UK aid priorities, global education funding, and Trump's first #SOTU: This week in development

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address. Photo by: Shealah Craighead / The White House

New British aid leaders lay out their priorities, the United Nations kickstarts global refugee consultations, and Trump calls for aid restrictions in his first State of the Union. This week in development:

President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday. Instead of previewing any new global development initiatives or reporting on the progress of his administration’s foreign affairs redesign effort, the president doubled down on “America first” and called for restricting aid to countries he considers “friends of America.” Calling out the 128 United Nations countries who voted to condemn the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Trump said, “In 2016, American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billion in aid. That is why, tonight, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.” While Trump did not clarify how he would define “friends of America,” he would not be the first to propose tying U.S. foreign assistance to U.N. voting records. U.S. lawmakers have proposed similar bills in the past, though none have gained much momentum.

African Union members gathered in Addis Ababa this week for the annual meeting focused on fighting corruption as a way to aid African transformation, where Rwandan President Paul Kagame was elected as AU chairperson. The African Union also launched the first of its 12 flagship projects in its Agenda 2063, the Single African Air Transport Market, aimed at opening African skies to enhance connectivity. So far, 23 of 55 African countries have subscribed to the Single African Air Transport Market. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres pledged to help bolster successful cooperation with its “most relevant global strategic partner.” To that end, Guterres signed a framework agreement on the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 with an aim to better coordinate development efforts between the two institutions. A subsequent AU-U.N. conference is expected for April 2018. The African Union has designated 2018 as African Anti-Corruption Year, with an emphasis on tackling corruption, illicit financial flows, and tax evasion.

Global education is in the spotlight as world leaders from 60 countries gather in Dakar, Senegal, for the Global Partnership for Education’s replenishment conference. After months of campaigning from the GPE’s secretariat — which includes former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and even endorsements from singer Rihanna, who is a GPE champion — the multi-stakeholder education fund is set to find out just how deep its donors’ pockets are. GPE, which gives money to the world’s poorest governments for specific education reforms, is hoping to raise $3.1 billion to fund its activities through 2020. However, education advocates say they fear the target will be missed. The news that DFID — traditionally the GPE’s largest donor — would be pledging 225 million pounds ($320 million) over three years, a sum considerably lower than the $500 million advocates had hoped for, did little to allay those fears. All eyes are now on France, which is co-hosting the session, to see whether President Emmanuel Macron’s government can do better.

Two new U.K. aid leaders outlined their priorities in an evidence session in the House of Commons Wednesday, highlighting their interest in drawing a more direct link between British foreign assistance and British national interests and pointing to the need for multilateral reform. Penny Mordaunt and Matthew Rycroft, secretary of state and permanent secretary of the United Kingdom Department for International Development, have both taken office in the past three months. “I would like to have projects which deliver a much more explicit win for the U.K.’s interests as well, because without that we won’t be doing aid well,” Mordaunt said, at the same time asserting that “tied aid doesn’t work ... and we don’t have to do that.” Some U.K. aid watchers welcomed Mordaunt’s interest in engaging the private sector, while others worried that promoting U.K. interests could draw resources from poverty alleviation. Mordaunt said she would continue to scrutinize the performance of multilateral organizations that receive U.K. funding, and Rycroft, the former U.K. ambassador to the United Nations, described the multilateral system as, “not good enough for the 21st century.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency unveiled the “zero draft of a Global Compact on Refugees that is meant to improve the international community’s response to the global crisis. Donor governments, refugee hosting countries, and international organizations will be watching closely as the compact negotiation and consultation process proceeds over the next six months to see how U.N. members decide to tackle — or not — a range of challenging questions. The issue of “burden sharing” is front and center as the international community considers how to achieve a more equitable division of responsibility for funding, hosting, and supporting refugees at a time of unprecedented global displacement. Some refugee experts hope to see stronger signs of political leadership — particularly commitments from world leaders not to scapegoat refugees and migrants, more details about refugee integration, and more specific ideas about the role of the private sector.

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.