According to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article posted on

The international aid agency Oxfam says USAID awards more than half of its Afghan aid to just five U.S. private contractors with close political ties in Washington: KBR, the Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, DynCorp International and Chemonics International. USAID allows contractors to budget $500,000 annual salaries and benefits for high-ranking employees, and $200,000 for lower-ranking administrators, according to Rashid. All expatriate employees receive a bonus of up to 70 percent for hazard and hardship pay. The average Afghan civil servant, however, receives less than $1,000 a month.

Rashid and other critics say waste is built into the system. Expatriate employees bank most of their salary because companies pay for employee travel and living expenses.

Now, the cure for what some might call corruption or others, charitably, the misdirection of funds, is outside the purview of Small World News. However, later in the article, this brings something to mind:

Afghan officials and aid workers say smaller nongovernmental organizations that emphasize people-to-people aid have helped Afghan society and have kept overhead costs low. Former Finance Ministry adviser Rashid said Washington should rely more on such groups and Afghans themselves to administer future programs.

But Rashid concedes that direct funding of the Afghan government and contractors could also lead to increased corruption, a problem that has gained significant ground since the Taliban regime fell. But he says a multilayer system with improved oversight could diminish fraud.

As I wrote yesterday, we believe that an independent media network, staffed with local journalists, in collaboration with international direction, and an international focus, could make great steps toward improving the use of aid as well as an understanding of how Afghans really feel about subjects as disparate as US airstrikes, new roads, and the Karzai lead government. Without taking a stance on supporting local observation and accountability, we can't reasonable expect to improve our relationship with the locals, can we?

Small World News proposes to build a local network and report on all manner of issues. We would be open to taking direction/requests on topics of coverage from development agencies and others, but we would expect independence. Only by valuing the work of locals, while keeping them honest and responsive, without the interference of other government interests, can we use technology to create a transparent and in-depth picture of the happenings all over Afghanistan.

Only by prioritizing the perspective of locals can we build honest and open dialogue toward increased international peace and stability. Only by learning who the Afghans are that we speak so much about, can we step back from the exoticizing and ridiculous obsession with "arming" or "bribing" the tribes. This has been tried many times, by Britain ni the 1800s, by the Soviets in the 80s, by the post-Soviet government in the 90s, and by the US in 2001-see Northern Alliance. Arming the tribes brings us to our current moment.

With a local network sourcing content and teaching the world about Afghanistan, collaborating with an international team building the platform and distributing content, as well as combining quantitative data to improve how we analyze the reporting, we can have a thoughtful, successful strategy for assisting Afghanistan with its current moment, and look forward.

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