 percent of the population earns their livelihood from agriculture and 70 percent of the MARKETS II farmers live on less than $1.25 each day. By giving these farmers the tools to improve their harvest and connecting them with buyers, USAID is helping the farmers earn a higher selling price that is essential to increasing their household income and lifting their families out of extreme poverty.

a fish pond

Fish swim in one of many fish ponds at the USAID supported Timmod Farms in Nigeria. (Photo Credit: USAID)

Thai Farms exemplifies the MARKETS II model of connecting local farmers to new markets and technologies. However, there are several other local agri-business enterprises boosting the economy in Nigeria. Timmod Farms, for example, is a Nigerian success story. The farm was established in November 2004 with just four ponds of fish and is now one of the leading fish processors in Nigeria. Timmod Farms produces a smoked catfish that is well-known in the local Nigerian market and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Fisheries in Nigeria. The extremely entrepreneurial owner, Rotimi Omodehin, keeps adding new parts to the business, but is also concerned about the potential for further growth. Every step on the value chain suffers from some fundamental constraints, especially reliable access to energy and credit. These producers pay three to five times the price of energy from the grid to power their enterprises with expensive diesel generators. This is necessary as the power supply from the utility is unreliable and surges can damage expensive equipment. Credit, meanwhile, is hard to get at all and often costs 20 to 25 percent annual interest making loans hard to get, very expensive and very risky. To really enable small famers and small enterprises to drive inclusive economic growth, these problems will have to be addressed.

USAID has the opportunity to pull farmers out of poverty by sharing best practices in agriculture activities and focusing on value chains as a whole. Let us know what programs have been most successful for you or share your local stories of success.

Building Skills and Promoting Collaboration among the Middle East and North Africa’s Budding Journalists

I have a rule of thumb when looking at the democratic transitions underway around the Middle East and North Africa. When the press is open and objective, I am optimistic. When it’s muzzled and biased, I am concerned. At its best, an objective and professional media can hold accountable government and business leaders, and educate and inform citizens. At its worst, poor journalism can mislead, minimize growing problems, and even provide cover for incompetence and corruption.

Around the Middle East and North Africa, USAID is partnering with The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) to empower the region’s professional journalists, as well as  citizen journalists, to report on public-service issues that affect citizens’ everyday lives. The Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives Program, administered by USAID’s Office of Middle East Programs, provides online instruction, in-person training and peer learning, and mentoring to participating journalists. Particular emphasis during the training is placed on the  use of digital media tools. The program also provides seed funding for promising investigative projects.

Journalists from Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco discuss a collaborative research project at a regional training program organized by USAID and ICFJ in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo: Frank Folwell, ICFJ)

Journalists from Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco discuss a collaborative research project at a regional training program organized by USAID and ICFJ in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo: Frank Folwell, ICFJ)

So far, over 250 journalists from Morocco to Yemen have participated in the training programs. ICFJ and USAID recently brought together 30 of the most talented participants, 11 of them women, to Morocco to work on cross-border investigative projects tackling regional topics that transcend national boundaries. The quality of their work is astounding. Research topics covered hard-hitting and challenging topics including trafficking of women, the black market for pharmaceuticals, and targeted recruitment of the region’s youth by extremist organizations.

Experience sharing is critical to the success of the program. I enjoyed watching how valuable the broader regional perspective was to individual participants. Group work was filled with moments of inspiration where participants realized that issues they encounter are also experienced elsewhere, or where participants from one country shared an experience which deepened the thinking of participants from another. A tight network has formed among participants, allowing them to share experiences, challenges and successes. USAID/Morocco Mission Director Dana Mansuri, who met with the group, relayed that her mother worked as a journalist and newspaper librarian, and how her comprehensive knowledge inspired her own curiosity and love of learning. As I watched this peer-to-peer learning and support develop, I understood better why developing the skills and capacity of local partners and participants sits at the heart of USAID Forward.

The success of the democratic transitions underway around the Middle East and North Africa will depend on well-informed voters educated by a professional and objective media. Ismail Azzam, journalism graduate from Morocco, confirmed that, “I learned more in these USAID-ICFJ workshops than I did in four years of university studies. This program teaches us the journalism skills we need in the real world.” Through our collaboration with ICFJ, USAID is helping regional journalists report with objectivity and impact. As Mission Director Mansuri recalled at the event, quoting Oscar Wilde, “In America, the President reigns for four years. Journalism governs forever and ever.”

Wafaa El Adawy is a Cairo-based Program Management Specialist with USAID’s Office of Middle East Programs.

Experts and Practitioners Discuss Global Trends in Civil Society

2012 CSO Sustainability Index coverUSAID relies on local civil society organizations (CSOs) to play important roles in the development and humanitarian efforts that we support worldwide.  However, current trends of governments placing restrictions on CSOs are requiring donors to find new and better ways to support civil society in difficult circumstances.

Following the release of the latest USAID Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) reports for the Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe and Eurasia (E&E) regions, USAID organized and hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Closing Civil Society Space: Implications for Civil Society Sustainability,”  for practitioners, experts and CSO leaders to discuss the report findings.

Without exception, a free and active civil society remains vital to a nation-state’s health.   According to the findings of the CSOSI, however, civil society and CSOs in many countries around the world faces burdensome financial and legal restrictions carrying out their work.

In light of the growing trend of similar restrictive CSO/NGO laws appearing in countries around the world, the CSOSI tool “is more important than ever in helping us to understand the challenges and constraints CSOs face,” explained USAID’s E&E Bureau Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander who moderated the discussion.

Douglas Rutzen, the President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) said that we are on the cusp of a “tipping point,” where civil society constraints become a social epidemic.  Referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Mr. Rutzen noted the importance of the “messenger” and that constraints are being adopted and transmitted by well-connected, influential countries, such as Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Venezuela. He then noted the “stickiness factor,” commenting that these governments have been adept at casting constraints in rhetorically appealing terms, such as sovereignty, counter-terrorism, and aid effectiveness.  Mr. Rutzen concluded on an optimistic note, stating that it is possible to reverse the tipping point.  Indeed, he referenced numerous examples where the tireless efforts of local civil society, supported by long-term USAID assistance, have had significant, positive impact on civic space around the world.

Claire Ehmann of USAID’s Bureau for Democracy Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, Center of Excellence on Democracy, Rights and Governance, provided an overview of the CSOSI methodology and highlighted global patterns in sustainability .  For example, financial viability continues to be the weakest area of CSO sustainability in both the Africa and E&E regions while advocacy is one of the strongest.

CSO leaders in Egypt, Ukraine and Ethiopia weighed in with the realities on the ground.  According to Egypt’s Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, just getting CSOs registered remains practically impossible in his country.    Funding is also a significant problem in Egypt, where NGOs are prohibited from accepting foreign funding, on national security grounds.

In Ukraine, where CSO-led protests were occurring in real time, challenges lay in the relationship between citizens and the government.  In her presentation, Lyubov Palyvoda of the CCC Creative Center asserted that in comparison to CSOs’ strengths to advocate on behalf of citizens, service delivery lags far behind.

In Ethiopia, the trend is reversed, with the great majority of CSOs working in service delivery.  There, CSOs are burdened by the restrictions placed on the sourcing and utilization of funds.  Debebe Haillegebriel, an independent legal service professional with CSO experience, explained that stipulations in the CSO regulations further constrain organizations from effectively carrying out their work.

The Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), a financial supporter of the CSOSI in four countries, remains committed to improving the enabling environment and promoting the sustainability of CSOs globally.  In his presentation, the CEO of AKF USA, Dr. Mirza Jahani, elaborated upon the Foundation’s commitment to developing the financial viability of CSOs in participating countries.  Through ‘community philanthropy’, public institutions can recognize and develop material resources locally to engage and change their countries for the long term.  Building trust within CSOs and between citizens and the public sector is the second area of AKF’s work related to the CSOSI.   For that, AKF USA supports an accreditation process, starting in Kenya and Pakistan. In those cases technological innovation such as e-platforms can help promote community responsiveness and resource-building.

Maintaining Women’s Potential in Yemen

“The women of Yemen should never again be relegated as second class citizens.”
-Attendee of the New Voices of Yemen Dinner, March 3, 2014

This was the heart of the messaging from the New Voices of Yemen: Women Leaders Dinner I attended on my second evening in the country’s capital, Sana’a. These women, a far larger network than the 20 who attended the dinner, gathered together once again to promote women’s political participation in the continuing transformation of the country.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili in Yemen

Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili in Yemen

With the recent successful conclusion of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, the women lobbied me to ensure USAID would continue to maintain its support in amplifying their voices, calling for a commitment to the quota of 30 percent women’s representation in constitution drafting, elections, and cabinet positions. They also recognize the need to promote opportunities for women in leading private sector roles in support of much needed economic reforms for Yemen.

Women play such a critical role in all of Yemeni society as demonstrated by the small representation at the dinner of a much, much larger community. Women leaders from the government, civil society, and private sector connect through various networks such as Women’s Integrated Network and Women’s National Committee that they themselves established. These women transcend the country’s north and south divisions as much as political differences. They represent the women of Yemen, young and old.

The two women who facilitated the lively and energetic discussion, Entiem and Rabab both represent the dynamic and articulate nature of these new voices of Yemen. They are part of the youth segment representing the future of Yemen.

These new voices play a critical role in assuring Yemen continues on a path toward peace and prosperity, and USAID plans to continue to support their empowerment and equality.

Driving Progress in Asia through Science, Innovation & Partnership

Nepal is a place of mesmerizing beauty. Located in the Himalayas with eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest peak on Earth, Mt. Everest, it’s no wonder more than 20 percent of the country is protected. The diverse terrain ranges from emerald green tea gardens, terraced paddy fields and historic temples nestled in hillsides to thick jungle, sprawling forest, pristine lakes and the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region.

The beneficiaries seen here grow off-season, high-value vegetable crops with drip irrigation technology, which increases crop yields by up to 30 percent and reduces water consumption by up to 75 percent, helping farmers cope with more erratic water supply from climate change while increasing their incomes.

The beneficiaries seen here grow off-season, high-value vegetable crops with drip irrigation technology, which increases crop yields by up to 30 percent and reduces water consumption by up to 75 percent, helping farmers cope with more erratic water supply from climate change while increasing their incomes.
Credit: USAID/ Bimala Rai Colavito

But what lurks behind this idyllic landscape is a growing problem — climate change. Nepal struggles with both water scarcity and increased flooding, impacting everything from health and nutrition to livelihoods and food production. With agriculture employing 80 percent of the population and one in three suffering from food insecurity, these ecological shocks can present serious setbacks for farmers and their families, robbing them of their livelihoods or ability to put food on the table.

At USAID, one of our top priorities is developing innovative solutions that can help vulnerable communities withstand chronic threats, such as pandemics or climate change, and sustain progress when disaster strikes — not get pushed further into poverty. This is important across the globe but particularly in Asia, where half the world’s poor live and more than half of all natural disasters occur. In today’s interconnected world, our success matters to the United States. As the fastest growing region in the world accounting for more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half its trade, Asia has become a key driver of global politics and economics. Progress — or instability — in Asia has ripple effects throughout the world and can impact us here at home. Across the region, we’re hard at work.

In Nepal, we’re helping farmers and families mitigate the adverse impacts of a changing environment on their lives and livelihoods. We’re helping them adapt to new rainfall patterns and adopt new water-saving tools such as multiple-use water systems for sanitation needs, drinking and growing food. We’re also introducing solar-powered pumps, which enable farmers to use drip irrigation for high-value crops, increasing their annual income by over a third. Our work has had a transformational impact on women in particular — who are typically responsible for collecting water — freeing up their time and energy to invest in other aspects of their lives.

We’re forging partnerships that leverage resources and harness the science, technology and innovation that exist throughout the region to maximize impact — and reach. USAID recently announced three new partnerships with Indian organizations to share successful, low-cost agricultural innovations and technologies with African countries. These partnerships are a win-win for all: The organizations gain access to new market space; USAID advances its efforts to increase food security and farmers’ incomes in Africa; and African countries gain access to new tools to help their citizens escape extreme poverty. These include a low-cost tractor, an organic fertilizer made out of seaweed and a solar-powered food dehydrator — all devised to increase yields and incomes by mechanizing operations, fertilizing depleted soils and preventing post-harvest losses.

In Timor-Leste, we saw a great opportunity to extend our reach by partnering with ConocoPhillips, which has significant investments in the country and contributes to sustainable community development — particularly in agriculture and education to help Timor-Leste improve agricultural productivity and increase its pool of skilled workers. This is vital in a country where nearly 40 percent of people live in extreme poverty and more than 60 percent of the population work in agriculture. Together, we are helping more farmers than ever before diversify their crops to increase their incomes and improve their families’ health and nutrition. Through this partnership, we have been able to double the number of farm families benefiting from this project. Farmers practicing new horticulture techniques have boosted their incomes by up to 300 percent.

And we’re bringing transformative science and technology to remote corners of the world where they’re needed most. Due to climate change and rapid urbanization, the coastal nation of Bangladesh — which has the highest malnutrition rates in the region — is losing up to 1 percent of its arable land each year. Adding to the challenge, 80 percent of the country rests in a low-lying river delta prone to flooding. To tackle these challenges, USAID is training farmers in the use of high-yielding varieties of rice seeds that are tolerant to soil salinity and adverse weather, as well as in the use of fertilizer deep placement technology, which allows for fertilizer to be placed under the soil and closer to the root where it is most effective, as opposed to on top of the soil where it is more likely to be washed away. As a result, soil fertility is improved, fertilizer use is reduced and yields are increased. Our efforts helped the coastal district of Barisal end its rice-deficiency and produce enough rice to feed its people.

Asia faces complex and integrated problems on a scale never before seen in history. These issues demand innovative approaches that combine resources and expertise at every opportunity. We are committed to the task, and hope you’ll click here to find out how you can join us.

The Legends of East Africa Come to an Anthropologie Store near You

In late February, U.S. based retailer Anthropologie launched the “Legend and Song Collection” to celebrate the craft and artisans of East Africa. This new collection offers traditional African textiles and beading combined with the unmistakable Anthropologie style. Bright colors and intricate patterns adorn dresses, skirts, jewelry, and accessories for this limited time collection.

While sold only in U.S.  Anthropologie stores for the time being, the full collection was manufactured entirely in East Africa. With the help of our East Africa Trade Hub, the “legends and song” of Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda have made their way onto the shelves of Anthropologie.

Here at USAID, we work to boost trade with and within Africa, particularly in the East African region. Through President Obama’s Trade Africa initiative and our East Africa Trade hub, we work with public and private sector partners to implement information and communication technology solutions, trade facilitation tools, and devise regional strategies to improve the transparency and accessibility of markets.

In early 2013, we met with key decision makers at Anthropologie about sourcing options in East Africa and invited their teams to visit us here in Kenya. They had never explored the region for their stores, so we knew we had to find the right conditions in order for this idea to come to fruition. We set up customized exploratory visits to match Anthropologie’s design specifications and the styles and capacity of local East African companies. Our colleagues introduced the Anthropologie team to several designers, before they decided on six African companies: Sammy Handmade of EthiopiaMille CollinesGahaya Links and Indego Africa of Rwanda; and Doreen Mashika and URU Diamonds of Tanzania.

“With the Trade Hub’s guidance we were able to seamlessly access the market in this region. It is exciting for us as a company and we look forward to the future possibilities,” said Karen Wilkins, Director of Technical Design for Anthropologie/Urban Inc. Karen and her team of technical design specialists worked closely with the designers to make sure the specifications and designs were technically accurate.

Over the past four years through our Origin Africa campaign, the East Africa Trade Hub has provided technical support and guidance to the many small designers and manufacturers in the region. The campaign helps change perceptions about Africa by allowing international buyers to see just how integral design and creativity are to Africa’s future. Through the work of producers, designers, small businesses, exporters, buyers and retailers, Origin Africa supports African trade in textiles/apparel, cut flowers, footwear, specialty foods, home decor, and fashion accessories. Since 2009, the East Africa Trade Hub has directly facilitated over $160 million in exports under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

“Many of the companies in the Anthropologie collection have been beneficiaries of Trade Hub support for several years,” says Finn Holm-Olsen,  AGOA Trade Advisor for USAID’s East Africa Trade Hub.  “On a broader scale, our Origin Africa initiative has been at the forefront of changing perceptions about Africa.  So it is exciting to see, through this special collection, such a wide range of uniquely African products on offer to U.S. consumers.”

Anthropologie’s trust in and promotion of local African companies is a testament to the rising prominence of designers and manufacturers in East Africa. These designers now have the capacity and tools necessary to find success in the US market.

Visit the collection online. Products will be featured in select Anthropologie locations this spring.

Learning from Past Elections to Improve Current Elections

Rapid Assessment Review cover

Together, PPL and DCHA staff compiled a Rapid Assessment Review of Kenya’s 2013 elections.

International support for elections has emphasized various dimensions during the past several decades.   In an effort to promote free and genuine electoral processes, assistance has included technical support for election commissions, provision of electoral commodities, international and domestic election monitoring, political party capacity building and many other modes. The March 2013 Kenyan elections, whose anniversary we mark this month, brought to the fore a new approach: the international community’s multi-faceted support for an election process combined with a proactive violence prevention campaign. The fact that Kenyan institutions ultimately managed the process in a manner that minimized violence, in stark contrast to the horrific post-elections experience in 2007, and where all parties accepted the results despite a close result and Supreme Court appeal, makes this election worthy of study.

The USAID/Kenya mission, which dedicated considerable time and creative effort to supporting the Kenyan election process over several years, sought to memorialize its efforts in a manner that could be shared with other USAID missions facing similar circumstances.  Hence, the Mission requested that I and two DCHA colleagues conduct a Rapid Assessment Review (RAR) of USAID’s experience, beginning with the period immediately following the 2007 election violence and continuing through the post-election period in 2013.  We chose a RAR rather than a more immediate After Action Review and or the more rigorous evaluation performed in accordance with USAID’s 2011 Evaluation Policy, to quickly, but fully, capture important lessons about election support in dynamic, politically complex settings, where diverse interventions are required to achieve desired outcomes.

The RAR emphasizes that USAID was not the principal actor that contributed to the largely successful outcome. Most important, a wide range of Kenyans –election officials,  party activists and civil society organizers – were the individuals committed to the reform process initiated in response to the previous post-election violence.  USAID’s role in the Kenyan elections was embedded in a broader U.S. government effort, which featured the active involvement of several U.S. Ambassadors, a team from the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and, in the lead-up to election day, a proactive inter-agency effort, both at post and in Washington.

Among the RAR’s 11 recommendations are the following:  “Promote elections that are peaceful and credible, and avoid operating as if these objectives are inherently in conflict” and “Start early – An election is a process, not an event.”   Having just returned from a visit to Nigeria, I know that these and other lessons included in the RAR will resonate with Nigerian officials as they prepare for February 2015 elections in a country with even more linguistic, ethnic and geographic divisions than Kenya, and which has also had experiences with poorly administered elections leading to increased tensions and violence.

USAID is not alone in seeking to learn from the Kenya experience.  In addition to the RAR, you can learn more about the Kenya elections process through the State Department’s “Final Evaluation on CSO ‘s Kenya Engagement,” the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’s ”OCHA Lessons Learned of the Kenya Election Process Humanitarian Preparedness Process and the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect’s “R2P in Practice: Ethnic Violence, Elections and Atrocity Prevention in Kenya.  And just last week, the U.S. Institute for Peace organized a symposium on “Kenya, One Year Later: Lessons Learned for Preventing Mass Violence.”

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