"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


change in which i don't believe

Details of the plans for U.S. foreign aid announced last week in Goma during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit are slowly beginning to emerge. Of the $17 million the secretary announced, about $3 million is to go towards training police on responding to gender-based violence. As I noted last week, that's not much, and the police need training on a whole host of issues, but $3 million is better than nothing. USAID will learn the hard way that they're going to have to start way on basic professionalization (and salary payment) before most of the Congolese police force will be able to do anything about tracking down and arresting rapists.

What of the rest of the money? Part of it will go to Camcorders for Congo, of course, and the State Department has been fairly quiet on this as far as I can tell, but activist Desiree Zwanck, who works at Heal Africa hospital in Goma, gives us some details in her post on the secretary's visit (emphasis mine):

"Much needed and appreciated funds - but wait a minute. HEAL Africa, the local organization that was hosting the event, has a hospital with 7 years of experience in treating survivors of sexual violence. However, we learned only through the speech of our honored visitor that USAID is planning to construct a hospital to do the same work, in the same city. And even though Clinton claimed that funds would be distributed to local NGOs, we found out shortly afterwards that the lion’s share would go to the International Rescue Committee.

"I don’t believe Clinton had been well-informed on the dynamics of aid in Eastern DRC, though it is certainly no secret that aid is a cut-throat business. Competition for funding, attention and prestige is huge. As a result, cooperation between GOs and NGOs is lacking or poorly coordinated. Communication needs to be improved, and new initiatives need to be matched with what is already being done. What we saw happen yesterday was the opposite."
As Zwanck notes, what USAID is planning to do in Goma is almost incomprehensible. Let me get this straight:
  • They looked at the city - which is home to a hospital that is a model of community engagement - and decided that it would be better to build a different hospital altogether?
  • That was apparently decided on without consulting those who are already experts on treating rape victims in the region?
  • And that will lack the extensive network of community-based counselors who live in the villages and are trained to identify and assist rape victims?
  • And the Secretary of State told a roomfull of Congolese activists that the money would go to local organizations when in fact it's mostly going to an American NGO that bases most of its work in the eastern Congo out of Bukavu?

Some of you are ready to jump on me about "well, aren't there more victims than existing hospitals can treat?" and similar questions. Yes. It's true. More facilities to treat rape victims are desperately needed. That's why Heal Africa is fund raising for a new hospital building, and why Panzi's facilities continue to expand in Bukavu.

But it doesn't make sense to reinvent the wheel in the eastern Congo. Did USAID bother to talk to any Congolese people while developing this plan? Drs. Mukwege and Lusi and their staffs already know how to treat victims of sexual violence. They have developed hospitals and programs that are models of how to address gender-based violence in impossibly difficult situations with limited resources. They don't just treat case after case after case; Heal Africa trains medical residents to go out into the field and run clinics and hospitals on their own, and both hospitals do all they can to give women and girls who survive these attacks a chance at having a life, an income, and some hope after they leave. It makes a lot more sense to partner with the people who already do these things - and who have integrated the communities they serve into their approach - than it does to start from scratch.

There's also the issue that the International Rescue Committee is poorly perceived by a large segment of the Congolese population. That's not to discount their work - they do a lot of good & support both Panzi and Heal Africa's work - but issues relating to the 1994 genocide (There's a view common among many Congolese that the American government supported the Rwandan government after the genocide (a government that, it must be remembered, has caused a lot of suffering in the Kivus), so therefore the American IRC which gets money from the U.S. government is an ally of/spy for Rwanda.) mean that they have a huge perception problem. It's an issue. (Dennis Dijkzeul has done some very interesting research in South Kivu in this regard.) It's really unclear what the IRC money will be used for, but if most of it is going to them, presumably they will have a significant role in the hospital's construction. If this new hospital is to specifically be an "IRC hospital," I'm not sure that's such a good idea.

I am sorely disappointed in my government's failure to truly take local concerns into account, and even more disappointed that it's the Obama administration that failed to do so. This plan looks for all the world like something that was conceived in Washington, not the Kivus. It represents some of the worst habits of Africa-related policy making in American foreign aid and could not be further from representing real change. Like Zwanck, I'm forced to conclude that the secretary's visit to Goma was not the beginning of the end of the war, but rather a sign that the same old, same old will prevail in American policy towards Africa.


Anonymous Alanna said...

Probably USAID was given ten days or some such to gin up a package for the Secretary to present while in country...this is why it would be nice if USAID was cabinet level and not a tool of US foreign policy...

Friday, August 21, 2009 11:22:00 AM

Anonymous moneyfromaspeedingtrain said...

I find it entertaining that you think one of the big problems here is that the money is being funneled through an "American NGO", (which IRC is not, it is an International organization HQ'ed in NYC (UNHCR is not a Swiss organization) I realize that IRC is lop sided at times in divisions and in some locations towards Americans, but it has done a good job if internationalizing itself and seeking out a broader funding base, I worked for IRC several years ago and with 18 international staff in country, we had only one American working with us and in the country where we were working our funding was only 30% from the USG) but that is besides the point...the money is already American, so who cares if it then goes to an "American NGO"...if America gives money to local NGOS, or if America gives money to an American NGO who then gives it to a local NGO...isn't it the same thing? It's all coming from America the spies right?

...and are you just waking up to the fact that this is how USAID works? They give large umbrella grants to organizations on the ground because they know they don't have the skill/understanding to do it themselves...and thank gawd they don't do it themselves, a point I think you might agree with. They also need that kind of transparency/accountability for the American Congress...if they started dishing out large sums of cash to local orgs and something (which always does) goes awry...Congress would cut funding and then there would be no money, it happens all the time...but then maybe less international intervention and funding is what the doctor ordered.

I understand your frustration, but all this crap happens for a reason. Rather than complain about it by dribbling on here, try to understand why it all goes down in this way and then do something about it, change it. It is equally frustrating to read people's opinions when it is clear they have a very lopsided view about what is going on and how decisions get made at all the various levels. That all having been said, it makes my blood boil when seeing things happen like what you describe in this post. I applaud your watchdog efforts here and encourage you to help create some solutions...good luck!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 7:23:00 AM

Anonymous Philip said...

Alanna, I'm not sure how having USAID at cabinet level would reduce its role as a tool of US foreign policy rather than make it more so?

Heal Africa seem to be doing a great job without USAID funds, so good luck to them. Perhaps their good work will encourage the US government to think more carefully about what it chooses to fund over the long-term.

If it makes you feel better, the European Commission's aid arm is not much better. Can't make changes working with existing structures? Set up parallel structures to show some kind of evidence of progress!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 3:22:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Money, thanks. I meant mainly to talk about the Congolese perception of the IRC here, which is definitely seen as a tool of the United States government, even though, as you point out, that doesn't reflect reality. Since I've not seen you comment in the past, I don't know if you read this blog regularly, but one of the long-term projects here is to talk about local organizations that DON'T mess up when they get USAID, etc. funding. That's what I research. It is doable; I'm interested in why it works in those situations.

Philip, I'm pretty sure that Heal Africa does get some USAID funding, and EC, and etc., etc., etc.

Thursday, August 27, 2009 10:56:00 AM


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