Tillerson to Africa, aid to Eastern Ghouta, and International Women's Day: This week in development

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki. Photo by: U.S. Department of State

Trump’s top diplomat takes “America First” to Africa, United Nations staffers stage walkouts over pay cuts, and the Gates Foundation launches a first-ever gender strategy. This week in development:

In Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta, a glimmer of hope has given way to renewed frustration and devastation, as humanitarian convoys cut short their first deliveries to the region amid intense shelling. On Monday, as the aid convoys were returning from their first trip to the region since mid-February, Devex spoke to Yves Daccord, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, about the relief organization’s constant struggle to access people caught in the brutal assault. “For me the critical issue is, are we able to repeat [this delivery],” Daccord said. For now, as Syria’s Russian-backed forces continue to ignore the United Nations Security Council’s call for a 30-day ceasefire and continue their campaign against rebel-held areas, the prospects for expanded and repeated humanitarian access look bleak. On Thursday, Médecins Sans Frontières released medical data from the hospitals and clinics that it supports in the region, which revealed that 4,829 people were wounded and 1,005 people were killed in the two weeks between Feb. 18 and March 3, an average of 344 wounded and 71 killed per day.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined the Trump administration’s priorities for Africa in a speech delivered in advance of the top U.S. diplomat’s first visit to the continent since taking office. Tillerson’s speech placed a heavy emphasis on security cooperation, signaling a shift toward a more military-focused partnership with African countries during this administration. “The future of stability is dependent on security ... Without it, none of the other pieces can be put into place,” he said. Tillerson described African nations as, “partners to rid the continent and the world of terrorism.” The secretary also highlighted flagship U.S. foreign aid programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, but did not mention the White House’s proposal to slash PEPFAR’s budget. In what many viewed as an attempt to mitigate ill-will caused by Trump’s description of African states as “shithole countries,” Tillerson announced $533 million in humanitarian assistance to fight famine and food insecurity. The secretary also elevated trade and investment as key priorities, citing the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the proposed U.S. development finance institution as instruments to counter China’s influence in Africa.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced its first-ever gender equality strategy on Monday. Over the next four years, the foundation will commit $170 million to women’s economic empowerment. Focus areas will include financial inclusion, asset ownership including land, market connectedness, and self-help groups. The announcement builds on a number of examples of the largest foundation in the world working to put women and girls at the center of its work, Sarah Hendriks, director of gender equality at the Gates Foundation, told Devex.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Thursday, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation launched a $350 million women’s investment initiative called 2X, aimed at a wide range of efforts focused on women’s economic empowerment. Kathryn Kaufmann, OPIC’s managing director for global women’s issues, told Devex Associate Editor Adva Saldinger it represents the largest one-time commitment by a U.S. agency to global women’s economic empowerment. “We want to change the market,” she said. “We want to send a message to the market that gender matters,” she said.

United Nations staff unions are cautioning that unexpected recent salary reductions, among other quality of life issues, could continue to result in low morale for U.N. employees. U.N. staffers in Geneva learned late last month that they would receive a salary cut of 5 percent — effective immediately. Staffers in Japan lost about 25 percent of their salaries, because of new U.N. cost of living estimates. Protesting the cuts, staffers in Geneva walked out of two meetings last week, including a session on disarmament, where U.N. chief António Guterres was speaking. Staffers are pushing for changes — including how often workers in hardship duty stations can return home — but have complained that the process for making decisions that impact employees is opaque, according to staff union leader Ian Richards, as Devex reported.

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.