Continental Drift

August 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 3:19 pm

Don’t worry, I did in fact return from Swaziland.  It just took me a while to recover/try and avoid catching the flu going around the office before I actually managed to write about it, and then I kept forgetting to post it.

As an intern, I don’t get the usual USAID travel perks (flights paid for, high per diem, transportation provided on site), so I was lucky enough to be invited along for the trip by my boss and another colleague in the RHAP office who were driving over there.  As someone from the Northeastern U.S., being able to drive over a border will always feel novel for me.  The drive to Swaziland was my first experience outside of the urban sprawl of Gauteng (the province that includes both Pretoria and Johannesburg), and it allowed me to start to get a sense of how big this country is.  Also that I need to make sure I get out of the Pretoria bubble ASAP to start to get to know some other realities of life in South Africa.
People here jokingly told me, “oh, so you’ll finally get to go to Africa,” when I told them I was going to Swaziland.  From the airconditioned pristine Brooklyn Mall, the distinction seems real.  But from all the reading I do at work, I know that South Africa is just as ‘African’ (if we take African to mean poor, rural, underdeveloped, ‘traditional’ and exotic) as anywhere else on the continent, and I feel like as an outsider it is even more my responsibility to remember this than it is theirs.
Swaziland, for those not in the know, is a tiny country of 1 million people surrounded on three sides by South Africa and on the other by Mozambique.  Both it and Lesotho (a country nearly as small and surrounded by South Africa on all sides) avoided becoming part of the Republic of South Africa upon its independence when the British decided to maintain their protectorate statuses.  But enough history. We were there to give TA (Technical Assitance, the catch all USAID euphemism for everything from advice to report writing to chastising) on Swaziland’s PEPFAR Implementation Programme.

PEPFAR began five years ago only in select focus countries.  The idea was to take a few countries and show that if you focused your resources, you could make a big impact.  Now, with the Obama administration, we are getting into PEPFAR II, which for the next five years will expand the number of PEPFAR countries and will focus on ensuring post-PEPFAR sustainability of programming.  Swaziland is one of the countries that has been added to this new round of PEPFAR, and they just got their Framework Agreement signed by the U.S. Ambassador to Swaziland and relevant Swaziland government people.  As I learned during my trip, the Framework says the vaguest level of commitments.  Then comes the Implementing Programme, which outlines what KINDS of things the US is going to give funding to.  And then comes the Country Operating Plan (COP) which is the evil evil complicated document that details every contract the USG makes with a partner organization and why.  And then, finally, there is the actual budget which is where the real decisions and priorities come through.

Swaziland is still at that second vaguest level, which means that someone had made a series of matrices including areas that the government needs to work on, how we are planning on helping them, and what other organizations in the country are doing in that area. Having created this document, PEPFAR Swaziland convened a meeting of all ‘stakeholders’.  This was what was going on while I was there.  Basically they divided the plan into the different PEPFAR categories: Care and Treatment, Prevention, Male Circumcision, Human Capacity Development, Strategic Information, Impact Mitigation (which is code for helping orphans and other vulnerable children), and had all the influential people who work on that issue come together to go over the document and say whether or not it was a good plan.

As you might imagine, this devolved quickly into general ranting.  Everyone wanted to turn the session into a place to air grievances with the system currently in place, not to discuss the vague and hard to believe in plan that was in front of them on the table.  Despite all that, it was really interesting to be there and understand the process behind the crafting of an agreement like this.  It really gives you a bird’s eye perspective when you sit there and discuss what the ministry of health will commit to making things better, what the ministry of social development will commit, and what a donor as large as the US government will commit.  You can see that if everyone really did what they said they were trying to commit to, it really seems that problems should be solved.  But you start out on a such a high level, so far removed from anyone who is actually implementing programs, that its hard to imagine how any of it trickles through such a lengthy game of telephone accurately.

Seeing this countrywide perspective is particularly interesting as I prepare to head to Mali and work at the most grass-roots of levels of actual implementation. It is important to understand the many processes going on at the top that influence and constrain the actors at the bottom.

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