By Fr. Rocco Puopolo,

You’ve heard of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, Department of the Treasury, and others – what about a Department of Development? There is a buzz in the Beltway. Many NGO’s and policymakers are emphasizing Development within the three “D” approach to foreign policy: Diplomacy, Defense, and Development.
For over a year, the suggestion of a cabinet level department for Global Development has been raised. It would extract United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from under State Department and hopefully transform the stymied aid system into effective development. AFJN brought this proposal to its members through the input of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs at our April Conference. His suggestion of such a department was met with some concern, but in theory, many thought it could be a good idea. Ultimately, in as much as we see the theoretical wisdom behind creating separate departments for these three “D”s, we feel more dialogue needs to be given in two fundamental areas:
1. What do we actually mean by development? What is the purpose of “foreign aid” or “development assistance”? Who does it really serve in the end? What policy change needs to be made to make real integral development happen?

  1. Will the new Congress actually fund a new department if for the past 14 years it has systematically gutted USAID? It will take a lot of political will and money, both of which will be scarce as Congress deals with a flailing economy and an unpopular war.

The revision of foreign aid from the global north is also a conversation that has been happening on an international level since 2000. There are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from the UN. There have been three High Level Forum meetings of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – one in 2003 in Rome, another in 2005 in Paris, and a third in 2008 in Accra – each of which incrementally looked at the failure of the Bretton Woods Institutions to improve the situation in many developing countries.
In July of 2008, the Secretary General of the UN offered a report on Africa’s development needs, the state of implementation of various commitments, challenges, and the way forward. In brief, he noted the reality that progress in meeting the MDGs and other international development goals for Africa are off track. In August, Jubilee South circulated a sign on letter that looked at the challenges to the notion of aid effectiveness. It highlighted issues such as reparations, debt cancellation, illegitimate and odious debts, eradication of poverty, social services, human rights, sustainability, food sovereignty, environmental security and climate justice, the democratization of the process of aid and development, and conditionalities as issues that must be addressed in era of development.
Those of us who have done development work on the continent through our parishes, development centers, schools, and clinics have probably used, as I have, Ann Hope and Sally Timmell’s Training for Transformation, a four volume handbook, rooted in the thought and practice of Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This model presents a completely different approach to development that includes empowering the local people from the bottom up.
It is likely that foreign aid and development financing will undergo significant revisions in Obama’s Administration. We must be sure that as AFJN members and as those who have spent years on the African continent, that our perspective is heard in Congress and in the White House.