A Brexit preview, African Union 2019, and Venezuelan aid options: This week in development

An anti-Brexit demonstrator protests outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London. Photo by: REUTERS / Hannah McKay

Warning signs for British NGOs, African Union’s 2019 priorities, and U.S. aid options for Venezuela. This week in development:

Swiss NGOs may have gotten a preview of what their British counterparts can expect in a post-Brexit world. The European Commission’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, has changed its policies on funding organizations outside the European Union, and sent a letter to 10 Swiss organizations in December informing them they would no longer be eligible for EU funding. While officials at ECHO maintain the decision has nothing to do with the U.K.’s impending withdrawal from the EU, others have chalked up the situation facing Swiss NGOs to “collateral damage” in the stalled Brexit negotiations. An ECHO official told Devex that the letter means that as of Jan. 1 the agency can no longer fund new humanitarian programs where a third-country organization is the lead implementer — though they will honor existing partnership agreements. U.K. development leaders planned to look into what the new rules would mean for British NGOs.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has taken the reins from Rwandan President Paul Kagame as the new chairman of the African Union. The handoff took place during the 32nd AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week, where 55 heads of state and government gathered to discuss a range of issues facing the continent — with a particular focus on refugees and internally displaced people. Among the 10 countries hosting the most refugees in the world, three — Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia — are in Africa. Now that el-Sisi will set the AU’s agenda for 2019, attention has turned to what he might prioritize. Early signals from both open and closed-door sessions at the summit indicate he could place a strong emphasis on security and countering terror. “We didn’t hear any burning issues on [el-Sisi’s] agenda except fighting terrorism — something his country has dealt with head-on,” one European diplomat told Devex.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is exploring a range of options for delivering aid to Venezuela — including potentially flying shipments in to circumvent the government’s border blockade. “There are many scenarios being put forth. We are overturning every stone to see what is possible ... Daily we are trying to find a way to get this assistance to the people who need it most,” Steve Olive, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Wednesday. As the standoff between Nicolás Maduro and those — including the U.S. government — who recognize Juan Guaidó as interim president continues to intensify, humanitarian groups worry they could be caught in a political crossfire. A spokesperson for Mercy Corps told Devex it will be critical to ensure that “decisions around who receives aid, and in which locations, are not influenced or controlled by security forces or political actors, but are instead guided by the level of need and don’t put the people receiving it in danger.”

Ray Washburne will step down as president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. development finance agency that will soon be folded into a new, scaled-up institution. Washburne, a Texas-based investor, was appointed by President Donald Trump in August 2017, and led OPIC through a high-profile process that saw U.S. lawmakers, White House officials, policy experts, and development advocates combine forces to reform U.S. development finance instruments. Washburne was also mentioned as a potential Trump administration nominee to lead the World Bank, though the president ultimately settled on David Malpass, a U.S. Treasury official. David Bohigian, OPIC’s executive vice president, will take over as acting CEO when Washburne steps down March 1.

Update, Feb. 14, 2019: This article has been updated to clarify USAID's aid options in Venezuela.

About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.