Why USAID’s New Approach to Development Assistance Is Stalled

Speaking Out

BY THOMAS DICHTER

     A black Chrysler pulls out of the gate of the U.S. embassy compound in Rabat followed by a security detail in an SUV. My Moroccan colleague and I are walking down a public sidewalk when a city policeman holds up his hand and signals us to stop while the two cars pass. After they do, we start walking again, but the policeman waves us away.
     “I’m sorry, but you cannot go this way,” he says.
     “Why not?” we ask. He replies that the U.S. embassy does not allow walking on the part of the street that faces the embassy gate.
     “
Bledna! (This is our country!),” my Moroccan colleague shouts. But the policeman has his orders. He smiles apologetically and waves us to another street.

During the course of an independent study financed indirectly by the U.S. Agency for International Development that took me and my colleagues to 14 USAID offices on three continents—with all but three offices now located inside the U.S. embassy grounds—it became clear how insulated agency staff have become from the countries in which they work. And this is the case at a time when USAID is ostensibly committed to working more directly with local organizations (and so beginning the long-delayed process of “working ourselves out of a job”).

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