article placeholder

New Report Tracks Global AIDS funding

UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation just issued a new report on global funding for HIV. This is an annual exercise, where they try to analyze bilateral assistance on HIV to low and middle-income countries. In 2008, HIV funding reached its highest level ever. Some highlights from the report:

*UNAIDS estimates that $22.1 billion was needed to address the epidemic in low- and middle- income countries in 2008.  Of this, $15.6 billion was available from all sources.

*Disbursements have risen significantly over the past several years: Between 2002 and 2008, disbursements increased by more than six-fold, including a 56 percent increase in the last period.

*In 2008, disbursements fell short of commitments by about a billion dollars. This doesn’t necessarily represent donor failure – sometimes disbursements just take time.

*The US accounted for 51.3% of all disbursed funds.

This is a useful report, and helps to bring accountability to a field with no single tracking body. It is not, however, without its flaws. According to its methodology notes, it doesn’t include funding to Central Asia or the former Soviet Union in general. It also doesn’t count UN agency funding for HIV if that funding comes from the general UN budget and not a donor earmark for HIV.

article placeholder

Grading Obama’s Africa speech II

Aside from that one quibble, I generally agree with the grades Bill Easterly and Chris Blattman accorded to Obama's speech in Accra. I'd probably only give Obama an A-/B+ myself. 

The reason is less substance than the optics of it all.    

To be sure, a speech before Ghana's political elite is a smart choice for a number of reasons.  It is a fine reward for the political maturity Ghana's elite exhibited in the wake of a tightly contested election that was decided by less than 1 % of the vote.  The ruling party lost, but rather than rail against election irregularities, it gave up power.  The peaceful transition of power from one party to another is all too rare on the continent and Ghana's political class deserves praise. However, I get a sense that in service of rewarding the Ghanaian political elite, Obama missed an opportunity to speak directly to the people. 

I happened to be in Addis a couple of weeks after the elections.  The excitement over Obama's victory was evident nearly everywhere you looked.  A teenage kid hanging outside the main UN headquarters was even hawking bootleg DVDs of Obama's Democratic National Convention acceptance speech. Apparently, they were selling.  I bought myself a copy of Dreams from My Father--in amharic--from a street vendor nearby. The title's translation, an amharic speaker told me, reads "Secrets to Greateness and Change."  

This anecdote and others I have heard strongly suggest to me that the President of the United States may be the most popular political leader in Africa.  To that end, I think the speech would have been more effective had it 1) occured in a public setting, like a public square or stadium and 2) drawn more from Obama's signature, direct-to-the-people inspirational oratory.     That's the reasoning behind my A-/B+. 

article placeholder

Assessing Ban’s Burma visit

S-G Ban is briefing the Security Council on his recent trip to Burma today. And while Britain's Foreign Minister may have praised Ban's trip, others were less sanguine about the outcome of his meetings with Burma's ruling junta. Most of this criticism has focused on the fact that Ban was not able to meet with jailed "on trial" opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But Refugees International's Sean Garcia has a different objection, which I think is more worth looking at: that Ban was too focused on his political mission.

Garcia argues that by calling on Burma's generals to adopt political reforms -- and receiving blithe promises to transition to civilian rule in exchange -- he fed their insecurities about an international agenda of regime change. Putting political pressure on recalcitrant leaders-for-life is of course important -- but, because of their very recalcitrance, this is also very likely to only strengthen their anti-democratic resolve. It also made Ban look worse for not securing a meeting with Daw Aung; as unfortunate as it may be, there was very little likelihood that the Burmese generals would have consented to more than a superficial meeting between the two, and there is little that Ban Ki-moon can do to ensure that the opposition leader's trial will be anything more than grossly unfair.

Yet I am also not as optimistic as Garcia that Ban could have achieved too much more in the way of allowing humanitarian aid into the country either. The international community did succeed, eventually (and sort of), in convincing the junta to permit aid to reach the population after last year's devastating Cyclone Nargis. But as that case demonstrated, for such a ruthless and desperate cadre of leaders, even (or especially) the humanitarian assistance is political.

This is not to say that Ban's visit was in vain, or that his pursuit of both tracks, that of political reform and that of human rights and humanitarian aid, were dead ends. The Secretary-General's office is one of the bully pulpit, even if his rhetoric is not of the brow-beating variety. Than Shwe and company do not need any further reasons to oppress their own people; but they know that they are pariahs, and that joining the community of nations as a respected member requires some modicum of both political and human rights.  Conveying this is the balance that the S-G needs to strike every time he opens his mouth, no less in an environment as fraught as Burma's than in the Security Council chamber.

article placeholder

BBC: Sudan women ‘lashed for trousers’

Primitive and deplorable:

"I was wearing trousers and a blouse and the 10 girls who were lashed were wearing like me, there was no difference," [Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein] told the BBC's Arabic service.

Ms Hussein said some women pleaded guilty to "get it over with" but others, including herself, chose to speak to their lawyers and are awaiting their fates.

Under Sharia law in Khartoum, the normal punishment for "indecent" dressing is 40 lashes.

Ms Hussein is a well-known reporter who writes a weekly column called Men Talk for Sudanese papers. She also works for the United Nations Mission in Sudan.

article placeholder

Grading Obama’s Africa speech

Bill Easterly grades Obama's Accra speech.  He comes away generally positive, but this bit irks him. 

“We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, keep the peace, and support those in need. And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational force to bear when needed.”

D. Sigh. Obama seems to fall for the myth of the benevolent, neutral, outside, rapid-response “peacekeepers,” which is a leap of faith relative to the historical record that outside military intervention is rarely neutral and rarely available rapidly “when needed” (JEL article). Any given African country will not automatically see an outside force as neutral just because it is made up of other Africans.

With respect, I think Easterly is missing the point.  The fact that the intervention is "rarely available rapidly 'when needed'" is precisely why the United States should support regional security arrangements, like the African Standby Force, that seek to correct this problem.   The AU, at present, does not have the capacity to mount complex peacekeeping operations, yet it is being asked to bear primary responsibility for fielding these kinds of missions. (e.g. AMIS in Darfur and AMISOM in Somalia).  The problem is, the AU can barely support these kinds of mission.  As Susan Rice has said, Africa is basically "tapped out" with its ability to field peacekeepers. 

To that end, it is important that the international community support efforts to build regional peacekeeping capcity.  This kind of vision is eminantly sensible, could save lives,  and would help make manifest the maxim of “African solutions to African problems."  Hard to see why this vision would come under such harsh criticism from Easterly. 

article placeholder

U.S. names Great Lakes Special Envoy

Will a new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (that's Congo-Rwanda-Burundi, not Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois) solve MONUC's difficulties?  Well, no, but it's still good to see the United States engaged in the oft-neglected region.  And the man tapped for the job, Howard Wolpe, is, as his informed introductions of many a speaker over at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicate, one of the more knowledgeable Africa hands that President Obama could have picked.

article placeholder

Assessing MONUC

An informative look from Al Jazeera on MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo and the largest in the world.

One minor issue: MONUC is no longer just dealing with the "aftershocks" of the Rwandan genocide. Congo's conflict, while tied up in dynamics that cross the border into Rwanda, has long since morphed into its own multi-headed problem.  But that's still more than enough for MONUC to deal with.

article placeholder

Obama in Ghana

This is pretty neat. The White House sent the following sms messages to the mobile phones of a thousands of Africans during the president's speech today.   Full text of his speech here
We made sure that speech would be as accessible to as many Africans as possible on the radio, TV, and by SMS. These are the speech excerpts that we sent out to thousands of SMS subscribers in Africa and around the world.
  • It is an honor for me to be in Accra & to speak to the representatives of the people of Ghana. I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the US.
  • The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.
  • I will focus on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world: democracy; opportunity; health; and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
  • Governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.
  • With better governance, I have no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base for prosperity.
  • People must make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease… promoting public health in their communities and countries.
  • America will support these efforts through a comprehensive, global health strategy.
  • Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division
  • We must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology.
  • I am speaking to the young people. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people.
  • I can promise you this: America will be with you. As a partner. As a friend. Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation.