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Archives for Democracy and Governance

FrontLines: Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines, to learn more about the Agency’s work in democracy, human rights and governance.

This Timor-Leste printing press was destroyed in 1999 during violence following a referendum on independence. Today, the artifact remains near the current press at Suara Timor Lorosae – the first independent newspaper in Timor-Leste – to remind people of the importance of a free and independent media. Salvador J. Ximenes Soares, shown here beside the press, is the newspaper’s editor. USAID funded the destroyed press and the one that replaced it. Photo credit: Mauricio Borges, USAID

Some highlights:

  • Last year’s Arab Spring protests are this year’s stepped up march toward democracy for Egyptian and Tunisian citizens
  • Says Youk Chhang, a survivor of Cambodia’s genocide under the Khmer Rouge: “[W]e need to make sense of our history before we can heal and move on.”
  • Democracy is on the airwaves as the Sudan Radio Service provides an independent voice for national and community news in the new nation of South Sudan
  • USAID is helping some of the 1 billion people on the planet who have disabilities secure the tools they need to lead full and independent lives
  • Progress is taking hold in a post-dictator Paraguay as government and civil society embrace reforms

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From Fragility to Agility

I am in Busan as part of the US Delegation to the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  We are meeting in the cavernous Bexco Convention Center, in a city that was heavily bombed 50 years ago and sustained with American humanitarian aid for the recovery years after the Korean War. It is now the 5th largest port globally and proudly hosting this conference with announcements that the Republic of Korea will meet its commitment to double Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2015 as part of their repayment of kindness and support in their times of need.

While here, I am especially focused on three issue areas:  democracy, rights and governance; fragile states, and disaster resilience, all of which are being highlighted here as vital to effective development.  I am heartened by this new emphasis, stemming from an increased, collective realization that the MDGs cannot be realized without inclusive democratic governance, greater resilience to shocks and a pathway out of conflict and fragility for the bottom one and a half billion living in conflict affected states.

We know that nearly 30% of ODA is spent in fragile and conflict affected states and that these countries are the furthest from accomplishing MDGs.  We have been actively working with a coalition of donors and self-proclaimed fragile states to develop a “New Deal” that provides a mutually accountable platform for helping these states climb out of fragility. Or, as colleague from South Sudan proclaimed, support their aspirations to move from fragility to agility.

Decentralization in Africa

On July 9, 2011, the national flag was raised for the first time in the new country of South Sudan.  Even as official ceremonies were underway in the capital Juba, the country began to confront fundamental dilemmas about how to establish the basic patterns of governance.  What should the system of government look like?  Should it be federal, with powerful regional states?  Should responsibilities be transferred to local governments, or even to community organizations?  Do questions such as local capacity and national stability speak for or against decentralizing government?

Countries across Africa have wrestled with such questions, many of which are about which levels of government have (or should have) authority, power, resources, and responsibilities in order to best respond to public needs.  Decentralization is a growing governance trend in Africa, and as USAID policymakers and programming officers develop their strategies for work in countries like South Sudan, they will increasingly be taking it into account.

Since 2010, USAID has developed a set of reports that study and glean lessons from African experiences with decentralization.  The reports covered 10 African countries documenting their experiences and examining in each case how decentralization affects key governance characteristics.  Among the characteristics of interest are the legal authority of subnational units, their degree of autonomy from the central government, along with patterns of accountability between actors, and the overall capacity of actors in African governance.  The overall success of decentralization experiences in Africa depends upon a mix of these characteristics that gives local actors greater opportunities for decision-making while also ensuring that the central government retains the power to oversee and monitor local actors.

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The Multiple Roles of Police in Combating Trafficking in Persons

Eric Beinhart, Associate Director, Department of Justice, International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). Eric has been detailed to USAID as a Senior Criminal Justice Advisor since February 2009.

People typically associate police with the investigation and prosecution of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) cases, but they often do not know the critical role that police play in combating TIP through prevention, protection, and the building of partnerships.

In many countries police are the largest representative of government and should be seen as key instruments to combating TIP.  Police can work closely with citizens and civil society organizations to help implement civic education programs, community and school intervention programs for youths at risk, and community meetings to discuss crime problems in an effort to prevent TIP.  As first responders to crimes, police play a vital protection role by connecting TIP victims with medical and social services. Police also strengthen the connection between rule of law and education, social services, civil society and local governance.

Unfortunately, official corruption, especially police corruption, is a major problem when it comes to combating TIP. USAID’s work to strengthen civil society and media in various countries, however, helps empower citizens to hold their governments accountable.

In terms of prosecution, TIP programming often places too much emphasis on building the capacity of police to investigate TIP cases. Teaching investigative skills to police who work in an agency that lacks basic policies and procedures, fundamental leadership and management principles, and consistent staffing patterns is akin to buying chandeliers to install in a mansion before the foundation is built. This is why, in the post-Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review World, the U.S. Government must pursue a strong interagency approach to combating TIP.

Indonesia is an excellent example of how close cooperation between the Department of Justice, the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP), the Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau (INL),  and USAID has made impressive progress in combating TIP. The Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), funded by GTIP, pursued a “Point of Origin” strategy in Indonesia where remote locations used by criminals to traffic in persons, drugs, endangered species, and illegal timber were targeted for combating TIP. USAID collaborated with ICITAP to identify local NGOs working on TIP, and ICITAP then organized and presented joint counter-TIP training for police and NGO members. This partnership created a solid foundation for information sharing between citizens and police on TIP, which led to several arrests and convictions. The project also produced master police trainers who were then deployed throughout the country. This approach was incorporated into the long-term sustainable institutional development program that ICITAP launched with the Indonesian National Police in 2000 with funding from the Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau.

Police can play a critical, multiplier role in addressing human trafficking around the world. However, USAID and the interagency must use caution when considering police assistance for trafficking in persons programs and be vigilant in identifying corruption and human rights issues beforehand.

Facebook Activism Inspires West Bank Youth

Youth in the West Bank town of Burqa are using Facebook to motivate a new generation of civic activism for the health of the community.

Ameena Abu Odeh, a 17-year-old from the West Bank town of Burqa, is a typical teenager. An avid ‘Facebooker,’ she was surprised to see a flurry of health activism related to her village on the social network. “I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 14 years old. When I saw a Burqa Facebook page posting chronic disease awareness activities, I knew I could help,” she explained.

Through USAID’s Palestinian Heath Sector Reform and Development Project, villages like Burqa are participating in the Champion Community Approach to improving health care quality and access. The goal is to establish dynamic and continuous interaction between Ministry of Health primary health-care clinics and the communities they serve through empowered Community-Based Organizations (CBOs).

The Burqa community health clinic serves a population of 4,000, but most people living in Burqa viewed the clinic in a less than positive light. “There was a lack of civic participation, people did not trust the health care services, and would instead spend money on private doctors,” explained community coordinator Hanna Masoud, a 25-year-old sociology graduate. Hanna is one of two coordinators for the clinic’s partner CBO. They initially faced uphill battles convincing the local village council to become involved.

Hanna recognized that a fresh approach was necessary. Utilizing the IT talents of other young people in Burqa, she reached out to other young people online. The youth responded. To date, the Burqa clinic has more than 100 volunteers, many still in their teens. “We now have 300 fans on Facebook and receive as many as 1,500 views per day with excited responses from Palestinians living abroad…there have even been financial donations to our clinic,” explained 17-year-old volunteer and Facebook administrator Adi. This initiative is bridging community relations across generations, explained volunteer and mother of five Rania. “Watching from my window, I saw three of my children participating in a first-aid workshop. They even began leaving the house early on weekends to participate in clean-up activities,” she said. “After watching their dedication, how could I not become involved?”

By providing on-the-job coaching and mentoring of health professionals, procuring essential equipment, and establishing community-clinic boards, the Champion Community Approach is taking root in these communities. People are seeing positive results and are renewing their faith in their local clinics. To date, more than 500,000 participants from these communities have engaged in health promotion activities throughout the West Bank.

Ameena and other young people like her are making a difference in their communities. “I want to become a social worker…helping people is what I want to do with my life.”

To see a video about USAID’s Champion Community initiative, please visit USAID West Bank/Gaza’s Youtube page.

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.

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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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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