I’m honored to participate in this panel. I have been a great admirer of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the CBC Foundation since its creation in 1976. 1976 was first time I went to live in Africa, and the CBC has been my partner throughout my whole experience on the continent. In many ways, the CBC has been the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the American people with respect to that continent.
A few months back, I had the pleasure to travel with Susan Rice, Donald Payne, Colin and Alma Powell and others on behalf of President Obama to represent the United States at the birth of a new nation in South Sudan. After decades of civil war resulting in more than two million deaths, the people of South Sudan now have the chance to chart their own destiny. In front of a hundred thousand jubilant people, President Salva Kiir called for peace with Sudan, transparent and clean government, health and education services, and respect for human rights. This was our celebration, too, reflecting the committed work of President Obama, building on the bipartisan efforts of previous administrations, as well as the dedicated work of many advocates in this room.
After the celebrations in Juba, I traveled to the border region of Somalia and Ethiopia. If South Sudan represents the hope and future of Africa, the refugee camps along that border represents the tragedy and challenge of the continent. One-hundred thousand Somalis were in the camp of Dollo Ado, driven from their homes by drought, war and emerging famine in their homeland. The sight of families – mostly women carrying or shepherding children – stumbling into the camps after literally weeks of exodus through the bitter Ogaden desert and receiving their first nutritious meals in months was heart-breaking . The numbers of people in the Horn of Africa affected by this tragedy is staggering. In addition to 750,000 Somalis in imminent risk of starvation and disease, more than 12 people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti are in need of emergency life-saving assistance.
We can and we are responding to both South Sudan and the Horn. Under the direction of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Administrator Shah, USAID and its sister agencies have helped provide a million people in South Sudan with access to clean water, increased school enrollment from one in five to more that 68 percent, and build roads, bridges, power stations and health clinics. Just two days ago, President Obama met with Salva Kiir to reinforce our commitment to a four-pronged approach to strengthen South Sudan’s agriculture sector, promote private trade and invest, build human capacity to govern the new nation, and create an international mechanism to multiply the efforts of South Sudan’s global friends.
On the Horn, we have been the most generous donor of humanitarian assisting, now providing more than $600 million in life-saving aid to those in need. With the Ad Council, we’ve launched a campaign using social media to highlight for the American people the devastation in the region – go to the website, USAID dot gov slash FWD to see how you can help. Further, under the President’s innovative “Feed the Future” initiative, we are helping countries, communities and individuals confront the drought and extreme food insecurity. For example, in Ethiopia, we are supporting a government-led “safety net” program through food and cash for work programs to provide boreholes, medical clinics, nutrition education, and sanitation programs, thus keeping more than eight million Ethiopians from slipping in destitution. We are working with governments and populations in the region to create sustainable food security thru strengthening agriculture and rural development.
Our work in South Sudan and the Horn reflects the broader commitment of this Administration to Africa. The U.S. government provides development assistance to 47 countries throughout Africa. At the Gleneagles conference in 2005, the United States pledged to double its total assistance to Africa within five years, and building on the work the previous administration, President Obama achieved that result. Africa is at the heart of all of the President’s development initiatives world-wide, including the Feed the Future program, the Global Health Initiative that is combatting basic HIV/AIDS, building strong health systems, and attacking maternal and child mortality, and the Climate Change Initiative that is helping countries adopt green-paths toward development and adapting changing climatic conditions. These are But as President Obama said in Accra, Ghana: “Our commitment to Africa must be measured by more than just the dollars we spend. The true sign of success is not whether we are a source of perpetual aid that helps people scrape by – it’s whether we are partners in building the capacity for transformational change.”
This is where the importance of our work to help create strong system of democracy, good governance, and clean administrations is so important. Throughout Africa and beyond, we are assisting government to improve their effectiveness, transparency and accountability. We’re supporting strong legislatures and judiciaries to serve as watchdogs on people’s rights and interests, helping institute strong anti-corruption measures, building vibrant civil societies, overcoming ethnic grievances and economic exclusion, and strengthening a free and independent media and electoral authority. In particular, we need to support women as they step forward to play their rightful and essential role in building strong political, economic and social network and free themselves from exclusion and abuse. The same principles must apply as well to people with disabilities and the LGBT community.
In all of these efforts, we need to be guided by the wisdom and experiences of the people we seek to help, under the expression, “Nothing about them without them.”
We need to adopt an attitude of partnership and humility, recognizing that no individual, no government agency, no NGO, and no international organization has a monopoly on resources, ground truth, good ideas, or moral authority.
At USAID, we also need to walk the walk within our own organization. We have prioritized our work in Africa, and made it clear that service on the continent is career enhancing. We used to have up to 40 percent unfilled positions in our African missions, but our recruitment efforts have now brought that figure down by three fourths, and all our senior positions in Africa are highly sought after. Africa is once again the happening place within our agency. We have brought in one of our most highly respected minister-counselors, Sharon Cromer, to guide these efforts. Let me add that I am personally embarrassed that we do not have a Senate-confirmed assistant administrator in place, but I assure you that we are doing everything possible to fill that position. I personally direct our executive diversity council, which is adopting new programs to ensure that we are inclusive.
In this time of tight budget stringency in the United States, we are well aware of the need to explain to the American people why we are using their dollars for these efforts. It is not enough to explain that our entire assistance budget globally uses less than 1 percent of the federal budget. We must ensure that we are getting, as Administrator Shah has said, “100 cents of development results for every dollar we invest.” In this effort, we are engaged at USAID is as fundamental a process of reform and transformation as I’ve seen in 35 years of public service. We are applying the most modern science, technology and innovation to the development challenge. We are strengthening local systems to ensure sustainability and transparency. We’ve adopted a gold standard for monitoring and evaluation. We’re reforming our work force: about 60 percent of our foreign service personnel has come in over the last three years, bringing new skills and talents.
And we are working harder to explain this to the American people.
A year ago yesterday, President Obama announced the role of development to United Nations General Assembly – it was the first time any president had done this. He said explained that development is in our national interest – it is in our economic interest; most of the fastest-growing markets abroad are in countries that previous received US development assistance (i.e. South Africa, South Korea, Brazil, and Taiwan), and that means exports and jobs for Americans. Its consistent with our values structure; we prefer to live among peaceful, prosperous, democratic countries that respect human rights and human dignity. And it’s in our security interest; these countries are less likely to engage in trafficking drugs and women, create refugees flows, harbor terrorist or pirates, transmit pandemic diseases, and they don’t require American troops.
I would like to conclude with a personal story. My father was a principal at an inner city school, and I recall a time when he took me out to the playground. Glancing across a crowded field, he pointed to a child and said, “that boy there is the next Ralph Bunche,” pointing to another child he said, “and that one there is the next Thurgood Marshall, and there the next Andy Young, and Shirley Chisholm.”
When I stood in the refugee camp in Kenya just a few weeks ago, I looked out at the crowd of over 100,000 people and thought to myself, “that child over there is the next Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela; and that one over there will be the next Wangaari Maathai, Graca Machel, or Kofi Annan.”
- Remarks by Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, at the Beyond the Headlines in the Sahel: Population, Environment, and Security
- Video Remarks by Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, at the 2015 Regional STIP Conference
- Remarks by Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
Last updated: May 14, 2015