Just over two years ago, I awoke to the news of Benazir Bhutto’s death. My immediate reaction, like the rest of the international community, was shock. But after the initial shock passed, I was overcome by grief. That day, I wept for her, for her family, for Pakistan, and also for those of us who had lost a great role model.
In November 2002, I attended a special lecture of Bhutto’s at Middle Tennessee State University. I was a junior in high school, and had decided to attend the lecture because of the promise of extra credit for history class. At my parents’ encouragement, I was told not only to attend her lecture because it may improve my grade, but to really listen to what she had to say. And I did.
I sat close to the back of the large auditorium in which she spoke, but over seven years later, I still remember her face. Dressed in royal blue and her trademark loose-fitting hijab, she was gracious, well-spoken, and often just downright funny. She told the audience of her days growing up in Pakistan as the privileged child of a wealthy political family, her studies at Harvard and Oxford, her avid belief in democracy and its impact on her rule as Pakistan’s first female prime minister, her struggles against gender discrimination, her travels across the world, her imperfections, and most importantly her ultimate mission in life – to return to Pakistan and improve the lives her people.
To say that Benazir Bhutto left an impression on me that autumn evening would be an understatement. She inspired me. My home country, Sierra Leone, was barely out of a brutal decade-long civil war, and though I was young, I too knew I wanted to improve the condition of my land and my people. I wanted to follow in Bhutto’s footsteps. In many ways, I did. In the years that followed, I spent an ample amount of time traveling and studying world cultures and religion. I went on to study comparative government at Harvard, and wrote my senior thesis on democracy-building in Sierra Leone. As time passed and as the memory of that November evening became increasingly distant, I never forgot how Bhutto motivated me to pursue a career in public service.
So in early 2007 when Bhutto reappeared onto the international scene, ready to return to Pakistan from exile and to run again for political office, I could not help but to take notice and to see what next she would achieve. For the last few months of her life, I followed her every interview, every rally, every political move. And though the threat of violence was imminent, I never imagined it would ultimately claim the life of the woman who I admired so much.
It has been two years since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated after leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The memories of that day are still fresh in my mind – the last image of her waving toward a crowd of supporters, her entry into the vehicle which moments later would be attacked, the shots and blast that took her life, the rioting in the days afterward… For her life to come to such a violent end, for her to never see Pakistan fulfill its potential, one may sadly conclude that Bhutto lived her life in vain. I know that this is not the case. To me, Benazir Bhutto exemplified strength and grace in the face of opposition and illustrated to the world the profound impact that a life of public service can have. It is for these reasons I thank her and will always remember her.
Effie O. Johnson
Master of Public Administration (MPA) Candidate, May 2011
International Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy
Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, New York University
A.B. Harvard University, 2008
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
Last Thursday I sat with other IPSA members, NYU students, and food-loving, granola-crunching community activists (no judgment here, I unabashedly ate home-made granola in lecture while wearing
Birkenstocks last week) and listened to three panelists discuss the Green Revolution and its myths. All three panelists landed hard on the conclusion that genetically modified food and seeds are bad. That community involvement is good. That sustainability is key. And that the Green Revolution isn’t as much revolution as it is a mis-guided prescription by the developing world.
Useful lessons to be sure. And listening to Karen Washington, a NY City activist working on community gardens, is like adding a spoon-full of sugar- it really goes down. I almost raised my fist, “Yes! I am with you! Bring me back to my roots!”
Seems clear to me now that the Green Revolution may have increased overall food produced (did it really?) but it did not address the real problems of food in the developing world – namely access to markets, stability and distribution. While sold on the problem, I was left wondering about solutions.
Besides, what Josphat Ngonyo calls “education” and what Karen Washington called “enlightenment”, I’d love to hear other suggestions about how to get farmers to adopt more sustainable practices when they are either a) already stuck in a cycle necessitating GMO seeds or b) tempted by the amount of money they can earn by pulling away from sustainable practices that may increase biodiversity, sustainability but not necessarily the income of that farmer.
And most importantly, how could a world-wide, organized civil society movement of the magnitude the panelists suggested we need, be started? Easy.
I’ll give you this image. Me, granola in hand, sitting with a bunch of Kenyan farming women and telling them that the way they used to farm since the beginning of time, and maybe even forgot, is actually right, and how about we join hands across the ocean and push our governments for change? Aren’t I a clever development practitioner?
By: Sierra Visher