I am within three weeks of completing my six-month tour here in South Sudan. So begins the examination of what worked, what did not and where we could improve. The word “we” refers to the U.S. government. I am assigned to the U.S. embassy and fall under the staff of the ambassador.

Our overarching mission here is to bring value to the U.S. government’s interests and, therefore, value to U.S. foreign policy as declared by the National Security Council and the Office of the President.

This is my fourth such tour. Afghanistan was the first, Iraq was the second, Pakistan was third and now I am completing the fourth here in South Sudan. The total time spent in these four countries is 38 months.

These four countries have some huge differences, but there are similarities, too. In this column, I will write about one similarity that is manifest in all four.

This similarity has everything to do with a recurrent theme of my columns over the years. Working in another country means working with cultural and societal differences that make such work challenging.


Here in South Sudan, and similarly in the other three countries, the people we work with are part of their environment. People, regardless of age, act and perform the way they are taught based on their environment … how they are raised, what they are taught and what culture they live in.

One valuable attribute of growing up in America is the ethos or environment that one can make his own way if given the opportunity.

That is, we are raised to understand that very little is given, our station in life is earned and to get to a better station we have to work at it.

We cannot just sit in a chair and expect a good quality of life to be handed to us. We must earn it. For some of us growing up on a farm instills this work ethic in us at a very early age.

We go off to college and realize that we have to study, go to class and perform. If we return to the farm, and I did, the work never ends and we continue to learn as well.

Yet in some parts of the world, much of the environment is different. I describe it as an entitlement mentality.

If someone else is providing you with food and clothing and perhaps shelter, then these negate, to some extent, the effort to obtain these for yourself. Further, an entitlement program becomes “normal” and breaking away from this model is hugely challenging.

The work done by non-government organizations (NGOs), church-based organizations (CBOs) and the

United Nations, as well as our own U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is challenging. At what point do these well-meaning people and their internal structures and rules shift to development from entitlement?

To be clear, entitlement that is humanitarian in nature ( such as providing food in a crisis) is moral, helpful, and necessary; entitlement that is enduring may impede or slow down development.

This is a valid concept that many people think about and write about, and Washington, D.C., addresses in its plethora of think-tanks. We all have ideas.

One of mine is that too often aid money gets into the model before we understand the dynamics. Often, a U.S. government leader will earmark or budget a significant amount of money to a mission, say to any of the four countries I have served, and then the staff are then left to spend it on projects or programs.

My premise is: The better approach is a more thorough examination of the dynamics of a particular country or region … understanding the challenges, their root causes and then developing a project or program that mitigates or removes the root cause.

The USAID is moving into that model, and I fully support it. Putting the program or project needs first, based on a design plan completed with the very best field evidence (inventory and evaluation) makes sense.

Then a U.S. government leader can make the claim: “This is the rationale for a particular budget amount,” therefore addressing a particular challenge based on field (empirical) evidence.

The race to find a budget first and then creating ways to spend it is incorrect. Rather we should be doing the inventory and evaluation first, have a good idea what we are trying to accomplish and then build the budget based on what the accomplishment will cost.

An obvious benefit of doing international development this way is setting a clear example for our host governments.

Too often, a component of correction is that the host governments line up for our U.S. government funds, either directly or indirectly through the implementing partners we fund (NGOs primarily).

They view these dollars as withdrawal funds to help supplement their own budgets or lack thereof. I have watched this time and time again.

Perhaps making the case that changing our own procedures from handing out money first and then planning second might be hard, but I stand by this description.

Yet we all mean well and do our best when in the field. Changing any procedural model is difficult and takes a lot of time. But the examples of money spent and lost in Afghanistan and Iraq these past eight to 10 years is telling. We are trying to do a better job.

As for the attitudes and ethos of the host government, we clearly have to set a good example if we expect them to realize that as long as there is an enduring entitlement stream of resources spent in a country, then shifting to development, especially in the private sector, will not be done.

And so we must do what we can to mentor and guide our host governments to encourage a “near” time when the NGOs, CBOs and others will go away. It is up to them to take responsibility from that point.

Examining what is the appropriate role of the host government is a valid and necessary construct as well.

We all know that it is in the private sector where real development takes place. Here in South Sudan, the private sector is practically negligible; the culture here is based on the host government supplying seeds, tools, equipment and services to farmers.

They do not have the money to do these any more given the decades of civil war – hence the plethora of foreigners here trying to do this for them.

This is a brand-new country and we cannot solve all these challenges in the near future. In my other assignments, we spent years trying to find the appropriate role for the host government, teaching good “governance” and reducing the effects of corruption, without a lot of success.

The phrase “nation-building” comes with the words difficult, challenging and time-consuming.

From my view, at a very early age a society must teach its youngsters the value system that includes self- respect, self-responsibility and dignity.

We all learned these growing up and, as a result, American greatness is manifest in extraordinary ways. Does this mean the future of these four countries with huge structural and societal challenges rest with its young people?

Absolutely. And to that end, folks our age must teach our young people the value of a solid work ethic, or simply that nearly everything worthwhile is earned and not given, that a higher quality of life is possible when a person rises up out of their chair and goes to work or, at least, tries to find it.

There are far too many young South Sudanese sitting in the small towns all day long. Our call to them is to go back to their village and cultivate a plot of land.

In this country of food insecurity, the food that is consumed should be grown here, in South Sudan, and not gotten out of the back of a truck from an NGO or CBO. Yes, this is appropriate if there is a humanitarian crisis, and we have them, but we should be asking the question: What comes after the crisis is over?

Enduring entitlement programs do not serve any useful purpose. They impede progress, slow economic development and enslave a society to corruption. We have to do better. The U.S. taxpayers deserve better and so does the host government. PD