Foreign Assistance:

USAID Faces Challenges Implementing Regional Program in Southern Africa

NSIAD-99-237: Published: Sep 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1999.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Agency for International Development's (AID) Initiative for Southern Africa program, focusing on the: (1) specific activities AID's Regional Center for Southern Africa conducted to implement the Initiative; (2) extent to which this regional program complements AID's bilateral programs in the region; and (3) challenges the Regional Center faces in implementing the Initiative.

GAO noted that: (1) since it was created in 1994, the Regional Center has undertaken a number of activities designed to achieve the Initiative for Southern Africa's three strategic objectives; (2) these activities included efforts aimed at achieving a more integrated regional market through reducing trade barriers, development of model national transport and telecommunications laws that improved and helped standardize national regulatory frameworks across the region, and efforts to improve the supply of higher-yielding seeds and new agricultural products for consumers; (3) in addition, the Regional Center provided grants to southern African organizations to increase their capacity to advocate for democratic practices in the region, to advance regional linkages among key organizations, and to further define democratic norms in the region; (4) at the broadest level, the Initiative for Southern Africa complements AID's bilateral programs in that the activities are focused on similar development objectives; (5) GAO did not find instances where there were conflicting objectives; (6) recently, AID has taken several steps to encourage closer coordination between bilateral missions and the Regional Center; (7) the Regional Center faces several important challenges in carrying out the objectives of the Initiative for Southern Africa; (8) it must work with 12 different countries, each with different political systems and levels of economic development; (9) in addition, regional data necessary to measure program impacts are lacking, and regional groups that must play a critical role in the program have limited human and institutional capacity; (10) based on the evidence available, it is not clear to what extent the Regional Center will be effective in addressing the issues of economic development, agriculture and natural resource management, and the lack of strong democratic institutions in the southern Africa region; and (11) given that solutions to many of the problems facing southern Africa go beyond what can be done by any one country and that outcomes from any initiative are highly dependent on cooperation among the countries in the region, the Initiative for Southern Africa seems to be a reasonable approach.

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