Politics of Poverty

Countries, Schmuntries

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America’s most powerful allies are real people.

Malawian health advocate Martha Kwataine is working to make sure her national government responds to the needs of Malawians in rural areas, not just those living in the capital.
As Mayor of San Martin Alao, Peru, Manuel Dominguez is working to better manage his own municipal funds to clean up waste blighting his town.
Village Chief Kojo Kondua IV of Abuesi, Ghana, is making sure national officials enforce fishing regulations fairly, ensuring his village’s source of jobs and food for the future.
Tanzanian farmer Emiliana Aligaesha and fellow farmers formed a successful private company; she now trains other farmers to improve their yields and market access.

Monday is Inauguration Day. As President Obama takes the oath of office for the second time, his foreign policy team is getting a makeover. Obama’s nominations of John Kerry for State, Chuck Hagel for Defense, and Jack Lew for Treasury will put new faces in the three US government cabinet roles with the most impact on America’s global development efforts.

Congress will soon be grilling Kerry, Lew, and Hagel in their confirmation hearings. Senators will likely ask questions about the nominees’ plans to protect key US alliances. No doubt many of these questions will focus on America’s military, diplomatic and trade relationships.

But some of the most powerful alliances America has aren’t with governments—they are with ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things. This week Oxfam America’s Aid Effectiveness team launched an ad campaign featuring four of these American allies. (Click on the images to learn more about each of them.)

The basis of these alliances is the tiny amount of US assistance that the United States invests in fighting poverty around the world. It’s less than one percent of the federal budget—but it’s the tool that helps local leaders like Kwataine, Dominguez, Aligaesha, and Kondua deliver powerful results.

America partly does this because we’re generous. But more important are the selfish reasons; when local leaders like these four are successful in improving their countries and communities, it delivers a world that is fairer, more peaceful, and more prosperous—which, after all, is the stated goal of much of America’s foreign policy.

Local leaders like these four need a few things from the United States to be successful. First, they need America to be honest and transparent about our goals and policies, so they know how to work with us. Second, they need us to be willing to work directly with them, and invest our time, money, and effort in their success. Finally, they need us to be willing to trust them to know what works best for their own communities and countries, rather than impose our own politics and processes on them.

So now is the time to make sure Senators ask the right questions in these confirmation hearings. How do the nominees plan to protect and deepen our development alliances with people like Kwataine, Dominguez, Aligaesha, and Kondua? Will they support strong development policies that put more trust in local leaders like these? Will they faithfully pursue policies that give local leaders in developing countries the information, capacity and control they need to solve their own problems?

The answers could determine whether President Obama is able to build a lasting legacy on fighting global poverty.


Related Pages

Slideshow: Don’t cut aid. It’s working.

Ray Offeneheiser, President of Oxfam, in the Huffington Post: Don’t cut aid. It’s working.

Coming to a billboard near you: A very different portrayal of aid, by Jennifer Lentfer on Oxfam’s First Person blog

Press release: Novel ad campaign urges no cuts to poverty-fighting foreign aid

Storify compilations of tweets about the ad campaign: A very different portrayal of aid and Is Oxfam America just like all the others?


Note: Oxfam America does not take U.S. federal funds, but we do support effective development programs.


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