International Politics

Good governance affects health and well-being. The politics of global health & development.


Humanitarian community weirdly silent on USAID “Cuba Twitter” fiasco | 

Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

If lack of public outrage is any indication, many in the humanitarian field appear to be just fine with the recent revelation that the U.S. government’s lead anti-poverty agency has been spending tax dollars to operate a secret project aimed at fomenting political unrest in Cuba.

You may remember when news leaked out in 2011 that the CIA had faked a vaccination program in Pakistan in its effort to find Osama Bin Laden.

It took a while for the humanitarian community to respond, and condemn, that scheme. But most did and the dire predictions that the CIA ruse would endanger aid workers (and undermine the crucial polio campaign in Pakistan) turned out to be tragically accurate. As Laurie Garrett recently wrote in Foreign Policy, the CIA scheme gave militant extremists all the justification they needed for targeting polio vaccine workers and the murders go on today – and polio continues to spread.

Now, thanks to an AP investigation, we learn that USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) has since 2009 been running a secret social media scheme in Cuba aimed at using cell-phone text messages to foster political dissent against the communist government. The AP reported that the project, dubbed “Cuban Twitter” involved creating secret shell companies and foreign bank accounts.

Bill and Paula Clapp
Bill and Paula Clapp
Seattle International Foundation

“So we’re back to the days of USAID acting like the CIA?” said an exasperated Bill Clapp, a Seattle-based philanthropist who with his wife Paula has been working for decades on a variety of anti-poverty and empowerment projects throughout Latin America. “If our goal is to promote open societies around the world, I’m not sure having our lead aid agency running covert foreign policy operations is the way to do it.” Continue reading

Time for a new narrative on Rwanda | 


Woman and child tilling the field
Woman and child tilling the field
Tom Paulson

For some, Rwanda is beautiful, a story of amazing recovery and rebuilding. For others, Rwanda is creepy, a story of ongoing Western-sanctioned political repression and murder.

In other words, Rwanda is complex. Incredibly complex, with some deep wounds that have not yet healed. And it’s perhaps time the humanitarian community moves beyond the simplistic depictions of the country, if only to make sure that what progress has been made can continue.

In 2011, I joined a dozen or so journalists with the International Report Project filing into a government building in Kigali, Rwanda. We were there to report on what many in the aid and development community were calling ‘Africa’s success story’ and given brief instructions on how we were to interview President Paul Kagame. One question per person and no video.

So, of course, I surreptitiously set up my SLR camera to take video. Kagame soon joined us and greeted each of us warmly, speaking softly like a genteel professor. Continue reading

Genocide anniversary reignites French-Rwandan political tensions | 

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center-left, light a memorial flame at a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center-left, light a memorial flame at a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis

“The genocide we remember today –  and the world’s failure to respond more quickly – reminds us that we always have a choice,” said US President Obama in a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, today.

“The horrific events of those 100 days – when friend turned against friend, and neighbor against neighbor – compel us to resist our worst instincts, just as the courage of those who risked their lives to save others reminds us of our obligations to our fellow man.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame lit a flame at the ceremony that will burn for the next 100 days, in what was reportedly an emotional commemoration. It represents the period of time when an estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed by Hutu soldiers.

Notably absent from the day’s events was France. France canceled its participation in today’s genocide commemorations in Rwanda after the nation’s leader accused the country of being directly involved in the genocide.

The Kagame-led government has remained critical of France for its role in the genocide. Accusations include helping the Hutu soldiers who carried out the atrocities in 1994 escape. There have been further allusions made regarding the fact that France helped to train the Rwandan military prior to the genocide.

“The Western powers would like the Rwanda is an ordinary country, as if nothing had happened, which have the advantage to forget their own responsibilities, but it is impossible. Take the case of France. Twenty years after, the only eligible reproach in his eyes is that of not having done enough to save lives during the genocide,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame in an interview with Jeune Afrique, conducted in French.

Continue reading

Oxfam’s primer on foreign aid glosses over the military part | 

The anti-poverty organization Oxfam does a pretty good job of translating the fuzzy and sometimes absurd lingo used by the aid and development community.

What they don’t quite do is call baloney on the fact that much of our foreign aid is actually military aid. More on that in a bit.

Most people think the primary goal of aid and development is, or should be, to reduce poverty and inequity worldwide. Oxfam explores how the U.S. contributes to this noble goal in their third edition of Foreign Aid 101, which you can read about at this link or by downloading the report. The gist of the report is that foreign aid is an incredibly good buy and we could spend a lot more on aid and development.

Oxfam Foreign Aid Chart

Continue reading

Visualizing global energy poverty, and what we can do about it | 

There’s some big things happening on the energy front in Africa, thanks in large part to the Obama Administration’s Power Africa initiative.

If you want to know why this is such a big deal, and a big need, this post featuring seven graphic illustrations from Todd Moss and Madeleine Gleave at the Center for Global Development offers an excellent overview.

The authors note that 600 million Africans today live without power, seriously undermining their lives on all sorts of fronts – health, economic opportunity, safety and efficiency. But the solution won’t just be about bringing more power to the poor; Moss and Gleave make it clear rich countries need to make some changes as well.

Here’s one of the graphics from the post by Moss and Gleave:


Read the entire (short) post at CGD and take a look at the other six illustrations. A great and easy-to-digest overview of the global energy landscape.


A different take on the unraveling of South Sudan | 

 A South Sudanese government soldier inspects the body of a dead woman lying the street in Bor, Jonglei State, South Sudan.
A South Sudanese government soldier inspects the body of a dead woman lying the street in Bor, Jonglei State, South Sudan.

South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, may be unraveling and one of the few journalists actually on the ground there says the media’s characterization of the conflict – usually done remotely, by telephone – is bit one-sided, if not off-target completely.

Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton
Machot Lat Thiep
Machot Lat Thiep

“We’ve spent the last few days with Riek Machar and the so-called rebel forces,” journalist and author Robert Young Pelton said to Humanosphere by telephone today.

As we reported in late January, Pelton and a Seattle man, a Costco supervisor and former Sudan Lost Boy named Machot Thiep, are in South Sudan partly to truth-check the standard narrative. “What we’re seeing and learning is very contradictory to the official line.” Continue reading

Feeble effort dooming Central African Republic, activists say | 

A survivor of a suspected Anti-Balaka grenade attack waits to go to hospital with the help of MISCA.
A survivor of a suspected Anti-Balaka grenade attack waits to go to hospital with the help of MISCA.
Laurence Geai/NurPhoto/Sipa USA

Extreme violence persists on a daily basis across the Central African Republic.

The inability to protect civilians affected by targeted violence is evidence that the international community is failing the Central African Republic, said humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today.

MSF says it has treated more than 3,600 people for injuries caused by gunshot, grenade, machete and more, since December 5.What little that is being done falls well below acceptable humanitarian standards.

When regular violence returned the country that has been in crisis for nearly a year, in December, people had few options for humanitarian assistance. Medical aid was the only form of assistance many people received for roughly four weeks, claimed Hurum. She described the situation in the Central African Republic as the “roughest mission” in her eight years with MSF.

“There is an exceptional situation going on. I’ve never seen such a high level of violence, in the last few years,” agreed Dr Joanne Liu, President for MSF International.

Continue reading

City Council member: Why fighting poverty means fighting for socialism | 


We’re all familiar with the fear-mongering that goes on when it comes to socialism, communists, and anyone deemed outside the “mainstream” of American politics. The right-wing is fond of calling President Obama a socialist – even as he pushes for a massive, corporation-friendly free-trade agreement – without explaining why that would be a bad thing. Perhaps we can chalk up most of the hysteria against further-left-than-liberal figures to the Cold War.

But it’s 2014. It’s time to move on.

In Seattle, economics professor Kshama Sawant ran on an openly socialist platform against a longtime capitalist, Democratic incumbent in November. And she won.

Today, we explore with Sawant why her campaign was successful, why socialism seems to be gaining momentum, and her analysis of global poverty – including how her views are informed by her upbringing in India, where she says extreme poverty was rampant right alongside staggering wealth. Why was one person rich, and someone living next door destitute? Like many in the development sector, “I was obsessed with this question,” Sawant says. But it drew her to socialism and politics, not aid.

And no discussion of the humanitarian industry is complete without a mention of the world’s largest philanthropic institution, based here in Seattle: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While Sawant has some strong words for Gates, there’s also some common ground between this socialist and the billionaire on the question of what kind of aid works. Tune in!

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