By Pearl Matibe
The scope of humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe is staggering.
Since 1980, the United States Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Zimbabwe, has supported the people of Zimbabwe. Today, its Harare post has a new Mission Director, Arthur W. Brown. “Art,” often shortened for Arthur, is “happy to engage” Zimbabwe and its diverse stakeholders.
A veteran senior foreign service officer with 28-years’ service in the USG, Art Brown is incredibly open to engaging with and hearing from Zimbabwean journalists. This availability is refreshing and ought to be applauded, knowing much more needs to be done by non-state actors, international community actors, and Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government officials. It is important today, more than ever, to engage more inclusively with women, Zimbabwe’s diaspora, and independent journalists in view of the recent past and present less open, less free, and less transparent space journalists have faced in the country.
Brown is doing just that from the start.
Humanitarian assistance work inside the country needs the independent media to help about 9.5 million living in rural areas access information on the impact of USAID humanitarian work on their lives. 63% of all households live in poverty and 16% live in extreme poverty.
Extreme poverty is expected to continue for the rest of this year
Speaking in Harare on Tuesday, September 15, Brown confirmed the U.S. Government (USG) has, “US$19.3 million that we have committed to working with Zimbabwe to deal with COVID-19 everything from training doctors and nurses, to better deal in the case management…and working to sustain capacity in some of the health care facilities that are dealing with COVID-19.”
Just five weeks ago in mid-August, Brown — who is a senior foreign service officer with work experience in the SADC region — arrived in to assume his duties.
Over the last 40 years since 1980, the United States has invested more than US$3.2 billion in Zimbabwe, including more than US$1 billion in health assistance to reduce preventable deaths and lessen the disease burden due to HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), malaria, especially among women and children under five, and now COVID-19.
In a USAID-hosted Roundtable held on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, Brown assured journalists that since arriving in the country, he is focused on meeting Zimbabwe’s unique and extraordinary challenges head on and his office has a budget well in excess of US$300 million and the resources to continue to work to ensure a comprehensive response to the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.
Context: chronic, long-term problems
According to an IPC analysis released in March at the peak of the lean season—the period of the year when food is scarcest—approximately 4.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe were facing Crisis (IPC 3) or worse levels of acute food insecurity and require emergency food assistance. Drought, localized flooding,
and rising food prices remain among the primary drivers of acute food insecurity for rural households, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis reports.
Since March 31, the COVID-19 national lockdown restrictions imposed on Zimbabwe’s informal sector have been causing large-scale livelihoods disruptions. A couple of weeks before Brown arrived in Harare, the World Food Program (WFP) projections indicated that by year’s end, “the number of food-insecure Zimbabweans will have surged by almost 50% to touch 8.6 million — a staggering 60% of the population – owing to the combined effects of drought, economic recession and the pandemic.”
18-months ago, Zimbabwe, usually associated with droughts, captured global headlines for a tragic, climate, natural disaster — the land-falling tropical cyclone flooding on March 16, 2019. Now, the victims, who have yet to overcome the impact of Cyclone Idai, face food insecurity and a new parallel crisis, the coronavirus, and its restrictions. In the Roundtable discussion, Brown put the severity of Idai into context.
On Zimbabwe’s severely under-resourced health delivery system, several USAID efforts are worth mentioning. Brown plans to meet with, “various sectors so the Minister of Health and child care, along with the Permanent Secretary, I will meet [and] will discuss” issues about frontline health workers,” adding, “And, you know, Ministry of Health is not the only ministry that I’m going to be engaging with. We’ve got plans to speak with environment, public service, agriculture as well and even the Food and Nutrition Council. I’m going to present myself. My team as well. We’re going to engage with these various ministries to let them know what we’re doing and talk about the challenges and try to have folks have an honest conversation about what needs to be done to advance human cause here.”
On gender inequality, and ensuring that women are front and center in benefits, in promoting women’s equality, and in advancing the status of all women and girls across Zimbabwe, USAID has been vital to achieving U.S. foreign policy and development objectives.
“Quite naturally, the majority of the recipients of most of our development assistance are women and families,” Brown explained.
On improvement of human dignity, Brown highlighted a new program strategy and was quick to point out, “One of the things I did want to harken back to the question that you had prior — and I thought it was a great question about the cash transfers I mean, that’s on the urban side in a more crisis COVID lens — but you know, in rural areas, we were working with WFP. “There is a new US$19.8 million project called FARM — Fostering Agribusiness for Resilient Markets (FARM).
Brown touted the project as an example because it is a new Feed the Future activity.
“I’m here to raise human dignity,” adding, “that’s my message. That is the thing that I want to do. Human progress is important, and everyone has a right to their own dignity. And, part of what USAID is doing is increasing communities’ self-reliance. And so, we’re going to continue to push that, but I just wanted to make that sort of nuanced point to you, Pearl.”
On the bright side
USAID is helping to support Zimbabweans in many ways including a movie initiative — Shaina — a movie about Shine, a teenager in Zimbabwe who doesn’t believe in herself. This media initiative was to empower adolescent girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa and USAID funded the production of the feature-length film.
On humanitarian assistance work what is true for Africa and Zimbabwe, is its people are the architects of their development, not just beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance. That is why the USAID’s support for Zimbabweans’ resilience is reaping dividends.
It is not Brown’s first posting to Africa, having previously been stationed in Botswana, Guinea, and Nigeria. He also covered regional activities in Sierra Leone, and Namibia making this post a return to the region.
He graduated from the universities of Virginia (BA) and John Hopkins (MBA) but that is not the only reason he is a man aptly suited for the challenges this posting faces. It is because of his background as a graduate of the U.S. National War College (MS-National Security Strategy). He also completed the U.S. Joint Special Operations University (JSOU)’s-Combined/Joint Force Special Operations Component Commander Course (C/JFSOCC) programs and is a U.S. National Defense University (NDU) CAPSTONE Fellow. These accomplishments will have helped prepared him for the uniqueness of Zimbabwe.
USAID Zimbabwe, and its new director Brown, plan to lead and respond to the country’s multiple, concurrent, humanitarian crises to save the lives of Zimbabweans and help their country prone to destabilizing droughts, food insecurity, and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on a severely weakened healthcare delivery system.
Brown’s engagement with and responsiveness to the press is helping shape what Zimbabweans understand about the U.S. Government’s work, development, and humanitarian assistance on the country’s journey to self-reliance.
The newsworthiness of humanitarian assistance in stories about Zimbabwe is judged by the norms of other stories. But, to positively impact Zimbabwe long-term and grow it into a strong democracy, any missteps in press relations by civil society, faith-based groups, political actors, and indeed international community, and state actors ought to be speedily remedied.
The USAID Roundtable was evidence of candid engagement.
For now, Zimbabweans can be confident that the new mission director, Art Brown, and his team at USAID in Zimbabwe, are determined and have emphasized their unwavering support for the Zimbabwean people.
As he said, “I’m here to raise human dignity” in addition to the 4-decades of help from the U.S. Government which, which he stressed, “has remained steadfast. And, sure.”
Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and global affairs. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe