By Tecola W. Hagos
"There is no escaping our obligations: our moral obligations as a wise leader and good neighbor in the interdependent community of free nations – our economic obligations as the wealthiest people in a world of largely poor people, as a nation no longer dependent upon the loans from abroad that once helped us develop our own economy – and our political obligations as the single largest counter to the adversaries of freedom." – John F. Kennedy
The United States was quite a different place in 1961 when the youngest president in the history of the United States, President John F Kennedy, consolidated the effort of the United States Government to aid economically challenged countries around the world and at the same time confront the spread of authoritarian left-oriented ideology spearheaded by the Soviet Union. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was molded by Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The purpose of the organization is articulated in its official Website as “ending extreme poverty and promoting the development of resilient, democratic societies that are able to realize their potential.”
The position of the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development is not the ‘sexiest’ glamorous position in the hierarchy of the bureaucracy of the United States Government, but it is one of the most important positions in real politick where money talks. I submit to you that President Obama’s appointee for Administrator, Gayle Smith, if confirmed, would be the best thing that happened for Ethiopia up front and for the rest of the African Countries in decades after such a long hiatus of colorless Administrators of the Agency.
I came to know Gayle Smith in 1991 meeting her briefly in the company of several female fighters of the EPRDF, at the time when the EPRDF came to power. I believe she was involved with Nesanet Asfaw of the TPLF in promoting the political participation of Ethiopian females in the political program of the EPRDF. She was well adjusted to the political reality and circumstance of the time and also sharing accommodations with the TPLF female warriors. I had a positive impression of her in that modest surrounding. Later I did write critical articles once she joined the Clinton Administration, due to the underhandedness of the process of Eritrea’s independence and the divisive politics pursued by Meles Zenawi.
Gayle Smith later joined the campaign and administration of President Barak Obama. I continued my criticism of her closeness to the EPRDF dominated leadership of the Ethiopian Government because I believed, at that time, she was exerting undue influence promoting the insatiable appetite of Meles Zenawi’s hunger for power. However, now at this stage of our Ethiopian political game in 2015, I do not believe Gayle Smith is promoting any one political leader from the EPRDF. Thus, I see her now in quite different role with real possibility that she might have positive impact on the economic life of millions of Ethiopians if confirmed by the Senate as the next Administrator of the USAID.
Political Strategy and Economic Development
I really do not want to write this, for I sincerely want to believe in the dedication that I see in a number of Diaspora Ethiopian politicians, even in those who wrongly asses my input on the activities of G7, such as Prof Getachew Begashaw and my good friend Prof Messay Kebede. They are just plainly wrong in their understanding of how Ethiopian real politick works keeping in mind our national survival as the main and only consideration at this stage of our political life. The inside of Ethiopia’s Kilil structure is quite porous and can crumble at any time leaving in its wake a chaotic mess of total civil war worse than that of the decade long Somali crisis. Then what happens after. It is not that difficult to destroy any structure, but a monumental task to rebuild any nation that had crumbled. It is disconcerting to me how politically naïve our scholars and political leaders seem to be, for I see them repeatedly stumbling in assessing situations that may be greatly beneficial for Ethiopia in the long run.
As most of you readers of blogs have witnessed, I too have witnessed over a long period of time how a number of our Ethiopian Diaspora scholars and politicians ignored or inadvertently overlooked the long term interest of Ethiopia, in trying to score cheap points against the EPRDF Leadership in Ethiopia. A good example of such political self-mutilation of cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face is the case of G7 whose members are still smarting against my fact based criticism for something they did at a conference funded by Isaias Afeworki where those Ethiopian scholars and politicians were congregating at a table where the Eritrean national flag was prominently displayed. That scene alone would render them political pariah in the minds of patriotic Ethiopians. However, such disappointing development is effectively countered by a number of dedicated and far wiser Ethiopian scholars and political figures in the recent Ethiopiawinet Symposium here in the Cosmopolitan Washington, D.C. My hope for our bright future is intact.
We do read the same political text, but depending on our personal ambitions we often mistake such personal ambitions for the political goals of the Ethiopian people/nation. I have read commentaries, lengthy essays et cetera in opposition to the building of infrastructure such as dams, schools, major highways, et cetera just to oppose the EPRDF particularly the TPLF. I read now articles antagonizing some distinguished officials of the United States Government for their remarks or for their appointment to higher responsibilities after years of hard work. Unbelievably, I hear now opposition against the State Visit of President Barak Obama of Ethiopia in July 2015. The opposition against the appointment of Gayle Smith as Administrator of USAID is in the same reckless activities of political game players in the Diaspora.
If we just consider how the 2016 United States Budget proposal shows how the United States Congress would budget for the United States humanitarian activities, which the USAID is responsible to administer to the tune of over twenty two billion dollars, that intention of the United States might drum in some common sense in the dense minds of those that are opposing the confirmation of Gayle Smith as Administrator. Certainly, the amount of money at the disposal of the USAID is not a large amount of money compared to other expenditures of the United States Government, but it does impact favorably in the hundred nations where there is funding by the USAID. In Ethiopia alone, USAID projects and programs are numerous, small scale but extremely meaningful in affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Ethiopians.
“USAID implements funding from 12 foreign operations accounts. The overall Fiscal Year 2016 President's Request for these accounts is $22.3 billion of which $10.7 billion is in core USAID accounts: Development Assistance, Global Health Programs, International Disaster Assistance, Food for Peace Title II, Transition Initiatives, Complex Crises Fund, and USAID Administrative Expenses.”
The breakdown of such funding shows that Africa as a whole is the least funded through the USAD when it comes to promoting capacity building projects, for most of the aid is on food subsidies for starving millions in a number of African nations including Ethiopia. I have extracted the following earmarking in the 2016 Budget proposal: Improve Prosperity and Economic Growth in Central America: Nearly $500 million to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; Connect and Empower Africa: $133.9 million to support key commitments and investments in Africa; and Continue to Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific Region: $687.5 million to support the expansion of efforts to strengthen governance and democratic processes. In such limited and lopsided assistance allocation for Africa, our effort should focus on building friendship with Officials of the United States Government rather than antagonizing them by writing lengthy criticism based on their past association with rebel leaders such as the late Meles Zenawi.
In fact, it is to our great advantage having as head of the USAID someone like Gayle Smith who had experienced firsthand the poverty and degradation of ordinary Ethiopians in our homeland. Most importantly, Gayle Smith having lived among us, I have no doubt that Ethiopia has touched Gayle Smith in a special way that no amount of reading would supplement. I have no doubt about the genuine respect and admiration she has for our fellow Ethiopians of whatever orientation in our homeland setting.
The Advantages of having Gayle Smith on Ethiopia’s Side
Ethiopian Diaspora politicians in general are misdirecting their protest in attacking Officials of the United States. The best strategy is to cultivate friendly Officials in the United States Government or elsewhere, who will be amicable to the promotion of Ethiopian interest. Despite the fact that I am impressed with the voluminous writings of Prof Alemayehu G. Mariam, I find Alemayehu’s recent criticism of Gayle Smith, the Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and the mercurial Security Adviser Susan Rice least helpful to us or Ethiopia. [See Alemayehu G Mariam, “The Axis of Shevil: Does Africa Need Gayle Smith?” June 22, 2015.] I do not fathom why Alemayehu would go out of his way to offend those ladies and ultimately their Boss, President Barak Obama, using a title of word-play taken from an article dealing with transsexual operations in Iran, which was posted in the New York Post titled "Axis of She-vil" of 7 February 2008.
I am making such a statement of serious concern against verbally attacking American officials based on my own personal experience. Unfortunately for me personally, the Americans I knew with whom I even had slight misunderstandings never forget nor truly forgive a personal slight. In overtly generalized form of assertion, I posit that they are not as sophisticated as we think they are, for they are visceral almost primordial in their reaction to criticisms especially criticisms that have elements of being critical of the United States itself. This form of American patriotism is not to be scorned but envied. I wish fellow Ethiopians have that form of zeal in the interest of Ethiopia and its citizens. The best way to keep the friendship and support of the United States is not to attack their Officials in scathing articles or essays. I urge, I mean plead on my knees, Alemayehu to stop writing such scathing criticisms of American Officials for the sake of our Ethiopia.
I understand the real dilemma in accepting an individual associated at some point in the past with a political leader loathed by many. I live that experience every day of my life for over twenty years due to my brief association with the EPRDF in 1991 to 1993 for less than two years. The many Derg period Red Terror participants and/or their children now hiding in western nations have continued their terroristic activities harassing both physically and verbally in chats and blogs individuals with a different views about the current leadership of Ethiopia.
I am not at all worried about Gayle Smith’s credential to fit the job at USAID. She is an excellent choice. In fact none could match her dedication and experience in the service of the poor, the disfranchised, and the voiceless in Africa. She had lived for about twenty years in several parts of African countries among those brave and daring freedom fighters who were waging homegrown rebellion against the likes of violent and brutal military dictators like Mengistu Hailemariam, the butcher and rapist of Ethiopia for seventeen years. Is Alemayehu, as well as others, opposing such a courageous person like Gayle Smith who left her comfortable First-World lifestyle to live among the poorest of the poor, and the worst deprived communities in the World? Would it diminish her courage and humane character even if she was an operative of the CIA as some claim her to be?
I do not put much by sporadic and out of control outburst of individuals disrupting Congressional hearings or Presidential addresses here in the United States. It does not take much courage to shout at leaders in an environment that one knows to be absolutely safe. That type of outburst simply illustrate the vulgarity of a newly exposed person from a repressive third world country to the relative freedom and security of a western society. Now, it is going to be even more pervasive and fashionable for some Diaspora Ethiopians to play out their repressed anger that they grew up with in one of the most oppressive child-rearing culture in the world.
The Ethiopian culture itself must be taken to task as the incubator of dissatisfaction in perpetuity, anger, occasional violent outburst, apathy, cowardice, and the contradictory rare nobility of courageous acts of sacrifices in few Ethiopians. Now talking about courage and as a great lesson for the Diaspora opposition, I will point out as a great example of courage of the two Ethiopians (Somali region) who recently faced and challenged Tamagn Beyen and his vulgar supporters, by themselves despite the real possibility of violence and serious harm to their persons. Despite his antics, I like Tamagn as a person for his talent and abilities in presenting his views and his capacity to mobilize many. He is simply in the wrong camp.
The serious flaw of Ethiopian politicians in the diaspora is the fact that they do not seem to know how to identify their real enemies and how to fight such supposed enemies. Should we be targeting individual officials, such as Gayle Smith or Susan Rice as our primary enemies while we are neutered to act against real brutal leaders and organizations that have actually directly caused us harm? Yes, Gayle Smith had close association with Meles Zenawi and a number of commanders of the TPLF as part of her life of rebellion against then existing autocratic and dictatorial governments in several of Sub-Saharan countries. Now that the table is turned upside-down, the condemnation is directed at such empathetic person, a friend of Ethiopia. I do not see such association with rebel leaders in the past as a disadvantage now for the Ethiopian public. If we follow that form of logic, shouldn’t we also disqualify President Obama for his friendly policy toward the Ethiopian Government? Long live USA! Long Live Ethiopia!
Tecola W Hagos
June 24, 2015