Thursday, July 7, 2011

Leaving The Same Way

If you follow my twitter account, you know I spent this morning griping about the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA.  This article was the inspiration.  The main punchline was that nobody really noticed when the civilians pullout out of Kandahar, especially CIDA.  This was not terribly surprising for a couple of reasons.

First, the Canadian government, specifically the Privvy Council Office, has had much tighter control over what the civilians can say than what the military can say.  So, media folks, I guess, tend not to look to the civilian government folks for their views since they cannot give them or can only give them after being vetted by Ottawa.  This has been a recurring theme in most of my conversations with civilians and military folks over the past several years.  Note in the article that of three people who talk, one is a former and quite disgrunted CIDA person, one is a current CIDA rep, and one is outside of government.

Second, the CIDA culture is one of centralization and long-term planning, which makes me giggle when I see this:
Meanwhile, the Harper government decided to centralize control over the mission within the Privy Council office, in an attempt to be able to better oversee its cross-departmental nature and the stories being told about it from the ground.
But it added another layer of complexity to an already complex process. Decisions that use to be made quickly on the ground now had to get signed off on by Ottawa.
CIDA was never agile and always centrally controlled.  I would be a bit more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt if they had ever permitted someone to meet with me (yes, it really is about me).  The approval process to meet with a random academic seems to be very slow, so much so that their point of view will not be in the piece I have written. 

Third, when the military head of NATO (a.k.a. SACEUR) was meeting with the Canadian command staff a few years ago, a group of academics was able to attend the roundtable, including myself.  CIDA got wind of this and asked the scholars to go to their offices.  Instead of briefing us or letting us ask them questions, they really just wanted us to tell them how to message better, as if we scholars have any clues about how to communicate to the Canadian public.  It was pretty surprising and not very useful for us. 

Finally, those who were with me on the trip to Kabul and Kandahar in late 2007 remember my interaction with a CIDA representative quite well.  I was basically making the point that with Afghanistan being very corrupt, perhaps the best idea is not to fight all of it but recognize that some forms are worse than others.  Worse meaning some alienate the people more than others.  Abuse of power by the police may be worse than kickbacks from construction companies.  The rep's head spun, as she basically argued that Canada would not condone any corruption in Afghanistan.  Um, good luck with that.

Anyhow, the good news for CIDA is that it can now return to doing what it wanted to do all along--long term development work, not tied to any other government agencies or policies, in random spots around the world.

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