US flexes diplomatic muscle in Myanmar

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah (right) and U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell meet with Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi (second from left) during a visit to Naypyitaw in March 2013. The U.S. is broadening its diplomatic engagement in the Asian country. Photo by: Richard Nyberg / USAID / CC BY-NC

As donor darling Myanmar gets ready to hold general elections in late 2015, the United States is increasing its diplomatic presence in the former military state — with the U.S. Agency for International Development as one of the main arms.

“USAID doesn’t have a traditional development agenda in [Myanmar],” Jason Foley, deputy assistant administrator at the the agency’s Asian bureau, said Wednesday in an event hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Beginning in 2015, we are broadening our diplomatic engagement to focus on three key areas: the elections, the peace process and Rakhine state,” he added.

Formerly known as Arakan, Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority which the country’s Buddhist rulers refuse to grant full rights. Religious violence between Buddhists and Muslims have left about 250 dead and an estimated 139,000 homeless since 2012.

Government hostility toward NGOs has meant that international aid organizations have struggled to gain access to internally displaced persons. For instance, French medical group Médecins Sans Frontières is still in the process of delicate negotiations to obtain permission to return after the group’s activities in Rakhine were suspended by the government in February 2014.

Foley detailed that USAID provided in fiscal year 2013 up to $45 million to support internally displaced persons and highlighted the agency will conduct this year the country’s first-ever national demographic survey.

The survey, he explained, hopes to provide a more accurate picture of displaced populations and help track diseases like HIV, malaria and tuberculosis — all severely underreported in Myanmar.

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About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

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