USAID struggles to capture a different picture of Afghanistan


A nurse weighs an Afghan child at a USAID-funded clinic in Farza, Afghanistan, in 2011. The agency apparently could use more shots like that. (John Moore/GETTY IMAGES)
Al Kamen
Columnist February 13

Things are not going swimmingly for U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan as Washington heads to a U.S. troop pullout that, depending on whether a post-2014 security agreement can be hammered out, may leave as many as 10,000 troops — or none at all.

There have been all those unfortunate and persistent inspector general’s reports of waste, corruption and badly built infrastructure projects. The news reports and photos have been uniformly bad, souring the national mood for more assistance.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

All this led Congress last month to slash the Afghan assistance effort by about 50 percent, to $1.1 billion from $2.1 billion. The U.S. Agency for International Development plans to get out of the business of building roads, dams and such and go smaller, USAID’s head of Afghanistan projects, Larry Sampler, told our colleague Karen DeYoung.

So, what to do about such misperceptions — not just here but also in Afghanistan?

Maybe get your own photographer to take spectacular pictures?

So on Monday, USAID put out a request for bids on a 90-day “trial” contract, with a possible extension to one year, for someone to take “timely, attractive visual images” of USAID projects, because such images “are a key element of any modern social media.”

Here’s the problem, USAID said in the solicitation: “In Afghanistan, negative images flood both social and conventional media with little counter. This makes fresh, regularly updated photographs of USAID work . . . critical for effective social media messaging.”

They wanted really “professional-quality” shots for their Afghanistan public outreach program, especially for the “mission website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Flickr photograph feed,” we’re told, since most Afghans apparently spend their days on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. USAID’s efforts have been impressive, “particularly in health and education,” the announcement said, “yet the overwhelming majority of pictures recording that effort are negative or at least to some extent misleading.”

Why? Because the pros working for the media produce “high-quality images” of the Afghan aid effort, we’re told, and “news photographs by their very nature focus on the negative.” USAID is simply “unable to compete . . . because of lack of skill and security limitations,” limitations likely to increase without U.S. troop support, possibly keeping photographers pinned down in Kabul.

One of the qualifications listed was an ability to do “unlimited travel in country,” where you won’t find many Americans. That’s where some Photoshop skills could help get some Americans into those spectacular photos.

Sure, it may be dangerous at times, but hey, you don’t have to build the Potemkin village, just photograph it.

Who knows? Sounds as if your breathtaking photos just might turn around the war.

Or maybe not.

After we inquired about the cost, an agency spokesman sent an e-mail saying that the solicitation “was to help inform Afghans” about the agency’s projects but that it “did not appropriately articulate that purpose and is being reevaluated.”

It appears the solicitation has been taken down.

The confirmed

Catching up on confirmations this week . . .

The Senate voted 90 to 8 Tuesday evening to confirm former Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel to be undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. Stengel had also been president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia from 2004 to 2006 and had been senior adviser and chief speechwriter for former senator Bill Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign.

The Senate also voted 97­ to 1 to confirm Sarah Sewall to be undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights. Sewall served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance in the Bill Clinton administration. She also was the senior foreign policy adviser to former Senate majority leader George Mitchell.

Recently returned ambassador to France Charles Rivkin — fresh off a nice lunch of black bass and salted-caramel New Orleans king cake at the head table at the Biden-Kerry lunch for French President François Hollande — was also confirmed to be assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs. The vote on the former Jim Henson Co. chief and an executive producer of Nickelodeon’s “Yo Gabba Gabba” was 92 to 6.

The Senate, by voice vote, also confirmed the nomination of former USO president Sloan Gibson, a West Point graduate, a former Army infantry officer and a banker, to be deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=politics, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=3, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Politics