Archive | November 2009

Equatorial Guinea, Have You Heard Of It?

Equatorial Guinea (E.G.) is a small country in Western Africa, not even the size of Maryland. Gaining their independence in 1968 from the Spanish, the new government inherited similar challenges that were faced by other African states. In the mid 1990’s, this all changed with the discovery of huge oil reserves along E.G’s coastline. Since this discovery, western oil companies have done further exploration and concluded that 10% of the world oil reserves could be under E.G.

When it comes to dictators, it is hard to top E.G.’s president, Teodoro Obiang, who has been in power since 1979. Obiang has been on the shortlist of dictators, often compared to the likes of Libya’s Gadaffi, Congo’s Mobutu, and Zimbabwe’s Mugabe. The reason why the west has not heard much about the brutality of Obiang is the United States has close ties with Obiang. Since the discovery of oil, the United States has been an integral part of funding and supporting Obiang. It has not always been this way though. In 1995 (before the discovery of oil) the Clinton administration closed the embassy and seized funding to the dictatorship, but since the oil has been found, a rosier picture has been painted by the United States of E.G.

With an estimated $4 billion dollars in revenue coming in annually from oil, little development has been made to help the locals. Family members and cousins hold top public offices. Obiang himself trusts nobody in his country to protect him so he hires bodyguards from Morocco. On the streets of Malabo, E.G.’s capital or any other city for that matter, there are no ATM’s, not a single bookstore or newspaper stand (foreign journalists were banned), and only 8,000 lucky residents are fortunate enough to have the internet (censored and monitored). In sum, $4 billion dollars does not leave the hands of Obiang and his close family and friends.

So what is Obiang doing with these billions of dollars? Presently, Chinese laborers are building what is known locally as Malabo II, a futuristic new capital that is rising from the jungle, stretching for miles. Obiang’s pet project, includes a louvered-glass headquarters for the state-owned radio and TV station, a gleaming oval home for the state-owned oil company, and an ostentatious blue-topped building set to house the prime minister’s office. But there are no signs yet of hospitals, schools, and other services likely to help the average Equatoguinean. The project does call for 10,000 moderate-income housing units, but critics still insist that the whole thing is a misguided use of megafunds in a country that desperately needs a health-care system, housing, education, rural roads, and a reliable power supply — not to mention an oil refinery that could keep the price of gas low for the locals.

With emerging superpower China entering the oil arena, the United States is stepping up its effort to show E.G.’s dictator just how much they appreciate him. Recently, a private U.S. security firm won a contract last year — approved by the Pentagon — to train E.G.’s army and Presidential Guard. With so much U.S. investment on the ground, keeping Obiang well protected is apparently essential.

Those that have been following the whole China-United States-Equatorial Guinea debacle from the beginning have pointed out some similarities of today’s situation compared to the cold war. This time, instead of facing the Soviets for political influence, the United States is facing the Chinese, both struggling to secure energy to secure future economic growth. Nobody is more aware of this than president Obiang himself. In late 2005, he visited China and, on his return, announced, “From now on, China will be our principal partner for the development of Equatorial Guinea.” Then, expertly playing the two sides against each other, Obiang visited Washington in early 2006, where Condoleezza Rice welcomed him as “a good friend” of the United States. Within months of that visit — despite its annual reports portraying E.G. as a land of corruption, arbitrary arrests, scant human rights, and freedoms denied — the State Department installed its first resident ambassador in E.G. in 12 years. It even gave the okay to open a consulate stateside, in Houston.

With the gloomy world economic outlook and unemployment figures snatching up most of the worlds press, the well-known humanitarian issues, Darfur, Congo, and Burma have been pushed to the back pages of the papers and turned into quick sound bites on local news. To find out where Equatorial Guinea fits in, it might get about as much press as the size of the country, very little.

[Chris Pedersen]

IPSA Informer: November 30-December 6

Tuesday, December 1

What: Converse for Commerce

When: Tuesday, December 1, 6:00p-11:00p

Where: Boucarou Lounge 64 East 1st. Street

About: “Converse For Commerce,” is a networking event that is aimed at constructing a stronger African business community in NY and the tri-state area.  Our goal is to build a relationship between African entrepreneurs, and young professionals in the city, in the hopes of increasing the awareness of the services that African entrepreneurs provide.

Some confirmed businesses and organizations who will be participating include:

  • N.Y.C. Small Business Services
  • African Chamber of Commerce
  • The U.S.-Spain Chamber of Commerce
  • Greylock Captial
  • The Khana Group
  • Starr African Rum
  • SPAN, Columbia College
  • Wagner Student Alliance for Africa, NYU Wagner

There will be an open bar from 6:30pm-7:00pm.

Wednesday, December 2

*IPSA Event*

What: Effective Business Regulatory Systems with Svetlana Bagaudinova

When: Wednesday, December 2, 11:00a-12:15p
Where: Puck, Jersey

About: Please join the International Public Service Association (IPSA) and Bridge for a discussion with Svetlana Bagaudinova from the Doing Business Project.

The Doing Business project was launched 8 years ago as part of the World Bank Group. It provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 183 economies and selected cities at the subnational and regional level. Doing Business operates by looking at domestic small and medium-size companies and measures the regulations applying to them through their life cycles. For more information on the Doing Business project, please visit their website at, or their blog at

Svetlana Bagaudinova, a senior private sector development specialist, joined the Doing Business team in 2006. Prior to joining the World Bank, Ms. Bagaudinova worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, where she specialized in energy and infrastructure projects. Ms. Bagaudinova holds a master’s degree in sociology from Moscow State University and a master’s degree in international business from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


What: Cities as Solutions for Climate Change

When: Wednesday, December 2, 6:00p-8:00p

Where: New York Academy of Sciences, 7 World Trade Center
250 Greenwich Street, 40th floor

About: This discussion will highlight New York City as an example for cities around the globe and examine the key role cities play in climate change adaptation going into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (Cop15) discussions in Copenhagen later in December 2009.

New York City is demonstrating leadership of international cities in climate change adaptation through the efforts of the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) and the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (Task Force). The NPCC was convened in August 2008 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation to respond to climate changes in New York City and accomplish the goals outlined in PlaNYC, the City’s comprehensive plan to create a greener, more sustainable city. The NPCC, which consists of climate change and impacts scientists, legal, insurance and risk management experts, serves as the technical advisory body for the Mayor and the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (Task Force) on issues related to climate change, impacts and adaptation.

The NPCC’s 2009 Report, Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response, will be published as a volume of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Register here

Thursday, December 3

*IPSA Event*
What: IPSA Peer Networking Night

When: Thursday, December 3, 8:00p-10:00p
Where: Puck, Rice
About: Our fellow Wagner students are our greatest resources! Come mix and mingle with your peers to discuss past and current jobs, internships, and fellowships. Meet students who have worked at the organizations below and also attend to share your own professional experiences.

~Asia Society
~Clinton Foundation
~Doctors without Borders
~Human Rights Watch
~The Hunger Project
~International Refugee Rights Initiative
~International Rescue Committee
~Mercy Corps
~NYC Business Solutions
~Save the Children
~Windows for Peace


Students will also be available to discuss their experiences working and living abroad in Afghanistan, Brazil, Colombia, India, Israel, Jordan, Peru, Russia, Uganda, Zambia and more! Refreshments will be served.


What: Participatory Filmmaking in Africa
Thursday, December 3, 6:00p-8:00p
Where:Puck, Rudin Family Forum
About:Join WSAFA, IPSA and FilmAid for Participatory Filmmaking In Africa. How can media be used to create behavioral changes? How does empowering African communities through the use of filmmaking produce social change? What are the implications related to this form of community empowerment? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? What is the future potential of creating grassroots media in Africa?

This event will take on a case study format, beginning with the screening of several short films that have been created in Africa through the use of participatory filmmaking in the hopes of creating social and behavioral change. After the screening, the audience will be given the opportunity to openly discuss the films and the questions above with panelists representing NGOs who have created films through participatory processes.

This event aims to facilitate a conversation around participatory filmmaking—a method that has been used by many NGOs to involve communities in the developing world in shaping and creating their own films for the sake of exploring issues, voicing concerns, educating community members, and sharing stories. Some have lauded successes seen through enabling change and empowerment in a creative and constructive way, via film. These films have primarily taken the form of media such as public service announcements and film shorts, though they have also been created into full-length documentaries.

RSVP here

Friday, December 4

*IPSA Event*
What: Economist Reading Group
When: Friday, December 4, 4:30p-5:30p
Where: TDB
About: Join fellow Wagner students to discuss the most recent issue of The Economist over coffee.

What: 2009 Rubin Symposium: Privatization of Development Assistance

When: Friday, December 4, 8:30a-5:00p and Saturday December 5, 8:30a-12:30p

Where: NYU School of Law, Greenberg Lounge, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South

About: Privately-initiated financial flows are an increasingly prominent feature of development assistance. Two of the most obvious examples of these kinds of flows are intra-familial remittances and grants from private foundations such as the Gates Foundation. There are, however, many other innovative ways in which private actors can participate in financing development. To list just a few examples, they might purchase goods from a firm which has joined (RED) and thereby promised to make a donation to the cause of fighting AIDS in Africa out of the profits from sales of designated products. Alternatively, they might make a donation to a development project through GlobalGiving’s innovative online platform.  Or they might make a micro-loan through Kiva, which has pioneered a form of peer-to-peer micro-finance that allows lenders to select the recipients of the loans they fund.

This symposium will provide a forum for a focused interdisciplinary discussion of both the significance of the phenomenon of the privatization of development assistance and its policy implications.

This event is made possible through the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and is co-sponsored by the IILJ and NYU’s Journal of International Law and Politics.

Details and Registration

What: Accelerating Equality for Women and Girls around the World: A Conversation with Media, Activists, Entrepreneurs and You

When: Friday, December 3, 1:00p-3:00p

Where: The Paley Center for Media, 25 West 52nd Street

About: Conversations with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of Half the Sky and Taina Bien-Aimé, Equality Now, Bill Drayton, Ashoka, Ana Langer, EngenderHealth. Moderated by Maria Hinojosa, Senior Correspondent, NOW on PBS.

RSVP to:

Dean Schall to speak at Spring Conference

IPSA is proud to announce that Ellen Schall, Dean of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and Martin Cherkasky Professor of Health Policy & Management, will offer the opening remarks at IPSA’s 2010 Spring Conference on March 26, 2010.

““Innovations in Edu cation in Latin Amer ica, Africa and Asia ”

Yesterday, I attended “Innovations in Education in Latin America, Africa and Asia,” a panel discussion held by IPSA and the Education Policy Studies Association (WEPSA) as part of NYU Wagner’s “International Week.”

The discussion focused on the innovative educational practices NGO’s are implementing in conflict-afflicted regions.

The evening began with an introduction of the panel’s distinguished speakers:

Next, the moderator Conor Grennan, Executive Director of Next Generation Nepal, posed a series of provocative questions that spurred a lively conversation:

  • What is the role of education in conflict and post-conflict regions?
  • What are the challenges and barriers that NGOs such as the IRC, WorldFund and INEE face in providing quality educational programs and services in these regions?
  • What promising innovations are NGOs adopting to mitigate these challenges and barriers?

All the panelists spoke passionately about the important role education plays in conflict and post-conflict regions. Ms. Anastacio stated that at times of chaos (which is often the case in conflict-riddled regions), education can “create a sense of stability and normalcy.” Additionally, she added that, if done well, education can help “develop positive skills, attitudes and behaviors and increase people’s sense of empathy, inclusiveness, and collaboration.” In essence, Ms. Anastocio and the other panelists argued, that good education could alleviate many of the problems flagrant in these regions.

The panelists also discussed some of the challenges they have faced in implementing their programs. Ms. Benton pointed to teacher and principal training programs that the WorldFund has recently implemented in Brazil and Mexico. She worried that, in the future, it may struggle to secure long term funding from donors who want to see short-term results. She also mentioned the challenge of working with the local government in both countries, which have offered little support for the programs – the training efforts have rested heavily on WorldFund’s shoulders.

Ms. Anastacio also cited obtaining long-term funding and maneuvering local politics as a barrier to creating and sustaining the programs in the Middle Eastern and African countries in which she works. Ms. Benton mentioned that based on her conversations with donors, practitioners and researchers, one of the biggest barrier might come from the funding and NGO community itself. She noted that some donors see investing in education as too costly and requiring too much of a prolonged effort. These donors often see the biggest bang for their buck in smaller, more tangible programs such food drives or homeless shelters, which offer a greater probability of gaining short-term wins.

There was no consensus on what new practices or innovations could best mitigate these barriers. Ms. Laub and Ms. Benton suggested that NGOs will need to develop more robust assessment tools to evaluate their programs. Having readily-available outcome data could be used as leverage to retaining funding from donors. Ms. Benton also mentioned getting donors more involved in their work beyond funding – for example, seeking their advice on various aspects of program development. Ms. Anastocio added that another innovative approach would be to engage the local communities in the educational services they receive. This might lesson some of the tension that these communities feel about NGOs coming in and altering the systems that they have become accustomed to.

All agreed that though great inroads in education have been made in conflict areas of Latin America, Asia and Africa, much room remains finding innovative solutions to the most prevailing challenges.

By: Bukola Awobamise

World Summit on Food Security preaches: Empower the hungry to feed themselves

“The world has more than enough food. Yet, today, more than 1 billion people are hungry. This is unacceptable.”

So, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again reminded world leaders at today’s opening of the World Summit on Food Security in Rome. Sounds familiar? The fact is hardly new or surprising to leaders in the world. No sensible diplomat would also dispute that global hunger is anything but acceptable. However, this trumpeted consensus is instantly disillusioned by the real dispute among countries and agencies on strategies, best aid practices, and the levels of commitment required to combat the global hunger.

According to the Associated Press’s report, delegates at the summit disapproved the $44 billion pledge called for by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization but pledged to halve the number of hungry people by 2015. The summit also signaled a potential shift away from food assistance toward agricultural aid–technology, irrigation, fertilizer, high-yield seed, etc. for local farmers, livestock herders and fishermen. As Ban was quoted in the report, at the core of an international approach to food security is not just to feed the hungry, but  “to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”

Although the focus on agricultural aid and “empower[ing] the hungry to feed themselves” at the summit in rhetoric could be promising, how or will these promises materialize into actions and results? What impact would the summit’s strategies yield during actual implementation on the ground?

In the past, despite the apparent pouring of resources and assistance from wealthy nations to the global South, many have argued, aid has rarely had their intended effects–or what may be said to be their intents. In a debate held in 2007 “Aid to Africa Is Doing More Harm than Good,”  William Easterly suggested, “So aid would be a great thing if it worked. But the sad tragedy is that … money meant for the most desperate people in the world is simply not reaching them.” Moreover, as George Ayittey also put it, “First of all, aid, foreign aid, is not free.” Aid, in various ways, has often been tied to conditionalities and geopolitical interests that are not always in the best interest of the recipient countries. Whether agricultural aid and other strategies under consideration at the World Summit on Food Security will effectively tackle these issues or replicate the disappointing impact of past international aid and assistance is still a haunting unpredictability.

In the mean time, surely, world leaders gathering at the World Summit on Food Security are expected to continue with the hair-pulling and nail-biting if countries are truly serious and sincere in their commitment of how to help the needy help themselves.

Finally…Tentative USAID Administrator Named

After ten months in limbo, it’s nice that USAID has someone nominated to their highest position. The Obama Administration nominated Rajiv Shah, 36 for the position last Thursday, possibly on the last day available if they wanted to see him get confirmed this year. Shah is a trained medical doctor and economist and is currently serving as Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics at USDA. Prior to his current position, he was an executive at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and served as an advisor to the Obama and Gore presidential campaigns.

Feelings are mixed within the agency and in the larger development community as to how effective Shah can be as a reformer within an organization that has been subsumed within the State department during the last decade.

Can Shah stand up to the State Department and reclaim USAID’s independent status? I don’t know, but his relative youth and bureaucratic past lend doubt to the idea that he will pushback against State in a way that practitioner acclaimed nominees like Paul Farmer and Helene Gayle might have. It’s possible that the previous were listed but never nominated for the position exactly because of this reason.

Can Shah champion reform within the agency? This remains unclear. USAID has always been criticized for its politics and bureaucracy, but aid practitioners now complain that there is now more politics in AID than at any previous time. Additionally, US development assistance in general has become fragmented in the last decade, with 17 agencies now providing development assistance abroad. USAID is the largest player in this group and will have a budget of $53.9 billion in the coming year, but again, is not the controlling partner in its relationship with State.

As mentioned at Aid Watch, Shah has been cited for his openness to criticism of organizations he has lead. This is welcomed news and in the short term, he should be given the benefit of a doubt on the direction of the agency. Let’s hope his arrival at USAID initiates a new era of reform and critical practice.

By: James Collins

The Kiva Controversy

To respond to Karen Phillips earlier post about the questions raised by a recent New York Times Article on, I have a few quick points. First, Kiva has held transparency as a core belief since its inception. For instance, the information regarding Kiva’s MFI partners has been accessible on every borrowers profile including background information on the MFI and key statistics. Some lenders even search for borrowers based on the MFI the money goes though because they feel a connection or trust in that particular MFI. Also, since this latest “Kiva Controversy”, Kiva has reworked their webpage to make it even more transparent. I encourage readers to watch the video by a Kiva Fellow, Kieran Ball now posted on Kiva’s How It Works Page and to read Co-Founder and CEO Matt Flannery’s response to the article. For information about how Kiva’s model works on the ground, the Kiva Fellows Blog is a wonderful resource.

I disagree that the “person-to-person” connection is gone. And I doubt that this will discourage the thousands of active and inspired Kiva lenders. I don’t think that this controversy will effect people’s desire to connect to borrowers and lend a helping hand to them, and the Microfinance Institution that serves them. At least I hope not. While the article is correct to push Kiva towards even greater transparency, I am saddened by the fact that the NY Times Article may mislead readers into thinking that the borrowers don’t get the money.

The loans that Kiva provides allows their MFI Partners to reach people that in many cases they wouldn’t be able to without Kiva funds. Though it may take a more circuitous route than many borrowers assumed despite the information on Kiva’s website, the borrowers get the money. I have seen first hand the effects of Kiva loans, the Kiva loan disbursement process, the loan application process and the way that loans are repayed. MFIs see Kiva’s funding as crucial to the success of their borrowers and while they often disburse the loan before it is funded, without the effective “repayment” by Kiva, they couldn’t have made that loan. 100% of each loan goes to the borrower who are touched when they learn that an individual on the other side of the world has lent to them. I am touched when I receive news from other Kiva Fellows, or from the MFIs themselves about the people I have lent to.

I’m surprised that it comes as a shock to many that the money lenders send to their chosen borrower is administered through an MFI. Of course the borrowers in rural Mexico, or slums of Kampala don’t have paypal accounts! And I’m surprised that it comes as a shock that many MFI’s disburse the money before the loan is fully funded on the Kiva website. One of the main needs of microborrowers is flexible products and fast loan processes. If each borrower had to wait a month for their loan to both fund on the Kiva website, and for Kiva to wire that money (there is a cost to wiring money, so it isn’t done for every twenty-five dollar transaction but rather in a monthly lump sum) then one of the main purposes of the loan- patching in times of low cash flow, or jumping on a business opportunity, would be lost. And in cases where the borrower could be serviced by multiple MFIs, the MFI that Kiva partners with may lose their competitive advantage as borrowers seek faster loans from a competitor.

Despite my wholehearted defense of Kiva, I think its wonderful that the article draws attention to the complexity of micro-finance and key transparency issues that Kiva could address.

By Sierra Visher


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