USAID/Southern Africa Mission Director John Groarke interview with SA FM's Rowena Baird

Friday, October 13, 2017
USAID/ Southern Africa Mission Director, John Groarke photographed through the glass partition outside the SAFM studio
USAID/Southern Africa

Listen to the full interview here

USAID is the lead U.S. government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and, in South Africa, manages a lot of programs that we are about to find out about from Mr. John Groarke, the newly appointed Mission Director for USAID in Southern Africa. He was appointed in June of this year (2017) and is responsible for all USAID programming in southern Africa, and he joins us now.

It is a great pleasure to have you in studio, Mr. Groarke, good morning.

Good morning, Rowena. Thank you very much for inviting me. I’m thrilled to be here speaking with you this morning, and I’m thrilled to be in South Africa. It’s a new region for me but I am proud of the important work we are doing here and proud of the very strong relationship that USAID has with South Africans, whether it’s the government, the private sector or just ordinary people.

And it’s a long relationship, isn’t it? USAID has been around for many, many years?

Well, USAID came here after the country’s first truly democratic election in 1994. We came as friends, as partners to help South Africa overcome the legacy of apartheid and to help build the institutions that are required for South Africa to be a truly democratic, secure and prosperous country. I’m proud to say that a lot of progress has been made in the years since that election. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I see South Africa as a model for the region and, indeed, for the continent in what can be accomplished as we all work together to resolve common development challenges.

In terms of what, Mr. Groarke?

Look at the business environment in South Africa, very mature with many private sector businesses contributing to economic growth throughout the region. Look at South Africa’s political development; this is a country that is truly a thriving democracy and serves as a model in a region where there are many countries that struggle with change in government. South Africa has a lot going for it in terms of where it is now, and where it is heading.

You mentioned 1994, but you had a presence prior to that?

Yes, of course we could not work with the previous government but in such countries where we do not work directly with the government, we do work with non-governmental organizations in order to advance development goals, and we continue to work with South African NGOs.

And in achieving those goals, I’d like to ask you about the difference between working with those NGOs and governments directly. What do you prefer?

There is really not a preference. It depends on the particular development challenge. For example, here in South Africa we have a very large program where we work with the government to get control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The government is the leader in providing resources to controlling the epidemic so we work closely with them at the national, provincial and district levels to provide services for the care and treatment of victims, and various other aspects of the problem. There is a strong national healthcare system here so we work with the government as they are the leading player. Nevertheless we still work with NGOs, which themselves may be providing services at the local level, often in rural areas. So it depends on the particular issue. We work with the business community that provides educational opportunities for young people to get job skills for the 21st century.  We work with many organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, depending on the challenge we are trying to meet.

How do you promote democracy or good governance through your programs?

One of the most exciting things that we are doing here in South Africa is a project we have with the University of South Africa working with the African Renaissance Centre to provide training to election officials throughout the entire continent of Africa. Of course, election officials are so important in maintaining and promoting the integrity of the electoral process to ensure that elections are free and fair, and orderly. It’s an example of where South Africa can be a leader in promoting democratic development. And what I like so much about it, is that it is an example of Africans leading Africans, of Africans building African institutions.

African Solutions for African problems.

Precisely. I was also recently in Cape Town and the University of Cape Town has a similar program where Supreme Court Judges are being trained in some of the most critical aspects of the judiciary. An independent judiciary to act as a check on executive power, a judiciary that recognizes the importance of human rights, including women’s rights and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities because that is an important function of the judiciary. It is again an example of Africans helping Africans. We are proud to support that.

Mr. Groarke, earlier this week we got the poverty statistics that said that more than 30 million South Africans, 55% of the population, are living in poverty, less than 1,000 Rand per month. How do you get involved? How do you help?

Finding employment for South African young people is one of the most important ways of eradicating poverty. The future of economic growth in South Africa is in the private sector because only the private sector can prove jobs to the millions of young people entering the workforce. I think the inequality we see here is, not only a threat to the future of so many young people, it is a potential threat to the future of the country. Working together with South Africans has shown that we need to do even more to promote economic growth and the education system so that young people will have the skills and the education for 21st century jobs.

So as to bridge the inequality that exists?

Exactly, it is a problem that -working together- we must address.

OK, earlier on you mentioned the health sector, but apart from the health sector, what other sectors are you more prominent in?

We also work in Education to try to develop new education protocols to help South African children learn how to read. Those protocols involve teaching methodologies, ensuring children get the right language instruction so they can read and write at their grade level. We work with the private sector to promote trade and investment, not only in South Africa but throughout the region. I understand that intraregional trade is not as strong as it should be, and we know from experience that greater intraregional trade will promote greater economic growth. We work in combatting wildlife trafficking throughout the southern Africa region because it is such a threat, not only to wildlife but to the tourism industry. We are working on promoting institutions of democracy, working to build civil society because of the role it plays in development, not only in South Africa but throughout the region. A variety of sectors, and by the way, in addition to our development work we have a large operation here within USAID that provides humanitarian assistance in times of crisis, most recently, providing assistance to those who were affected by the drought in the southern African region.

As the new Mission Director who was sworn in two months ago, what is your main focus?

Certainly one of the most important things we need to accomplish is to get the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control. Even though a lot of progress has been made, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. The epidemic affects South Africa in a number of ways. Not only does it cause health problems for millions of people, but those health problems affect the broader economy and its ability to grow. So, we have to get that epidemic under control, and I’m really pleased to see the South African Government’s commitment -at all levels, national, provincial, district- to getting the epidemic under control is firm. Another part of my vision for USAID engagement is to work more closely with the private sector. It is such an enormous advantage to this country that you have a thriving private sector with the money and resources that, if it were unleashed in the right way, could generate economic growth and produce jobs for young people. Jobs for young people are so important here and will address that income inequality that you pointed out a few minutes ago.

How do we do things differently that will bring the HIV/AIDS issue under control? What messaging do we need to put out there? Everyone knows about it and how to contract it, but still the figures are stubbornly high.

One of the things we have done at USAID is to address gender-based violence through education and public messaging. We recently had a public service announcement that directly addressed the problem of gender-based violence. Also, we work with the Ministry of Education to educate young people in schools about how best to avoid contracting the HIV/AIDS virus. It’s an important part of the problem. It’s not just the care and treatment of those who have the disease but educating those who are most susceptible to contracting the disease. We need to recognize that this is a long-term effort and requires persistence and commitment. It is not going to be resolved overnight, but with that commitment and with perseverance and with the resources, I am confident that we will continue to see progress in South Africa and beyond.

Thank you, Mr. Groarke. 

Last updated: November 14, 2017

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