Rebalance to Asia III: Protecting the Environment and Ensuring Food and Water Security in East Asia and the Pacific
The death last year of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi marked the end of an era in Ethiopia. Fully half of the population has never known another leader or another style of governance, and his passing brought with it both hope and trepidation for the country’s future. Ten months later, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) remains firmly in control of all organs of government. This includes the Parliament, which selected a new Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, and Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, during an extraordinary session on September 21, 2012, marking Ethiopia’s first peaceful political transition in modern history. It is significant that neither Hailemariam nor Demeke is a member of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), which led Ethiopia since the 1991 overthrow of the Mengistu communist regime, nor are they members of the Orthodox Church, unlike all of their predecessors.
Last year, less than one year after the separation of South Sudan had brought hope for a better way forward, I testified before the House and Senate on a worrisome set of trends emerging across Sudan and South Sudan. Unfortunately, the news remains grim. Millions of people in both countries continue to suffer from the effects of ongoing violence and extreme poverty, and we are seeing some of the worst humanitarian conditions in several years in Darfur, the Two Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and Jonglei state in South Sudan. Conflict is escalating and affecting communities on both sides of the north-south border. As my colleague Larry Andre has noted, the U.S. government continues to prioritize resolution of this crisis as a principal foreign policy goal, with focused diplomatic initiatives and humanitarian assistance. In the face of continued challenges to reaching the most vulnerable, USAID maintains an unwavering commitment to help the people of Sudan and South Sudan. We remain firmly committed to doing all we can to meet growing needs and, at the same time, help promote a lasting peace.
Mr. Chairman, with many of the countries with the world’s highest murder rates, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) ranks as the world’s most violent region. USAID is focused on addressing the root causes of this condition, not only because of its implications for U.S. national security, but because the high levels of crime and violence threaten to stall economic and democratic progress in some countries. Analyses conducted by USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank confirm that crime and violence constrain growth by diverting investment away from productive sectors. Drug trafficking through the region fuels the corruption of state institutions, and attacks by organized crime suppress press reporting and, when enabled by corruption and impunity, violate human rights.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID is increasingly focused on helping the region’s governments to reduce crime and violence. This is a matter of national security for the United States, as my colleagues have just noted, as well as an economic and political imperative for the affected countries. Crime and violence are a severe drain on private and public investment in the Americas and, according to studies by USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank, the leading constraint to economic growth in some countries. Criminal activity is also arguably the greatest threat to democracy in some countries in the region, corrupting governments, restricting citizen engagement and undermining freedom of the press.
The negotiated resolution to Zimbabwe’s violent electoral dispute in 2008 brought with it an opportunity for the consolidation of democratic institutions and improved systems of governance in Zimbabwe. A Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed, composed of Zimbabwe’s then-ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the two factions of the former opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)—MDC-T (Tsvangirai) and MDC-N (Ncube). Together, the parties of the unity government agreed on a roadmap to achieve sustained political stability through stronger democratic processes. Broadly, the General Political Agreement (GPA) required that the GNU would draft a new constitution, enhance basic freedoms (including media), and reform Zimbabwe’s security sector before the next elections were held.
USAID has strongly supported the unity government’s efforts to implement the GPA, including the development of a new constitution, which was adopted in May 2013. The U.S. Government worked with the Zimbabwean Parliament and civil society to ensure that the new constitution would expand protections under the bill of rights and enhance gender equity provisions. USAID support for civil society activities culminated in an awareness-raising program highlighting the need for youth to peacefully participate in the March 16 referendum through which a record voter turnout overwhelmingly endorsed the new constitution.
Mr. Chairman, the impressive progress in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) over the past several decades has enabled USAID to completely shift our development approach away from providing direct assistance and toward strengthening countries’ capacity to provide for their own people. While our relationship with Mexico has been a bit different than in other parts of the region, today our joint cooperation serves as a catalyst for the Mexican government, private sector and civil society to improve their ability to address the country’s biggest challenges and ultimately lead their own development.
USAID considers insecurity related to high levels of crime and violence in Mexico to be a grave threat to the remarkable development advances of recent decades. Cartels and criminal groups have diversified in recent years, expanding beyond drug trafficking and into extortion, kidnapping, murder and other crimes that adversely affect people’s lives. Analyses in LAC countries indicate that high levels of crime and violence are a leading constraint to economic growth, because it discourages investment and diverts resources away from productive investments to security.
Over the last thirty years of my career, I have had the privilege to serve across four government agencies, focusing on the Middle East. I know firsthand that it is a region of great hope and opportunity, but one that faces daunting challenges, especially in this transition period. Two years after the Arab Spring, we have seen progress and we have seen setbacks. We must remember democratic transitions take time—it’s a messy process—but the common desire for dignity, opportunity and self-determination that originally spurred people to action continue to drive the transitions across the region. For the past two years, USAID has supported countries as they write new constitutions and reform institutions, as they carry out free and fair elections, and as citizens advocate for increased participation in the political process.
But today, the economic frustrations that moved people across the region to protest in the streets are still alive. The International Monetary Fund forecasted last year that most of the countries where USAID works in the Middle East will continue to have tepid economic growth in 2013. Unemployment among young people—who make up 30 percent of the region’s population—remains very high. The political changes these youth helped bring about carried high expectations that the economic challenges they faced also would be addressed—rapidly—and their personal situation would improve—quickly.
Last week, along with Acting Assistant Secretary Don Yamamoto, I attended a conference in Brussels where 80 nations came together to pledge support for Mali as it seeks a pathway back to democracy, peace and prosperity. President Traore of Mali began the meeting by thanking the international community for its help and expressing his gratitude for the fact that, in the north of Mali, people are no longer having their hands and feet cut off by terrorists, women are no longer being raped, and Islam is no longer being defamed as a tool of terrorists. In his speech, he emphasized that “we must learn our lessons from bad governance and realize that the collapse of this house of cards endangered our people as well as the entire region.” He commended all of us “to address the root causes of this crisis with good governance as the first priority.”
USAID makes critical contributions to the U.S. Government’s work to aid children in adversity. Our work to help children to first survive, then thrive, is an important piece of the efforts being coordinated under the recently-released U.S. Government Action Plan for Children in Adversity. The action plan represents the work of more than seven different agencies across the government—and is one of finest examples of interagency collaboration and coordination in recent years.
Last updated: July 19, 2012