It was a privilege to be able to attend the White House Summit on Global Development on July 20. The Summit was a celebratory event, highlighting the development achievements in the Obama administration with an eye to influencing the agenda of the next administration. President Obama spoke at the end of the day, which was a highlight. There were a number of other interesting issues that came up at the Summit.
Global Food Security Act
Part of the reason for the Summit was to announce the signing of the Global Food Security Act, which was a major achievement for the development community. The Global Food Security Act received substantial bipartisan support to turn the Feed the Future initiative of USAID, which increased investments in smallholder agriculture around the world, into law. I worked with Bread for the World to get this passed. Bread was only one of a number of anti-hunger groups pushing to get this through.
Health as Bipartisan Achievement
One of the panels at the Summit was on global health and there was a nice bipartisan nod to the achievements of the Bush Administration on HIV/AIDS, as well as the more expected congratulation to the Obama administration on its response to Ebola. Global health issues made it into Obama’s speech as well as a call out to the Congress to pass funding to combat the Zika Virus.
Civil Society and Open Government
Samantha Power led a great panel on transparency and open government. While some of the conversation a focused on the importance of government accountability, the issue of the use of law to restrict civil society was also addressed. Douglas Rutzen from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law talked about the ‘rule by law’ rather than the ‘rule of law’. He was indicating the trend of authoritarian governments using laws to restrict the activities of civil society rather than using law to protect those activities. I have heard this same thing in field research in Ethiopia in the past and then more recently in Uganda, so it was good to hear it emphasized by those in the government. Morgan Lee in Christianity Today recently wrote a piece about how laws that are intended to restrict pro-democracy organizations effect Christian groups and presumably other religious groups as well.
Strong institutions as the basis of sustainable development
“Turns out functioning governments are really important” This is my favorite quote from Obama’s speech. As a political scientist it makes me happy to hear this said. Functioning governments are critical to development but, as the Samantha Power panel noted, law can also be used to restrict the voice of civil society. The best governments use law to promote the flourishing of their population, the worst use it to restrict them.