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Pro-Secession Feelings Stronger than Ever in South Sudan

MELUT, Sudan–If you’ve been reading news from Southern Sudan, you
may have read a statement along the lines of “analysts widely predict
that the south will vote for separation.”

From the perspective of journalists like me who are writing these
articles, this line is a bit of of a cop out, but the sentiment in
Southern Sudan is so overwhelming pro-secession that it seems wrong
not to mention it. At the same time, it is not possible to
cite statistics or an opinion poll with irrefutable evidence as to how
southerners intend to vote in their self-determination vote in
January, so cautionusly using the vague category of “analysts” to
describe the prevailing view here is the safest best.

On a recent day in Melut, a town near the north-south border in Upper
Nile state, interviews with people in the market and with local
government officials yielded these quotes which, while highly
anecdotal, do hint at the extremely strong feelings many southerners
hold about the referendum and its aftermath:

“My people are not using the word unity. They’re using the word
secession. That’s what they are talking about.”

“Today in Melut, people are saying, you government, don’t mislead
us–take us across the river. We are now in the river and we want to
cross the river. We don’t want to fall in.”

“My people are ready for separation…they cannot delay because they
are suffering. They are sick. When they go to the clinic, the
referendum is their medicine.”

“We are just waiting for the 9th of January 2011 and we will vote
against unity. We want separation. All will be better.”

“I’m very impatient for the 9th of January. I wish it would come sooner.”

Security | | Leave a comment

Obama’s Speech to the UN MDG Summit

The Obama administration took the opportunity of the President’s speech to the MDG Summit to roll out elements of its new Global Development Strategy.   Earlier today, I spoke with George Ingram from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, who pointed out to me one of the more significant  elements of the strategy: USAID will now be included in the National Security Council.

Here is what that change means, in practice.

Form often follows function in the United States government.  Most of the major and minor foreign policy decisions today are made through something called “the inter-agency process.”   How this works is that low level bureaucrats from various agencies–i.e., the Treasury Department, Department of State, the Pentagon, etc — confer with each other to make policy decision.  After they arrive at a decision (or if they cannot achieve consensus) they kick the issue up to the next bureaucratic level, and so on.

This bit of bureaucratic reshuffling means that the USAID  will sit across the table from the Department of Defense, State, Treasury, etc when major foreign policy decisions are made.    This has the potentially to fundamentally change how development is included in US foreign policy. Historically, development imperatives have been subordinated to diplomatic, trade, or defense imperatives. This is not because anyone had anything against development, per se.  Rather, the bureaucracies represented around the table simply had other priorities.  Accordingly, “development” never had a strong advocate at the National Security Council.

Now, with the USAID on the NSC global development interests will have a dedicated advocate in the inter agency process.

That’s the theory at least!

Here are President Obama’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

Millennium Development Goals Summit

United Nations Headquarters

New York, New York

As Prepared for Delivery –

Good afternoon.  Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen.

In the Charter of this United Nations, our countries pledged to work for “the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”  In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we recognized the inherent dignity and rights of every individual, including the right to a decent standard of living.  And a decade ago, at the dawn of a new millennium, we set concrete goals to free our fellow men, women and children from the injustice of extreme poverty.

These are the standards we set.  Today, we must ask—are we living up to our mutual responsibilities?

I suspect that some in wealthier countries may ask—with our economies struggling, so many people out of work, and so many families barely getting by, why a summit on development?  The answer is simple.  In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans.

When a child dies from a preventable disease, it shocks our conscience.  When a girl is deprived of an education or her mother is denied equal rights, it undermines the prosperity of their nation.  When a young entrepreneur can’t start a new business, it stymies the creation of new jobs and markets—in his country and in ours.  When millions of fathers cannot provide for their families, it feeds the despair that can fuel instability and violent extremism.  When a disease goes unchecked, it can endanger the health of millions around the world.

So let’s put to rest the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests.  And let’s reject the cynicism that says certain countries are condemned to perpetual poverty.  For the past half century has witnessed more gains in human development than at any time in history.  A disease that had ravaged the generations, smallpox, was eradicated.  Health care has reached the far corners of the world, saving the lives of millions. From Latin America to Africa to Asia, developing nations have transformed into leaders in the global economy.

Nor can anyone deny the progress that has been made toward achieving certain Millennium Development Goals.  The doors of education have been opened to tens of millions of children, boys and girls.  New cases of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are down; access to clean drinking water is up.  Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted from extreme poverty.

Yet we must also face the fact that progress towards other goals has not come nearly fast enough.  Not for the hundreds of thousands of women who lose their lives every year simply giving birth.  Not for the millions of children who die from the agony of malnutrition.  Not for the nearly one billion people who endure the misery of chronic hunger.

This is the reality we must face—that if the international community just keeps doing the same things the same way, we will miss many development goals.  That is the truth.  With ten years down and just five years before our development targets come do, we must do better.

Now, I know that helping communities and countries realize a better future isn’t easy.  I’ve seen it in my own life.  I saw it in my mother, as she worked to lift up the rural poor, from Indonesia to Pakistan.  And I saw it on the streets of Chicago, were I worked as a community organizer trying to build up underdeveloped neighborhoods.  It’s hard.  But I know progress is possible.

As President, I have made it clear that the United States will do our part.  My national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative.  Secretary of State Clinton is leading a review to strengthen and better coordinate our diplomacy and development efforts.  We’ve reengaged with multilateral development institutions.  And we’re rebuilding the United States Agency for International Development as the world’s premier development agency.  In short, we’re making sure that the United States will be a global leader in international development in the 21st century.

We also recognize that the old ways will not suffice.  That is why in Ghana last year I called for a new approach to development that unleashes transformational change and allows more people to take control of their own destiny.  After all, no country wants to be dependent on another.  No proud leader in this room wants to ask for aid.  And no family wants to be beholden to the assistance of others.

To pursue this vision, my administration conducted a comprehensive review of America’s development programs.  We listened to leaders in government, NGOs and civil society, the private sector and philanthropy, Congress and our many international partners.

Today, I am announcing our new U.S. Global Development Policy—the first of its kind by an American administration.  It’s rooted in America’s enduring commitment to the dignity and potential of every human being.  And it outlines our new approach and the new thinking that will guide our overall development efforts, including the plan that I promised last year and that my administration has delivered to pursue the Millennium Development Goals.

Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business.

First, we’re changing how we define development.  For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered.  But aid alone is not development.  Development is helping nations to actually develop—moving from poverty to prosperity.  And we need more than just aid to unleash that change.  We need to harness all the tools at our disposal—from our diplomacy to our trade and investment policies.

Second, we’re changing how we view the ultimate goal of development.  Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn’t always improved those societies over the long term.  Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades.  That’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break.  Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty.

Let me be clear, the United States of America has been, and will remain, the global leader in providing assistance.  We will not abandon those who depend on us for life-saving help.  We keep our promises, and honor our commitments.

In fact, my administration has increased assistance to the least developed countries.  We’re working with partners to finally eradicate polio.  Building on the good efforts of my predecessor, we continue to increase funds to fight HIV/AIDS to record levels—and that includes strengthening our commitment to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. And we will lead in times of crisis, as we have done since the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan.

But the purpose of development—and what’s needed most right now—is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed.  So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people.  We will seek development that is sustainable.

Building in part on the lessons of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which has helped countries like El Salvador build rural roads and raise the incomes of its people, we will invest in the capacity of countries that are proving their commitment to development.

Remembering the lesson of the Green Revolution, we’re expanding scientific collaboration with other countries and investing in game-changing science and technologies to help spark historic leaps in development.

For example, instead of just treating HIV/AIDS, we’ve invested in pioneering research to finally develop a way to help millions of women actually prevent themselves from being infected in the first place.

Instead of simply handing out food, our food security initiative is helping countries like Guatemala, Rwanda and Bangladesh develop their agriculture, improve crop yields and help farmers get their products to market.

Instead of simply delivering medicine, our Global Health Initiative is helping countries like Mali and Nepal build stronger health systems and deliver better care.  And with financial and technical assistance, we’ll help developing countries embrace the clean energy technologies they need to adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon growth.

In other words, we’re making it clear that we will partner with countries that are willing to take the lead.  Because the days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end.

This brings me to the third pillar of our new approach.  To unleash transformational change, we’re putting a new emphasis on the most powerful force the world has ever known for eradicating poverty and creating opportunity.  It’s the force that turned South Korea from a recipient of aid to a donor of aid.  It’s the force that has raised living standards from Brazil to India.  And it’s the force that has allowed emerging African countries like Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique to defy the odds and make real progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, even as some of their neighbors—like Cote d’Ivoire—have lagged behind.

The force I’m speaking of is broad-based economic growth.  Now, every nation will pursue its own path to prosperity.  But decades of experience tell us that there are certain ingredients upon which sustainable growth and lasting development depends.

We know that countries are more likely to prosper when they encourage entrepreneurship; when they invest in their infrastructure; and when they expand trade and welcome investment.  So we will partner with countries like Sierra Leone to create business environments that attract investment, not scare it away.  We’ll work to break down barriers to regional trade and urge nations to open their markets to developing countries.  And we’ll keep pushing for a Doha round that is ambitious and balanced—one that works not just for major emerging economies, but for all economies.

We know that countries are more likely to prosper when governments are accountable to their people.  So we are leading a global effort to combat corruption—which in many places is the single greatest barrier to prosperity, and which is a profound violation of human rights.  That’s why we now require oil, gas and mining companies that raise capital in the United States to disclose all payments they make to foreign governments.  And it’s why I urged the G-20 to put corruption on its agenda and make it harder for corrupt officials to steal from their people and stifle their development.

The United States will focus our development efforts on countries like Tanzania that promote good governance and democracy; the rule of law and equal administration of justice; transparent institutions, with strong civil societies; and respect for human rights.  Because over the long run, democracy and economic growth go hand in hand.

We will reach out to countries making the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, and from war to peace.  The people of Liberia show that even after years of war, great progress can be achieved.  And as others show the courage to put war behind them—including, we hope, in Sudan—the United States will stand with those who seek to build and sustain peace.

And we know that countries are more likely to prosper when they tap the talents of all their people.  That’s why we’re investing in the health, education and rights of women, and working to empower he next generation of women entrepreneurs and leaders.  Because when mothers and daughters have access to opportunity, economies grow and governance improves.  And it’s why we’re partnering with young people, who in many developing countries are more than half the population.  We’re expanding educational exchanges, like the one that brought my father to America from Kenya, and we’re helping young entrepreneurs succeed in a global economy.

As the final pillar of our new approach, we’ll insist on more responsibility—from ourselves and others.  We’ll insist on mutual accountability.

For our part, we’ll work with Congress to better match our investments with the priorities of our partner countries.  Guided by the evidence, we’ll invest in programs that work and end those that don’t.  Because we need to be big-hearted and hard-headed.

To my fellow donor nations—let’s honor our respective commitments.  Let’s resolve to put an end to hollow promises that are not kept.  Let’s commit to the same transparency that we expect of others.  And let’s move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we’re spending and let’s instead focus on results—whether we’re actually making improvements in people’s lives.

To developing countries, this must be your moment of responsibility as well.  We want you to prosper and succeed—it’s in your interest, and it’s in our interest.  We want to help you realize your aspirations.  But there is no substitute for your leadership.  Only you and your people can make the tough choices that will unleash the dynamism of your country.  Only you can make the sustainable investments that improve the health and well-being of your people.  Only you can deliver your nations to a more just and prosperous future.

Finally, let me say this.  No one nation can do everything everywhere and still do it well.  To meet our goals, we must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact.  And just as this work cannot be done by any one government, it cannot be the work of governments alone.  Indeed, foundations, the private sector and NGOs are making historic commitments that have redefined what’s possible.

This gives us the opportunity to forge a new division of labor for development in the 21st century.  It’s a division of labor where—instead of so much duplication and inefficiency—governments, multilaterals and NGOs all work together.  We each do the piece we do best, as we are doing in support of Ghana’s food security plan, which will help more farmers get more goods to market and earn more money to support their families.

That’s the progress that’s possible.   Together, we can collaborate in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.  Together, we can realize the future that none of us can achieve alone.  Together, we can deliver historic leaps in development.  We can do this.  But only if we move forward with the seriousness and sense of common purpose that this moment demands.

Development that offers a path out of poverty for that child who deserves better.  Development that builds the capacity of countries to deliver the health care and education that their people need.  Development that unleashes broader prosperity and builds the next generation of entrepreneurs and emerging economies.  Development rooted in shared responsibility, mutual accountability and, most of all, concrete results that pull communities and countries from poverty to prosperity.

These are the elements of America’s new approach.  This is the work we can do together.  And this can be our plan—not simply for meeting our Millennium Development Goals, but for exceeding them, and then sustaining them for generations to come.

Thank you very much.

Development | | 1 Comment

The Most Important Thing Happening in All the World Today is Happening Now and You can Watch it Live

UPDATE:  In advance of today’s big meeting on maternal and child health, governments, NGOs, philanthropies and private corporation have pledged $40 billion worth of commitments toward the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

This is very. Big. News.

If these commitments are fully implemented, the lives of 16 million women and children can potentially be saved.  The commitments made today range from very specific policy initiatives (e.g. Bangladesh will train an additional 3,000 midwives; Liberia will increase health spending from 4% to 10% of its national budget; Yemen will “enforce a ministerial decree to provide free contraception to all women of reproductive age”) to new financial commitments from donors (e.g. UK  will give $1.1 billion a year for maternal and child health programs  between now and 2015; CARE International’s $1.8 billion pledge; the pharmaceutical company Merck is donating its HPV vaccine, GARDASIL).

You can watch the meeting live today from between 2:30pm and about 4:30pm EST.

Here is some background about the event from an earlier post.

One of the most anticipated moments during the UN summit coming up later this month is a meeting on on maternal and child health, taking place on Wednesday the 22. It probably won’t draw the same amount of media attention as predicable rants by various global despots, but it holds more potential to change the lives of millions of the most vulnerable people around the world than any UN meeting in a long time

The event will occur on the sidelines of the Millennium Development Goals summit and will focus on the two goals that, so far, have made the least progress toward their 2015 targets. These are Goal 4 (a two-thirds reduction in child mortality) and Goal 5 (a three quarters reduction in maternal mortality and universal access to family planning). Progress toward these goals have been particularly stunted in 49 of the least developed countries in the world, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The idea behind this event is to build new momentum toward achieving these goals. Specifically, it is intended to secure tangible commitments toward implementing a Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health which the Secretary General released two weeks ago.“We want developing countries to come to the table with policy commitments and donor countries will come to the table with financial commitments,” says UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant who met with a group of journalists to preview the event.

A communiqué that encapsulates policy and financial commitments will be released after the meeting. Expectations are already very high. A top UN official, Robert Orr ,told reporters, “There is going to be a huge amount of concrete agreements to fund that strategy.” Those funds will come mostly from donor countries, but also from philanthropies like the Gates Foundation and private corporations, including Johnson and Johnson, which announced a $200 million donation to the cause just yesterday.

In all, the Global Stragegy for Women’s and Children’s Health calls for an additional $26 billion of investments in women’s and children’s health spread across 49 countries to reach MDGs 4 and 5. That is obviously a great deal of money. But in human terms, the returns on this investment are potentially enormous. According to the UN report, more than 15 million deaths of children under five could be prevented; 33 million unwanted pregnancies could be avoided; and 740,000 women would be saved from dying from complications during child birth should these efforts be fully implemented.   Furthermore, it has been widely documented that investments in women and girls can have society-wide multiplier-effects that help to lift whole communities out of poverty.

No one predicts that $26 billion of additional funding will suddenly materialize during the UN meeting. But most UN watchers do expect that convening this meeting will result in a big dent in the funding gap for women’s and children’s health.  This, in the end, is the value of hosting this kind of summit—countries are much more focused on this issue than they would be absent the meeting, and there is “peer pressure” to bring tangible commitments to the table. Ultimately, though, the success of the MDG Summit ought to be measured by the quality of the commitments that are made.

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Your move, Richard

Dancing in the Dark: The Danger of Letting Business Lead on Climate Protection

Your move, Richard

In a candid session on energy and the environment at the Clinton Global Initiative yesterday, the world’s lead climate negotiator Christiana Figueres explained why her organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), had made so little progress in establishing international climate protection regulations. She suggested that there were two main reasons for the climate negotiations stalemate: Tensions between developed and developing countries and–surprisingly, given that she was sharing the stage with green entrepreneur Richard Branson–businesses.

According to the Costa Rican executive director of UNFCC, business is not taking bold enough steps to reduce its carbon footprint because it’s waiting for government to move onto creating a comprehensive regulatory framework. And the governments are nervously staring at their feet because “business is not pushing us,” Figueres explained. “We have a nice little dance of you first, you first, you first…” So which partner does the head of the intergovernmental climate negotiations believe should make the next move? “Very conveniently, I think business should be taking the lead here,” she confided to the audience of corporate and nonprofit leaders. And what would private sector leadership in climate protection look like? Figures suggested the example of the mobile phone revolution, which has spread and decentralized modern communication. The first cellphone was invented in 1973 and weighed 2.5 pounds. By the end of 2010, there will be 5 billion mobile phones on the market, all of which will weigh less than 4 ounces according to her figures.

But letting business twirl governments around the dance floor has its risks. The problem with the praise heaped on the market-driven explosion of mobile phones by Figueres, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and others at the Clinton Global Initiative is that it doesn’t take account of what happens to the phones when they’ve stopped improving the poor’s access to world markets and information. Developing countries like India, China and South Africa are now faced with a flood of toxic e-waste–the hazardous remains of cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices. Mobile phones in India will generate 1,700 tonnes of e-waste this year, a figure that the UN Environment Program expects to increase 18 fold in the next decade. That is a potential human health timebomb in a country with a very informal recycling system: Poor, low caste Indian “rag pickers” rummage through garbage dumps for looking for valuable metals, like the trace amounts mixed with toxic materials in a cellphone circuit board. Even in the developed world, market-based programs manage e-waste and other threats the environment and human health are difficult to craft without the catalyst of government action.

The false promises of nuclear power may be a more useful example of what happens when businesses rush ahead while regulators sort out the details. Since the 1970s, nuclear energy has produced terrawatts of carbon-free energy, but it has also created an ever-growing stockpile of radioactive waste. In nearly every country with nuclear power plants, politicians have failed time and again to find safe, long-term storage for their deadly byproducts. The unregulated growth of e-waste has the potential to create a toxic waste problem in developing countries of nuclear proportions. If advances in distributed generation of clean energy were to make the centralized powerplants unnecessary, prompting a flurry of development in Africa and elsewhere, then perhaps Figueres’ mobile phone example might prove more fitting.

But that hopeful outcome would be more likely if the full support of governments’ research and funding capabilities were behind it. Branson’s billions pale in comparison to the trillions of dollars of investment potential the world’s governments have. Yet, “the psychodynamics right now in the negotiations are focused on the cost” of climate prevention, the UNFCCC executive director told the audience. “What are the opportunities moving into the future? That part of the conversation is not present.” Also missing is talk about the value governments get from investing billions in clean energy and emissions reductions today, to save trillions in climate mitigation costs tomorrow. Abdicating responsibility for protecting the climate to the market risks being led in the wrong direction by businesses that are necessarily more focused on their quarterly revenues than the future of the planet.

For some (grainy) video footage of the panel, check out this story from Treehugger’s Brian Merchant.

(Photo from the Clinton Global Initiative via Flickr.)

Climate | | Leave a comment

A Conversation with Asst Sec of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer

I sat down with Dr. Esther Brimmer Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Affairs. I met Dr. Brimmer at the Waldorf Astoria– Foggy Bottom’s Manhattan headquarters for the week.  We beamed our conversation to the Digital Media Lounge at the 92Y, where the UN Foundation’s Robb Skinner also posed a few question to the Assistant Secretary.

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Exclusive: Interview with Mary Robinson

I had the chance to sit down with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson has been a strong proponent of a human rights approach to development, and we chat about how and why human rights need to underscore development goals. “It’s good development policy”, Robinson said, explaining that using this human rights approach has showed results in many places.

The Millennium Development Goals are first and foremost focused on tangible, measurable objectives and were originally developed without a strong rights component, which Robinson said “disappointed” her. But through high-level efforts and grassroots action, human rights are now back on the agenda as a fundamental element of all the MDGs.

Development, Rights | | Leave a comment

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