Congo's hope and the UN's new era: This week in development news

António Guterres (at podium), speaks to the 59th plenary of the seventy-first session of the U.N. General Assembly. Photo by: Manuel Elias / U.N. / CC BY-NC-ND

Congo’s political crisis finds hope in a “New Year’s miracle,” while Burundi’s descends further into violence. The Rockefeller Foundation’s future is in the hands of a familiar development figure, and the U.N.’s new chief takes the reins. This week in development news:

Rajiv Shah has been named the new president of the Rockefeller Foundation. The former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development will take over on March 1, replacing outgoing President Judith Rodin, who has led the foundation since 2005. “Raj was the unanimous choice of the trustees after a very competitive search process,” said Richard Parsons, the chair of Rockefeller’s board. The Rockefeller Foundation is one of the world’s oldest philanthropic foundations and in 2015 issued $196.6 million in contributions, grants and gifts, and maintained assets of more than $4.2 billion, Devex’s Amy Lieberman reported. During his tenure at USAID, Shah led a high-profile reform effort called USAID Forward, intended to better align the agency with local partners positioned to sustain development initiatives in their own countries. He also oversaw the creation of the Global Development Lab, a new USAID entity designed to tap science, innovation and private sector partnerships.

President Joseph Kabila and his political opponents reached a deal that could end the Democratic Republic of Congo’s political crisis in what some called a “New Year’s miracle.” Kabila, who has so far delayed elections under the auspices of voter registration concerns, has agreed to step down after elections are held before the end of 2017. The peaceful, democratic transition of power would be the first in Congo’s history. In the weeks preceding the deal — which relied heavily on Congolese Catholic bishops bringing parties together — government forces cracked down on protesters and killed 26 people, according to Human Rights Watch. Many feared the constitutional crisis would unravel into widespread conflict. Devex spoke to former U.S. envoy Tom Perriello — who this week announced his bid for Virginia governor — about the role that preventive diplomacy played in curbing violence and creating space for political discussion.

Antonio Guterres took over as United Nations secretary general this week, replacing Ban Ki-moon, who held the post since 2007. In the lead up to Guterres’ selection —  which was a more open, transparent process than in past years —  the former Portuguese prime minister and U.N. high commissioner for refugees outlined many of his priorities. They include reforming the U.N. system to be more responsive to geopolitical trends and crisis and more efficient and effective in its delivery of development and humanitarian programs. Despite defeating several female candidates in securing his secretary general victory, Guterres has made gender parity within the U.N. a priority, including appointing Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s former environment minister, to be his deputy. Guterres also spoke with President-elect Donald Trump this week. Trump has vowed to take a harder line on U.S. funding to the U.N. and has described the multilateral institution as badly in need of reform.

The government of Burundi has banned one of the last civil society organizations capable of reporting on human rights abuses as the country continues to suffer through a political crisis brought about by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. Iteka League — or Ligue Iteka — criticized Nkurunziza's decision, and in November 2016 it co-published a report documenting the ensuing repression, which it said has led to more than 1,000 deaths and several hundred disappearances. Nkurunziza's government accused the organization of “collaborating with enemies of democracy” and “fabricating lies and false information on Burundi.” The violence in the country has displaced an estimated 300,000 people, while the president and his supporters continue to deny reports of government abuse. In October Burundi became the first country to initiate a process to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Earlier this week Burundi’s environment minister was shot to death under as-yet undetermined circumstances, although President Nkurunziza called it an “assassination.”

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About the author

  • 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.