Global Development (Briefly) on Center Stage at the GOP Convention

September 08, 2008

Nancy Birdsall, Michael Fairbanks, Dina Habib PowellThe Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, like the Democratic National Convention in Denver the preceding week, featured high-level side events on global poverty. Despite a much smaller audience and far fewer international attendees in Minneapolis, global poverty made a brief appearance on center stage at the Republican convention.

CGD President Nancy Birdsall joined the ONE Campaign's panel on "growth, opportunity and stability in the developing world" moderated by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is currently co-chair of the ONE Vote 08 campaign, to get the presidential candidates talking about global poverty and development in the elections.

Other panelists included:

  • Dina Habib Powell, director of Global Corporate Engagement with the Goldman Sachs Group;
  • Michael Fairbanks, chairman emeritus and founder of the OTF Group (a U.S. strategy consulting firm focused on developing countries); and
  • Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba.

As in Denver, Nancy spoke of the need for better trade policy and shared technology to promote security and prosperity not just in developing countries, but in the U.S. as well. Senator Frist asked Nancy to talk about the new CGD book "The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the next U.S. President."

Frist also asked Nancy whether the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) designed to give Sub-Saharan African countries better access to U.S. markets for certain goods like textiles had been a success. Nancy said it was successful, but not as successful as it could be if the trade preferences were permanent rather than subject to negotiation every five years which she argued "chills" new business investment. She also said the complicated eligibility requirements for AGOA should be simplified.

Dina Powell, who leads Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women Initiative that will provide business and management education to 10,000 women from developing countries, said there is no greater issue than investing in women. She described a three-legged stool of the government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector and said it was necessary for all three "legs" to act to educate and empower women and create better social investments and economic opportunities. (Not to be confused with the oft-discussed three-legged stool of foreign policy -- development, diplomacy, and defense -- which features prominently in Nancy's introductory essay in The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President.)

Senator Inyumba spoke of her experience in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide including strong economic growth and role of female leaders in the Rwandan government. Inyumba said that women currently make up 48% of the Rwandan parliament (much higher than in the U.S., Senator Frist pointed out).

Senator Frist also moderated a panel on America's leadership in global health with:

  • Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist;
  • Dr. David Apuuli, director general of the Ugandan AIDS Commission;
  • Sally Canfield, senior program officer with the Gates Foundation; and
  • Josh Ruxin, assistant clinical professor of public health at Columbia University.

Michael Gerson said the creation of two new major foreign assistance programs during the Bush administration -- the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Account -- reflected changed attitudes after 9/11 and a sense that American security "depends on the hope and progress of other people" around the world. Gerson said America is very popular in Africa, largely because of efforts like PEPFAR and the MCA.

Dr. Apuuli expressed his hope that the next president of the U.S. will continue to fight global HIV/AIDS. Apuuli cautioned however, that for every one person put on anti-retroviral therapy, three more are diagnosed as HIV-positive. Sen. Frist iterated this point, saying there is "no way we can keep up with just treatment" and more needs to be done to prevent new infections. (For an excellent over view of this issue, including staggering projections of future costs, see Mead Over's excellent new brief Opportunities for Presidential Leadership on AIDS: From an "Emergency Plan" to a Sustainable Policy, which is based on his fine essay in the White House and the World.)

As in Denver, Nancy began to get frustrated that the panelists were speaking at a political event, but the discussion was not being reflected in the political discourse inside the Republican conventional hall. All that would change the following night in the Xcel Convention Center.

While most of the media coverage has focused on Sarah Palin's performance at the convention, some significant attention to global poverty and development on the final night of the Republican National Convention has gone relatively unnoticed. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's speech referred to global health programs and international assistance as "currency for peace" and "core components of our strategy for national security":

Health is the foundation for strong families and for prosperous societies. Health builds trust, and health bridges divides. That's why America's investment in medical diplomacy is a long-term investment in national security. Health is a currency for peace. I'm proud to tell you that it was a Republican president and a Republican-led Congress that launched our nation's historic initiative to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in the world's poorest countries - the greatest global health commitment in history. Has it made a difference? Oh yes! In just six years, the number of Africans on life-saving treatment jumped from 50,000 to over 2 million! The incidence of malaria has been slashed by two-thirds in some countries. Today, 20 million more children are in school. But much work remains to be done. HIV/AIDS continues to hollow out entire generations of people at the prime of their lives. It's easy for people to lose hope. And when they do, the vacuum is filled with desperation, instability, and - yes, the seeds of terrorism. John McCain understands that health diplomacy can be a powerful antidote to terrorism.

Senator Frist said that McCain would use "innovative new institutions like the Millennium Challenge Corporation" to ensure "U.S. aid will not be squandered by corrupt foreign governments, or wasted by inefficient bureaucracies." He closed by saying "we can be the generation to make extreme poverty…history," and that we can "lead with compassion and urgency to save lives, to show America's greatness, and to spread peace through health, one child at a time, for a better, safer world... for us all."

Later in the evening, the video introducing Cindy McCain showed her sporting a ONE Campaign t-shirt and hat during her recent trip to Rwanda with the ONE Campaign, former senators Frist and Daschle and others. The video also described her service on behalf of international development organizations.

While the media mostly missed it, the Minneapolis convention delivered something that the ONE Campaign and others, including CGD, have long been working towards: discussion of global development in America's interest in a major campaign-related speech.

In other good news for those of us who care about development, U.S. foreign assistance and other global development policies earn a mention in both the Democratic and the Republican platforms.

See Our Updated Democratic Convention Blog Entry and Slideshow Read our original Blog on the Conventions and Comment


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.