By Nisha Biswal, USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia
On November 19, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma. It was a historic visit, not just because it was inaugural but because it underscored the truly remarkable journey on which Burma has embarked.
During the visit, the President announced a joint US-Burma partnership to advance democratic reform, and lay the groundwork for a peaceful and prosperous future for Burma for generations to come. President Obama also pledged $170 million dollars over the next two years to support this critical effort.
The partnership will deepen the engagement with the people of Burma, their government, and civil society by strengthening democracy and human rights, promoting transparent governance and rule of law, and advancing peace and reconciliation. As the President remarked during his speech at the University of Yangon, the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen.
While we work to accelerate reforms, we also know that improved health and expanded economic opportunities are key to advancing stability and sustaining democratic reforms, which is why we’ll also address urgent humanitarian needs, strengthen health systems, and support broad-based economic growth through agriculture-led development and improved nutrition.
In the weeks and months to come, the U.S. and Burma will affirm a joint statement of principles in support of the democratic transition and develop a joint action plan prioritizing key areas. In addition to honoring the joint action plan, the Government of Burma has announced its intention to join the Open Government Partnership, a global effort to make governments more transparent, effective, and accountable; and to advance a Joint Plan on to combat trafficking in persons.
It’s truly a remarkable milestone during an already historic transition. I’m proud to say that USAID will play a substantive role in advancing the goals of the partnership during this important time in the evolving relationship between the United States and Burma. We are building new communities while strengthening existing partnerships, bringing together the excellence and expertise of government agencies, private sector, NGO community, and university networks to achieve transformational results in democracy, human rights, governance, peace and reconciliation, food security, and health.
Still, transition must come from within. We are supporting country ownership and local institutions to ensure that all Burmese people play a vital role in their country’s development and the expansion of equal opportunities for their families and communities. Founded on mutual accountability, this partnership will ensure that U.S. assistance is met by commensurate Government of Burma actions.
During the President’s visit, he and Secretary Clinton also dedicated the re-opening of USAID’s mission in Burma, a first time in the Agency’s history though not surprising by a President who has truly elevated the role development in advancing peace and prosperity around the world. The re-establishment of USAID’s mission reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the people of Burma. That commitment was reinforced when President Obama said to a rapt audience at the University of Yangon, “Something is happening in this country that cannot be reversed…And you will have in the United States of America a partner on that long journey.”
Ms. Nisha Biswal is Assistant Administrator for Asia, U.S. Agency for International Development. Follow her on Twitter @NishaBiswal. This post will be cross-posted on USAID Impact the Official Blog of the U.S. Agency for International Development.