Tillerson goes to the Hill, Germany invests in Africa, and USAID's new chief: This week in development

Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state. Photo by: U.S. Department of State

Canada releases a “feminist” international development strategy, Tillerson asks the U.S. Congress to cut his budget, and Australia agrees to pay asylum seekers $70 million. This week in development:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended President Donald Trump’s budget request on Capitol Hill this week. Marking what would be a major course change in U.S. foreign policy, Tillerson appealed to lawmakers to approve drastic cuts to the U.S. diplomacy and development budgets he oversees. Most members of the four congressional committees where Tillerson testified remained skeptical of his message that the U.S. can maintain its global presence, deliver more effective development and diplomacy programs, and at the same time do so with one-third less money. Tillerson argued that U.S. foreign affairs spending is at an all-time high, and he said Trump views current spending levels as “unsustainable.” Tillerson explained that the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development are in the midst of a staff feedback review, which he said will guide implementation of an eventual redesign of foreign affairs agencies. Some lawmakers questioned the wisdom of starting that process with such a drastic and dramatic budget cut proposal, which they believe has harmed staff morale and left allies and partners in developing countries uncertain about the future of their relationships with the United States.

President Trump’s nominee to lead USAID, Ambassador Mark Green, followed shortly on Tillerson’s heals. Green appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, which voiced their support of his nomination as the next U.S. foreign aid chief. The Senate will now vote on his confirmation. As Devex has reported, Green is a well-known development leader, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, and well-connected politician. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan offered introductory remarks, referring to Green as a “good, close, old friend.” Despite the White House’s apparent distaste for global development spending, Green has consistently advocated for programs that improve economic growth and democratic governance. His nomination took months to become official. Sources with knowledge of Green’s conversations with the Trump administration believe he was negotiating with the White House to ensure any major reorganization plans involving USAID and the State Department would not happen without his involvement. During the hearing Green voiced his unequivocal assurance that USAID will fulfill its humanitarian role under his leadership. “If we’re able to project that brand — when disaster strikes, we’re with you … It’s our great value,” he said.

Canada’s new International Assistance Policy puts women and girls front and center. The “feminist” strategy, released on Friday, requires that all projects, regardless of sector, must include a gender equality and women’s empowerment component — and Canada’s implementing partners must include women in decision-making at the outset of all projects, Flavie Halais reported for Devex. The new strategy is built around five pillars: gender equality, human dignity, inclusive growth, environment and climate action, inclusive governance, and peace and security. Its launch was accompanied by a new $111 million Women’s Voice and Leadership Program, which will support women’s grassroots organizations focused on women’s rights and gender equality.

Germany, as G-20 president, hosted a conference in Berlin this week aimed at shifting relationships between donors and African countries from development assistance to investment partnerships. The “Investing in a Common Future” conference saw African heads of state and leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speak out about their views for a more equal partnership between Africa and the West, aimed at reducing bureaucracy and spurring investment, Andrew Green reported for Devex. "We need an initiative that does not talk about Africa, but with Africa,” Chancellor Merkel said. Germany has launched a “Marshall Plan with Africa,” aimed at reorienting the country’s relationship with development partners on the continent. German development officials announced three “reform partnerships” — with Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana — aimed at making it easier to create and run businesses in the three countries.

The Australian government has reached a settlement with asylum seekers housed at the Manus Island detention center, agreeing to compensate them $70 million for alleged human rights abuses endured by the residents. The settlement avoids what was expected to be a lengthy and expensive legal process, and it could amount to the largest human rights-related settlement in Australia’s history, the Canberra Times reported. Payments will be distributed among 1,900 people who sought asylum in Australia and instead found themselves confined to a detention center where they suffered degrading conditions, insufficient medical care and food, and abuse by security guards, among other complaints.

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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.