Rajiv Shah Outlines US Focus on Democracy in MENA Development Work

    Men queue during the 2011 constitutional referendum in Egypt. The U.S. plans to create a new center of excellence focused on democracy in its engagement with North Africa and Middle East. Photo by: Sherif9282 / CC BY-SA

    The United States plans to create a new center of excellence focused on democracy, rights and governance as part of the country’s efforts to better integrate democracy into its development work in North Africa and the Middle East, according to its top aid official.

    Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, made the announcement in a speech delivered on Monday (June 20) at the Democracy, Rights and Governance Conference 2.0, where he outlined ways that his agency is implementing a stronger focus on democracy in its engagement with North African and Middle Eastern countries.

    “Rather than drastically overestimating what we can do in the short-term – that we can deliver democracy tomorrow – USAID will focus on the medium and long-term, prioritizing our opportunities to create vibrant democracies,” Shah said. “We will work closely with people in the region to shape the institutions and built the checks and balances that will support their political future.”

    The proposed center of excellence is expected to provide the evidence-based research that will support and guide USAID’s focus on democracy, rights and governance. It will comprise political scientists, economists and sociologist, among other experts, who will analyze and rate the effectiveness of USAID initiatives and programs.

    “The center’s first task will be to provide a comprehensive medium- and long-term democracy, rights and governance analysis of our priority countries so we can integrate these findings into our country strategies,” Shah said.

    He added that the center will play a key role in USAID procurement reforms, “from analyzing the effects of our direct assistance to ensuring our implementing partners meet standards of responsibility and behavior.”

    Democracy in GHI, Feed the Future

    Part of this stronger focus on democracy in U.S. development programs in MENA regions is a new funding channel that will offer resources to democracy, rights and governance programs, Shah said. He explained that the new funding channel will use resources from the U.S. Feed the Future program and Global Health Initiative and will focus on improving the sustainability and effectiveness of these two existing programs.

    More partnerships, broader engagement

    Under the new integrated approach, USAID will boost its engagement in MENA countries beyond government agencies to include more civil society actors and non-governmental organizations, Shah said.

    He explained that the United States is keen to play a sustained role in supporting MENA countries undergoing transition, particularly Tunisia and Egypt. The United States will work to link Tunisia and Egypt with Estonia, Chile, Serbia, Romania and other countries that have successfully transitioned to democracies, Shah said.

    “We will also continue to reform our assistance to focus on empowering Egypt’s people, extending our partnership to a far broader number of NGOs and local groups,” the administrator added. “We will embrace civil society and help people engage directly in the political process, supporting constitutional reform and empowering women and youth.”

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      Ivy Mungcal

      As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.