Thursday, 31 May 2012


Negotiators of Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday shared views of what they expect from each other in order to settle security and border issues, Sudan Tribune has been told.
FILE PHOTO - Pagan Amum (left), chief negotiator from
South Sudan, lead mediator for the African Union,
Piere Buyoya (centre) and Sudan’s head negotiator
Idriss Abdu Qadir
Sources privy to the talks being held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa said that the negotiating teams of Khartoum and Juba agreed after a lengthy meeting to form a mini-committee comprising three representatives from each side as well as two representatives from the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), the facilitator of the talks.
Negotiations between Khartoum and Juba resumed on Tuesday after a two-month hiatus that saw the two neighbors fighting a war around disputed oil region of Heglig which was briefly occupied by South Sudan before being re-taken by Sudan.
The sources revealed that the two sides had presented proposals on security issues, including cessation of support to rebels, disputed regions and cross-border hostilities.
According to the sources, the proposal of Khartoum’s negotiators contained demands that Juba severs its ties with “the 9th and 10th divisions” of the southern army, SPLA, in reference to the combatants of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) which is fighting the Sudanese government in the country’s border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Khartoum’s negotiators said that the two SPLA divisions-turned-rebels in the run-up to South Sudan’s secession last year must accept to be disarmed in order to find a comprehensive solution to their situation, either through the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program (DDR) which is a key provision of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Sudanese negotiators also indicated the possibility of holding direct negotiations with the commanders of SPLM-N forces under the supervision of the AUHIP led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
The security problems have gradually been part of the talks on the outstanding issues in the implementation of the CPA the two parties signed in 2005.
The fight in South Kordofan between the Sudanese army and the SPLM-North results of the failure of the two sides to agree on the implementation of security arrangements. The lack of a clear mechanism in the CPA on how and when they should be disarmed led to military confrontation between them when the Sudan Armed Forces threatened to forcefully disarm the SPLM-N combatant.
On the other hand Juba, since even the start of South Kordofan rebellion, accuses Khartoum of backing rebel groups that appeared in South Sudan after April 2010 elections.
Furthermore, the negotiators demanded that South Sudan ceases all forms of support to rebel groups from the western region of Darfur and expels them from its territories. Khartoum’s team also demanded that SPLA forces withdraw south of the 1956 borders and asked for the formation of a committee to monitor this process.
On the other hand, Juba’s proposal insisted that Khartoum reinstates commitment to all previous agreements, including the one signed in June 2011 between Sudan’s presidential assistant, Nafie Ali Nafie, and the SPLM-N rebels in Addis Ababa.
The said agreement provided a framework for settling the conflict in South Kordofan as well as recognizing the SPLM-N as a legal political force in Sudan. It was however scrapped by President Al-Bashir following a fierce campaign by anti-SPLM forces in Khartoum.
South Sudanese negotiators also insisted that Sudan pledges “in writing” to cease support to southern rebel groups as well as aerial bombardment in southern territories.
South Sudan repeatedly accuses Khartoum of conducting air raids on its territories as well as supporting rebel groups operating mainly in the South’s northern states of Unity and Upper Nile.
The southern delegation further demanded that all disputed border regions be turned into demilitarized zones under a joint administration. The sources added that the southern delegation also demanded the immediate start of negotiations on oil exports.
Sudan Tribune’s sources said that the coming hours would be crucial in determining the course of the negotiations. They said they expect that if the mini-committee manages to make progress, it would pave the way for holding a meeting of the joint political-security committee headed by the ministers of defense and chiefs of security from both sides within 48 hours.
The sources also added that the two sides are competing to demonstrate commitment to the AU roadmap and the UN Security Council (UNSC)’s resolution number 2046, which ordered them to conclude negotiations on citizenship, oil, borders and the status of Abyei within three months. They also said that each side is trying to show the other to be reluctant to abide by the resolution.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Syrian refugees settle in northern Lebanon. The recent violence in
Houla may likely increase the number of refugees fleeing the
country. Photo by: F. Juez / UNHCR
Several Western nations have expelled Syrian diplomats in protest of the recent violence in Houla, but little has been said on how the international community plans on dealing with the escalating humanitarian crisis in and around the country.
The United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain were among the countries that have reportedly decided to send Syrian diplomats home Tuesday (May 29). The move was expected to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been accused of attacking protesters for more than a year now.
In a press briefing, State department spokesperson Victoria Nuland referred to the decision as a “statement of our extreme disapproval and horror at the massacre.” And it is only but a start of a series of actions the international community is looking into to “pressure” Assad’s regime.
The United States plans to continue providing humanitarian assistance and work with allies to further isolate Assad’s regime, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a separate press briefing. But this does not address concerns on how the international community will be able to force Assad to honor Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan, which includes allowing aid groups access to embattled areas in the country where humanitarian needs are the highest.
The latest violence is likely to increase the number of refugees fleeing the country as well, Panos Moumtzis told Reuters. The U.N. refugee coordinator for Syrian refugees said the weekend violence “worried us” as people’s initial reaction is to leave in times of instability.
“If there is instability and people are afraid then immediately we see within 24-48 hours an increased wave of people crossing the border,” Moumtzis said.
This spells horror for humanitarian groups struggling to provide for the needs of refugees fleeing to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as the internally displaced. Since April, the conflict has reportedly displaced an estimated 500,000 Syrians, U.N. officials told Reuters.
The United Nations is scheduled to hold a forum June 5 to discuss humanitarian needs and access in Syria. This will be attended by U.N. officials, diplomats and aid agencies. Annan’s deputy, Jean Marie GuĂ©henno, is also scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council Wednesday (May 30) on Annan’s talks with Assad, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in a town hall meeting in Geneva.
Donor agency reform has become such a ubiquitous refrain around the world that I sense a kind of “reform-fatigue” has set in. In just the past two years, Australia, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom have all undertaken major reforms. Some colleagues in the development community seem to have tuned out and assume it’s all part of a long-term evolutionary change, not something to pay much attention to in the short term.
But the U.S. Agency for International Development’s reform agenda – formally titled USAID Forward – is one of a few important exceptions. Many had the initial impression that this reform agenda was all about reining in large contractors – in part because of ill-considered rhetoric from USAID that served to overshadow the full nature of the reforms. Now that changes are being implemented, it’s clear that the reality is more nuanced than that. While many details remain uncertain, I see three themes stemming from USAID Forward that could have a lasting impact on the way nongovernmental organizations and development consultancies do business with the agency.

More strategy
Taking a page from other bilateral and multilateral donors, USAID is now preparing country strategies for all of the 70 or so countries where it operates. Around a dozen have been approved so far and the plan is to have strategies for all countries where USAID operates by the end of fiscal 2013. (Although public versions are supposed to be made available, they aren’t yet easy to find on the USAID website, so we’ve compiled a list here.)
The strategies are meant to be more than just perfunctory; USAID intends to make them central to its planning function. They are designed to be the blueprint for development activities in each country, with projects flowing from the strategy. They also will be the development component of the so-called “integrated country strategies” that are being prepared by U.S. embassies under the direction of the U.S. State Department.
This could have real implications for the organizations that do the on-the-ground work and have spent decades learning to read the tea leaves at USAID. In time, there may be less to gain from trying to understand what a particular mission director is thinking in order to prepare for upcoming solicitations. A careful analysis of the country strategy document may instead yield clues to the areas of focus and type of programs USAID plans to launch in the country. (Note that Devex will soon begin publishing analyses of each USAID country strategy.)

More design
Over the past two decades, an increasingly understaffed USAID became known for bidding out individual contracts that are large and general. USAID looked to implementing partners to both define the problems and also provide the solutions. This approach required close partnership with the biggest implementing organizations who built up internal capacity to design and manage programs across a range of geographies and sectors.
But as part of its reform agenda, over the past few years USAID has hired hundreds of new staff and trained them to design and manage projects. These new staff will increasingly write more specific requests for proposals based upon more detailed up-front project design work. That project design may be done by small firms and independent consultants, much like the World Bank uses consultants to help design its projects before procurements are issued for international competitive bidding. And the scope of design work may increase as it will include analyzing the capacity of partner government systems (part of USAID Forward’s emphasis on using country systems) and integrating science and technology-based innovations into project design.
This new approach may result, over time, in segregating project design from implementation, with larger NGOs and implementers bidding on well-defined contracts while smaller organizations and individual consultants work on project design. This also has the potential for reducing the up-front costs of preparing a proposal, an additional factor that could lead to more competition for the USAID contracts and grants I describe below.

More competition
In the past, the term “project” in the USAID context would generally refer to an activity approval document and the individual request for applications (for grants) or request for proposals (for contracts) which flowed from it. Now, USAID has redefined the term “project” to entail an integrated approach to solving a development problem, including direct agreements with governments, direct procurement through local organizations, funding for other bilateral aid agencies and international organizations, as well as more traditional direct procurements. As a result, these new projects which flow from country strategies will increasingly be larger and more fully designed.
But although projects are getting bigger, individual procurements are likely to get smaller and more numerous: smaller because more funds will flow through local organizations, international organizations, and governments, so less funding will be left for direct procurement; and more numerous because they will be more specific in nature and more of them will be designed for local organizations. That’s because a key element of USAID Forward is a push to do more contracting at the local level, fostering competition for direct awards to local firms. In the past and today, local firms were able to receive USAID funding, but generally only through subcontracts or “grants under contracts” mechanisms run by larger USAID contractors.
So the new project concept, more funding going through governments and other agencies, and more local contracting could, taken together, lead to a larger number of contracts overall and many more small and mid-sized contracts as opposed to the mega contracts of the past. With more focus on pushing aid through government systems and international organizations, the total amount of funding available to contractors may – over time – go down. And those trends together may well lead to a more competitive bidding environment.
What does all this mean for USAID’s long-time implementing partners? Many of the largest contractors and NGOs see USAID Forward and the related trends around untied aid and country systems as a challenge. And some are responding by expanding internationally through mergers and acquisitions to become global development solutions providers that can work across agencies and geographies. (A Devex feature story published today explores this trend.)
Others, particularly those who are smaller, may find more opportunities as a result of these changes, in particular in the areas of project design, IPR (implementation and procurement reform), and monitoring and evaluation.
Of course, for all the energy behind USAID Forward, there remain reasons to believe this ambitious reform agenda won’t be entirely successful. Much depends on the agency’s new staff and their ability to manage a larger volume of smaller contracts. If Congress were to significantly cut USAID’s operating budget, it would slow these reforms to a crawl, since so much is predicated on USAID taking on management, planning, and design functions that they have contracted-out in the past. Much also depends on the Policy, Planning, and Learning Bureau and its role in ensuring country strategies don’t become competitive to broader thematic priorities like Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative but rather integrate with them. If country strategies become just another report that collects dust on a shelf in the Reagan building, everyone will soon go back to the old way of doing things.
A new administration or even a new secretary of state in a second Obama administration could certainly slow down or alter these reforms but the fundamental shifts are likely to persist in the coming years since they are tied to global trends furthered at Busan and coordinated with other donor nations. Perhaps the biggest threat to USAID Forward is a black swan event: a dramatic case of corruption or waste that creates a political backlash to pushing more aid through foreign governments and local companies. A decade or two ago, that risk would likely have been higher, but after untold cases of corruption in connection with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it may take a GSA-style case to draw enough political heat to topple USAID Forward. So these three implications – more strategy, more design, and more competition – are likely to have legs to some degree, even after President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah have left the stage.
In the end, development work is done by NGOs, development implementing firms, and aid workers. Funding organizations like USAID will continue to rely on the organizations that actually implement development projects, which is, after all, where most of the world’s development expertise lives. But the reforms that flow from USAID Forward could have a big impact on the way USAID engages with its partners which could, in turn, have a big impact on the thousands of organizations and professionals who ultimately do the work on the ground level. It’s a trend we at Devex will continue to cover.

Views expressed by columnists and guest contributors to Devex are their own.