Steve Driehaus on Assignment in Kurdistan

Wednesday January 13, 2021

CARV member Steve Driehaus (Senegal 88-90) is currently working in Erbil, Iraq as Senior Director of the National Democratic Institute. He spoke via Zoom at the January 2021 CARV Gathering about his activities there and his observations of the state of politics in the US.  Steve’s mission in Iraq, and the mission of NDI, is to “strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.”  Since his arrival in Kurdistan last September Steve has spent a great deal of his time training members of the Kurdish Parliament,  women’s committees and youth in the principles of democratization and the specifics of how to put them into action.  He has also worked with the research institutes that support the Parliament, both in Kurdistan and Baghdad.

Steve reports that Kurdistan is a safe and relatively stable part of Iraq.  He has an international staff of 17 that assists him in the “nuts and bolts stuff” of governance there.  There are significant challenges facing Iraq in general, including the Covid pandemic, the collapse in oil prices and the prevalence of militias.  There is significant anti-American feeling, although less so in Kurdistan.

CARV members had many questions for Steve.  When asked how his Peace Corps experience had prepared him for his work (Steve was a Volunteer in Senegal in the 80’s and Country Director in Swaziland and Morocco in the 2010’s), he replied that he had learned awareness and humility about what he doesn’t know.  He is more tuned in to how decisions are made in other cultures.

Steve said that the Trump presidency has made it more difficult to promote democracy abroad because foreign nationals have become aware of our problems, especially in the area of human rights and free elections. He said that in Iraq our “pedestal is eroding” but we are still respected.  Steve closed with an expression of optimism for the future of democracy both in the US and abroad.

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