Devex Newswire: ‘Grave’ accusations fly between USAID and Zimbabwe

Source: Devex Newswire: ‘Grave’ accusations fly between USAID and Zimbabwe | Devex

A war of words — including charges of forced deportations and election interference — has erupted between USAID and Zimbabwe.

Kicked out

On Friday, USAID Administrator Samantha Power issued a scathing statement blasting Zimbabwe for allegedly intimidating, harassing, and expelling USAID staffers and contractors, calling it a “grave” development. She accused Zimbabwean authorities of “subjecting some of them to overnight detention, transportation in unsafe conditions, prolonged interrogation, seizure of and intrusion into personal electronic equipment, and forced deportation.”

But Zimbabwe’s ambassador lobbed plenty of his own accusations, claiming the agency was interfering in his country’s democracy and calling USAID’s human rights and governance work a “gross violation” of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.

“Clearly, they want to influence our election process, and that is unacceptable,” Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the U.S., Tadeous Tafirenyika Chifamba, tells my colleague Elissa Miolene. “If USAID wants to send more people on missions like this without working directly with the government, they will face a similar fate.”

Last week, the U.S. sanctioned Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other senior government officials for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed Zimbabwean government officials have been involved in looting national coffers and participating in abductions, abuse, and killings that have “left citizens living in fear.”

Chifamba didn’t hold back in refuting the charges, telling Elissa that the allegations were “a lot of nonsense” — not to mention hypocritical.

“When it comes to human rights abuses, they abound [in the U.S.],” Chifamba says. “Has the U.S. imposed any sanctions against itself? If not, why impose them against Zimbabwe?”

Is anything off the table?

When we hear about weapons of war, we often think about military hardware, but food is also used as a method of control — and the U.S. apparently isn’t averse to wielding it.

For several months, the Biden administration has stored some 60,000 metric tons of wheat in warehouses in the United Arab Emirates, my colleague Colum Lynch writes. The food — originally destined for millions of hungry Yemeni civilians in territory controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels — is a bargaining chip in a high-stakes U.N. negotiation over who gets to decide how aid is distributed.

But the U.S. is far from alone in effectively weaponizing starvation. From Afghanistan and Gaza to Syria, Sudan, and Ukraine, hunger and starvation have become mainstays in the arsenals of governments and armed groups.

“The Golden Age of humanitarianism was from 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, until a few years ago,” Andrew Natsios, a former USAID administrator and an advocate of decoupling food assistance from diplomacy, tells Colum. “The norm is eroding and I think great power politics is playing a role in that, and it’s going to be increasingly difficult for us to enforce these rules.”

But others say the rules have always had loopholes that leave civilians at the mercy of combatants.

“In the laws of war, you’re allowed to starve your adversary, but you’re not allowed to starve civilians in an international conflict,” says Michael Fakhri, an Oregon University law professor who serves as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food. But he points out: “If you’re going to starve your adversary, you’re inevitably going to starve civilians.”

“I’ve heard some diplomats say off the record ‘Look, we all use food as a weapon,’” he adds.

Digital divide

The World Bank wants the rest of the world to become wired and connected.

Last week the anti-poverty lender hosted its first Global Digital Summit to spur digital access, alongside affordability and usability, in low-income countries, writes Devex contributor Sophie Edwards. And there are plenty of people still offline — 2.6 billion, in fact, with the majority of them in lower-income countries. The advent of artificial intelligence means that many of these countries will only fall further behind as the world embarks on a digital revolution.

“Without access to the internet and the skills to use digital technologies effectively, you are essentially locked out of the modern world,” Axel van Trotsenburg, the bank’s senior managing director, said in a press release. “The critical services that support development — like hospitals, schools, energy infrastructure, and agriculture — all run on connectivity and data.”

To that end, World Bank President Ajay Banga has vowed to prioritize the issue by creating a new operational unit dedicated to accelerating countries’ digital transformation.

As the former head of Mastercard, the second-largest payment technology corporation in the world, Banga understands the importance of digital inclusion. As such, he doesn’t see any conflict between boosting digital access and focusing on more traditional basic services, such as providing electricity to the 600 million people in Africa who currently lack it.

There is no tradeoff,” he said at the summit. “The reality is we have to get those 600 million people connected to electricity. … Meanwhile, there’s the other billion and a half of people who have access to electricity but don’t have digital. We have work to do with them too. And then there’s the others who do have access to the internet, but it’s not being fully used and exploited for the capabilities that it is possible to do. So there’s different shades of work to be done with different target audiences.”

A healthy leg up

One area where going digital could fundamentally alter and improve our lives is health. The adoption of digital health technologies in Africa could be a particular lifesaver — and a boon to investors.

“Today, more than 50% of Africans live more than 5 kilometers from any health center, and in many of those places, there is no electricity, and other types of infrastructure are still lagging behind. The only type of infrastructure that reaches everywhere is mobile,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the chief digital health adviser for the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, at the Mobile World Congress in Spain. He called it “a multibillion-dollar opportunity for investors, for innovators, for policymakers. But it’s also a great challenge that no one can solve on their own.”

Over 40 African countries have developed national digital health strategies and the Africa CDC released its own last year to support its member countries. The biggest gap now is to ensure these strategies are actually being implemented, Nsengimana told Devex contributor Natalie Donback.

But the continent could have a leg up on countries such as India, whose government has created a highly digitized health sector. That’s because the regulatory framework to a certain extent doesn’t exist yet, meaning innovation is quicker and not stifled by legacy and complex regulations, Pavan Ananth, founder and CEO of the consulting firm Pravesh, told Natalie.