Thursday, September 21, 2023

Washington, DC


ZAIN ASHER: Administrator [Samantha] Power, thank you so much for being with us. We’re so grateful. When you think about what’s happening now with the UNGA, there’s no better time to talk about this. Obviously, the needs of the Global South are vast, they are extremely – they are dealing with multiple crises happening at once. Do you think that the needs of the Global South are a priority on the world stage right now? And what needs to change for that to be the case?

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: I do think they’re a priority. I mean, if you take USAID, which is the biggest national development and humanitarian agency, our assistance just this past year, increased to $13 billion in Africa. And that’s a combination of emergency assistance, and then the deeper food security assistance, resilience assistance, you know, how to help countries kind of climate-proof their communities given what is coming at them. I also think you heard in President [Joe] Biden’s speech, you know, the preponderance of attention actually being paid to things like building infrastructure of high standards, avoiding the kind of debt distress that has plagued so many countries in the Global South – that’s really interfering with their ability themselves to make domestic investments in combating climate change or promoting food security. So there’s a lot of focus there.

At the same time, of course, Russia’s invaded Ukraine – it’s pulverizing innocent people. And that war is having these knock on effects on the Global South. So, you’re definitely going to see a continued focus on Ukraine. But I think it is a mistake to see that focus as coming at the expense of the Global South, although I acknowledge that perception is out there.

ASHER: Right, that suggestion is totally out there. Because obviously, I mean, for your agency, clearly the Global South is a priority just given the work that you do. But you’re just one agency. In terms of the conversation, both in Western media outlets, both just in terms of the priorities for leaders across the world, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a focus on the Global South, the attention is, of course, on the war between Russia and Ukraine.

I do want to talk about climate change, because that is an area where Africa really is suffering. You know, you talk about what’s happening in Libya, obviously, if the earthquake in Morocco – just being a natural weather disaster – as well. On the flip side to that, though, is there an opportunity for Africa, given that Africa produces so many of the natural resources that could help with the green energy transition? How do we reframe the conversation here where Africa can really be a major player in terms of figuring out its own solutions?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, well, I think your question is especially pertinent given that in the area of renewables, you're now seeing solar and wind more affordable than actually traditional forms of electrification. We, at USAID, have a program called Power Africa that’s all about helping countries electrify. And when it first started, of course, it was invested in traditional, you know, forms of energy and using fossil fuels. But now, the countries are saying to us, you know, solar is much, much cheaper – we can go off grid and not even have to attach ourselves to the central grid and go through the phases that predecessors have had to go through. Well, we could just pop up some solar panels and suddenly have solar powered wells, you know, suddenly have the ability to run hospital clinics, and make sure machinery doesn’t have to run off generators. So we see huge opportunities.

And I met, you know, just back from the General Assembly, and met with President Ruto. He's making the shift to renewables, and the provision of energy even for Kenya’s neighbor – a major feature of his leadership. But I will say one of the challenges is governance, as well, in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve had a lot of military takeovers of late, in a way that is really destabilizing, that deters investment. So you know, a lot of leaders who might be less democratically inclined, you know, want to have the economic benefits of transitioning to renewables of having energy renaissance, without tending to the fact that we also need to see democratic accountability, the rule of law, checks and balances, that will give those who might provide capital for those kinds of projects the confidence that their investments will be well spent.

ASHER: Right, and we have seen a wave of coups, I mean particularly in French-speaking Africa, where there does seem to be just this destabilizing movement across the Sahel. And also in places like Gabon.

I want to talk about Ukraine, because obviously, so much of your work focuses on Ukraine, in terms of humanitarian efforts and rebuilding and development. I know that the issue of corruption is a priority for people who have spent so much money, you know, donating all sorts of lethal and nonlethal aid. There is a focus on just making sure that that money is not squandered, that it goes to where it needs to go.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, yes, that is one aspect of our focus – absolute critical, as we go now to Congress and seek more resources to support Ukraine. Which again, in supporting Ukrainian agriculture, in turn, will support the Global South. If we can get those exports out, that’s going to bring global food prices down, have benefits for everybody. But as we do that, as I go up to Congress, I have to be able to represent that that money is being well spent, that it is going where it is intended. So, we operate in a way, particularly when it comes to direct budget support to the government of Ukraine, where we have to see the receipts in order to provide the funding, which we do through the World Bank. And we have unprecedented tools for verification. We also have inspector generals who are auditing, and so far again, that money has been going to its intended destination.

But I will say, as well, that the focus on corruption is for Ukraine and its own independence, its own democratization, its own development, its own path to European integration. And if you go back to Putin’s speech, as to why he invaded Ukraine in the first place, he’ll give you a lot of rhetoric about NATO and this and that, and the other thing, but it was so much about the fight against corruption, and how it was picking up steam, and how much it was implicating his interests and those of people close to him.

So, that work on strengthening those anti-corruption institutions, whether that’s an independent media, making sure that they are able to survive and sustain themselves, whether it’s civil society organizations – like the offshoots of Transparency International that are looking at government leaders, and their expenditures, and their assets, and where those assets are going – or whether it’s judges and making sure that judges themselves are people of integrity and have been properly vetted, there's a number of anti-corruption bodies that USAID has actually, and the European Union, have invested in substantially over the last decade. And those are the kinds of bodies that now, when corruption does emerge – which it does in all countries – those are the bodies that we need to be cracking down on those individuals.

So, you see people being fired because they’re being alleged to have carried out corrupt acts, you’ve seen journalists exposing what leaders are doing. That’s, you know, I've heard it put that it used to be that corruption was systemic, and accountability for corruption was episodic. Now, what you see is yes, there are corrupt things that happen in Ukraine, but watching those checks and balances that many of us have invested in over a long period of time and Ukrainian citizens are so dedicated to seeing work, I think it’s those institutions that are going to make a difference as to whether Ukraine can continue on this path and really crack down so those episodes are fewer and fewer.

ASHER: But as you point out, there have been people that have been fired, there have been entire government agencies that have been cleared of those people suspected of being corrupt officials.

Alright. Administrator Power, live for us there. Thank you so much, we appreciate it.


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