United States' humanitarian assistance and
development support has reached close to one billion
Birr. This happened during your years as Director of
the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) in Ethiopia. Would you consider
this as your biggest accomplishment? Or is it just a
I think it is just what happened in my time. What I
would consider an accomplishment is that we were
able to respond quickly to Ethiopia's needs. We
helped the Ethiopian government and many NGOs to
save lots of lives and to make a lot of children
healthier, who might otherwise have been suffering
from malnutrition as a result of that drought.
To me being able to get enough credibility in
Washington D.C. with the people who make the actual
and final decision on allocations; being able to
convince them beforehand that we had a problem here;
and being able to work with the government to move
in food very quickly together with both the World
Food Program (WFP) and with the new Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as our
NGOs was very important
What would you then take as your
accomplishments and moment of happiness during your
There are several things. First is that we were able
to respond when Ethiopia had a problem. We
demonstrated to the government and the Ethiopian
people that we care very much about them and we gave
the largest amount of food aid during a time when
food was a bit critical, prices were high, and
markets were insufficiently run. We came through and
made Ethiopia top of our list for help during this
The second is the work we are doing with the
promotion of exports in helping the government
double Ethiopia's exports to the United States with
the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). We
have also helped to improve the quality of coffee,
leather products and some of the floriculture
Apart from humanitarian assistance, I
understand that your agency provides hundreds of
millions of dollars to support other areas in the
There are five areas where I am very proud of our
Through the Social Safety Net Program we have
demonstrated that you can graduate people from the
program, and that you can move people out to self
sufficiency to feed themselves. And we recently
launched the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP-PLUS)
with the ministry.
In health, I am very proud of the presence of
malaria initiatives, where we are now able to have
about 20 million dollars in assistance. The
government led the initiatives we were able to get
the extra funding to help support its move against
malaria. Of course, in HIV/Aids, we have around
100,000 people receiving Anti-Retroviral Therapy
(ART) in partnership with the Centre for Disease
Control (CDC). We have also started to make headway
on prevention of the transmission of the virus with
messages that raised consciousness. This was done
with the help of the Patriarch and the Ethiopian
Muslim Development Association.
We have also supported the Ministry of Health in its
program to push the health system out to rural
areas, and deploy health extension workers. We
helped in building their capacity and those of the
In the area of education, I think we have done some
work in improving the quality of teachers. When I
came here, the budget for basic education was about
seven or eight million dollars; I think it will
probably exceed 30 million dollars because we would
be able to demonstrate how well the money is being
used and how great the need is, particularly with
We have also introduced the idea of community
partnerships for schools because in a country this
large and with so many schools in different areas,
the government cannot easily have a budget to
maintain them all.
We are doing a lot of works in local conflict
resolution with the new Minister of Federal Affairs
Shiferaw Teklemariam (PhD) who has been very
You came here at a time when the agency
itself is transforming in somehow setting its
priorities: it was changing from a purely
humanitarian assistance providing agency into a more
structural and sustainable way of helping people in
overcoming poverty. When I spoke to you two years
ago, you had wanted to help Ethiopia graduate from
poverty and reduce its sense of food insecurity.
Looking back, how much have you succeeded on this
front because there is twice the number of people
receiving food aid now than three years ago, and
Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the
The reason is partly because we had a failure of the
Belg rain last year; it was so severe that it tipped
many people back onto food aid and insecurity.
However, one consolation from the crisis last year
was that we found people who were coming to feeding
centres with their children, and very few were
safety net beneficiaries. I think the crisis made us
understand that the safety net program does work.
The challenges of safety net programs now is that
there are about a seven and half million people in
the country who need it and the government more or
less admitted that there is another five million out
there who need to be in safety net program. What we
need to do now is accelerate the graduation process,
which I know is the policy of the government as well
as the donors.
The year you have arrived here, the numbers
of people who were receiving food aid were the
lowest in 20 years. It has almost doubled this year
while the assistance your government and that of
others are providing to Ethiopia has increased
significantly. Where is the disconnect?
The population growth; with the 2.5pc
population growth, we have more millions of people
to deal with.
Do you think that the government has proper
programs to deal with this issue?
I think the government was late, but it has a brave
family planning program now. There are also sadly
unmet needs in rural areas: Women in rural areas who
want to limit their family size do not have easy
access to affordable contraception; with that type
of rural population, the challenge is greater for
the government to try to spread out.
Although the Federal Government's ideology is
appreciated by the regional governments, I think it
is not quite open to a longer term partnership with
the NGOs, which we call public private partnership.
was this one of your most frustrating
experience over the past three years?
Instead of seeing them as a sign of dependency and
threat, the Federal Government and the party's
leadership could see NGOs as valuable partners. We
have many NGOs in the United States which help us
with our city problems, and in remote areas where
the government is not able to reach. That was a
debate I have had almost since I have been here.
How about your experience last year where
there was a growing threat of drought, cattle death,
child malnourishment and death occurred in the
southern, western and eastern parts of the country.
Despite your push, the government was slow to
acknowledge the depth of the problem and respond. I
remember you - in the donor community - were furious
at the time.
We were frustrated; I would not say we were furious.
It was the millennium year after all, and very
difficult when the year was one of celebration and
talk about a change in the country. It was hard to
admit something like that when it was a time of
change from an image of hunger, to one of growth and
progress. You know any government does not like to
But you had all the numbers and statistics
of the children who were about dying at the time?
Yes, we had the statistics but we were not so sure
whether they were correct. Certainly, the anecdotal
evidence was clear; but we told the government that
we had to prepare food because we were going to have
The government told you that you had
Yes, they said that but they did not refuse the
food. I did not see anyone stopping us from bringing
food. They were very grateful and I have heard this
repeatedly from the leadership of the EPRDF,
particularly the regional governments. I think there
was a tacit admission that they had problems. I was
frustrated; I wish they had admitted the numbers
were as big as they were originally. I see that it
was just bad luck in the millennium year; but
fortunately the economic growth was good, and 90pc
of the country was doing well.
How about when you were told last year that
the national food reserve was below 100,000tn, while
it was to be a lot more than that?
We were very unhappy about that; we prohibited any
more of our food assistance from going elsewhere
until we got a better commitment.
Has the situation improved since?
Yes, 200,000tn were in the reserves. I remember that
it was for the first time the government imported in
about 600,000tn of wheat; I think the government has
been very responsible in ensuring that they have
enough food on hand and they can also stabilize
prices in urban areas.
Traditionally, successive Ethiopian
governments were known to be fiscally disciplined.
But beginning 2005, we see huge public investments
in infrastructure, thus a cause for inflation. Isn't
that a sort of fiscal irresponsibility on the part
The double digit economic growth that the government
has attributed to the expansion of the road
networks, for instance. The substantial increase on
flowers and floriculture exports would not have been
possible and their products would not have been
competitive if it was not for the road network. This
is responsible for getting exports out. The problem
with hydro electric investments is that the payoff
time is much longer down the line; you have to wait
another couple of year before the country starts to
sell electricity, one of the goals which will bring
in foreign exchange to pay for more imports.
But the imbalance is caused because it is a little
over the fence and there is so much public
investments that have outstripped the capacity of
the private sector to meet the demand.
That brings me to the issue of more trade
than aid. I understand that you are a proponent of
transforming poor nations from aid recipients to
trading partners to the rest of the world. You said
two years ago that you consider WTO as an important
vehicle to helping countries to trade more, and you
would like to help Ethiopia join the WTO as fast as
possible. Three years down the line, Ethiopia is
still not a member of WTO and I understand that many
of the USAID people hired to assist in this area are
very frustrated with the lack of political
commitment from the highest order and the speed
things are moving. Do you share their frustration?
I did not know that the contractors were frustrated.
I realise that there are some frustrations because
it is a long process; it is not unusual for a
country to take seven or more years to join the WTO;
China took 15 years. The situation is not that the
government has intentionally slowed down the
process, even though people are not happy about the
speed. I do not think it is incredibly slow or the
government is stalling the process on purpose. It is
just that this is how the process works. That is
what I see and the issue you raised is unfounded.
The USAID staff working in the WTO Accession Plus
Project do believe that the government has the
willingness to join the WTO.
The trade representative of the United
States was here last week; he precisely told the
government to open up the telecom and financial
sectors to more competition. The government seems
not impressed by this. Don't you think that shows,
in part, the lack of political commitment to speed
up the process?
When you join the WTO, it does not necessarily mean
that you have to immediately liberalize or privatize
banking; it means that you have to agree that
overtime, you will allow private investments in what
we call trade and services. China has done this to
some of its sectors. That is the whole point of the
WTO; it is a negotiation process where you can
protect what you think are strategic industries. I
do not think Ethiopia has anything to worry about
agriculture because it is a very strong competitor
in agriculture. But at some point, you have to face
a time line that one day, you might invite private
investment to these industries.
When you first arrived here, one of your
interests were to help the private sector to trade
with the world in a competitive manner. You have
some program for the private sector which includes
six sectors, including leather, livestock, hide and
skin, horticulture, and coffee. At the time, the
total budget the agency allocated to this sector was
about 17 million dollars; you were hoping that the
following year it would increase to 30 million
dollars. I have checked this figure recently, it is
about 15 million dollars?
I do not think this figure is right. Overall, what
we call an economic growth category, which includes
agriculture, private sector, and trade and
investment increased. The increase is not so much in
our private sector program, but with the
agricultural sector, because we have been using our
private sector fund to help grow the agricultural
sector as well. I feel good that we have been able
to increase the economic growth of our portion of
our overall funding; next year we will increase in a
most substantial way.
With the food security program?
I think it is because of the focus on global food
security and the fact that the new administration
came in. Some in Congress have been sensitised as
Hilary Clinton [Secretary of State] is also
concerned with the issue.
You now have a Democratic administration in
your country. Considering that the Republicans are
always very generous in support of African countries
and the Democrats are seen as stingier in that
regard, and you have your own backyard to bailout,
how do you see international development assistance
from the United States government evolving in the
year to come?
The American International Development was started
under J. F. Kennedy [a Democrat] as was the Peace
Corpse program. The commitment to foreign aid was
actually started by Harry Truman with the Marshal
Plan; he too was a Democrat. Democrats have been
well associated with foreign aid. What happened
under Bill Clinton Administration was that when
Republicans were critical of foreign aid, Clinton
had other agendas - such as pushing welfare reform -
and I do not think he defended foreign aid as much
as he could have.
When President George W. Bush came into office,
there really was an increase to aid to Africa which
came through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS
Relief (PEPFAR) because fighting the spread of
HIV/Aids was important to Africa.
Under the first year of Obama Administration, we
actually have seen our request [USAID] for
assistance to Africa increased. I think this
administration has a very strong commitment to
Over the past two years, USAID in Ethiopia
seems to have given so much attention to the Somali
Regional State. Is it because you [the American
Government] are haunted by guilt of neglect for so
many years? Or is it because the urgency of things
that followed the conflict between an insurgent
group there and the federal defence forces has
brought some humanitarian concerns? Could it be
attributed to the region's closeness to your
interest in fighting terrorism in Somalia?
I would not say it is guilt. The Somali region is
somewhat different. It probably was neglected so
much. The fact is that we are in humanitarian
assistance, who generally are directed in areas
where we have the highest number of malnourished
children and the most obvious kind of malnutrition.
Farmers are much poorer coping with drought than
pastoralists. The Somali people are incredible
copers. We have just seen that in drought after
drought, they seem to be able to keep going; they
also take care of the children because they have
milk and meat. They also have a habit of feeding
their children first. I understand that when things
get bad in Somali region, the older people are the
ones to get malnourished first.
Our focus is perhaps because of the shift which
occurred in the 2003 drought. We saw so many
pastoralists losing their herds and felt that there
must be a better way we can help them out, even
though it again represents a very small proportion;
four to five million people in a country of 77
million people. We found that there were more ways
of interventions, such as helping connect
pastoralists with a little more market; giving them
weather information; perhaps doing a better job in
water sources; and marketing facilities. In all
these, we could actually make a difference.
There is an obvious strategic concern because it is
next to Somalia. We all wonder what we can do better
in Somalia, just as anybody who can bring that
country back on track. Hopefully, this new
government can and we all give our best hopes and
prayers to it. We know there are foreign fighters
running around. We are very concerned that if the
Somalia government is not strong, if it is not
providing services to the people, then you could
have what we call an ungoverned state and that state
will be very easy for terrorists to come in. That is
the same concern the government [here] has.
Our agendas are similar in trying to strengthen the
Somali region both from the humanitarian and
economic point of view. This country has the biggest
livestock herd in Africa and much of that herd is in
Somali region. It is an economic asset and I think,
the Prime Minister himself has realized it because
he spent time with pastoralists gathering and trying
to see them as a vital part of the economy and not
just a hinterland. This is true not only from the
point of view of bringing that into the economy and
have it contribute, but also to ensure that there is
no infiltration by terrorists due to lack of
government. We share both the strategic and the
Would it be wrong to assume that your
strategic interest prevails on all other interests
when obviously you are waging war against
international terrorism in Somalia?
We argue that all the time with the [US] Embassy,
because the Embassy has some bilateral strategic
security concerns. But for us, both long-term and
short-term developments are synonymous with
security; in building strong economy; getting
governance services; and having less risk of
instability or terrorism, whether it is from the
outside or whether the problem is inside.
Many are criticizing you for reducing your programs
on governance, democracy and human rights issues.
Not really. When I came here, we had about almost
two million dollars for democracy and governance.
And this year, we are up to almost nine million
dollars to this program. For instance, we have
ambitions to put a lot of funding into the national
elections but until we can get commitments that the
board is going to be fair and play by the rules, we
are not going to invest on that.
On the other hand, we have programs with the
judiciary which we hope will grow. We want to do
political party training equally for the EPRDF and
the opposition parties. We have offered the
government that and had a dialogue with them about
doing that. We're doing human rights training with
the Human Rights Commission. We continue to do a lot
of work in conflict resolution.
We are now in very intensive discussions with the
Somali regional government about working around
Jijga by helping the region with its economic
You have not done much when it comes to
promoting press freedom. Have you?
We have tried. We brought in international
consultancy on the Press Law and we even held a
public workshop which we thought would be helpful. I
do not know how much we influenced it. You can offer
assistance, but on what the government and the
ruling party in Parliament finally does, it is not
our country. Although we are uncomfortable with some
of the structures in the media law, you live with
decisions you do not necessarily agree with.
I think we all have a very positive effect on the
NGO law, though. The first draft we saw was really
much more terrible and would have unintended
consequences because it was so strict.
Could it be said that it was one of your
most displeasing legislations? Obviously you guys
were not happy with the civil society law?
I am less unhappy with the law itself. I think it is
totally how it is to be implemented.
Are you saying you do not have a problem
with the law itself?
No, it certainly could be better. We do not think,
for instance, advocating the cause of disabled,
children or women should be a problem for the
government if foreign funds are involved in that. We
find that odd in the law. Some of the rights of the
government are very intrusive.
But to me, it is really the attitude and the
ideology behind the law. There is this thinking that
sees the civil society as a threat to the
government, or indicates dependence on outside
players rather than the partnership. To me the word
used in the proclamation "charity" is really an
antiquated word; we do not consider them charities,
but partners. The thinking behind the law is what I
am more disappointed with. I have not been unable to
convince the government on this partnership with
Another debate along this line is that
following the legislations of the Civil Society Law
and the Press Law, people feel that the political
space has been narrowing. Others within the
government and outside are arguing to the contrary.
I just want to pick your brain; do you find
political space narrowing today than when you first
came here three years ago?
Things were pretty bad in 2005 after the violence
and polarization all around. I think the donors in
many ways did not contribute in a very positive way
to the opposition but led it to think that they were
more powerful, although they may have been more
popular. The ruling party was shaken by that, they
saw, perhaps, the division of the country along
ethnic lines and a lot of the opposition frankly can
be ethnically based. On the one hand, I think the
ruling party is very concerned about stability and
the long-term growth of Ethiopia as a nation.
The government has got to let the opposition grow.
In order to be a fully credible government, you need
to have a loyal opposition. I hope that the
government will allow that type of opposition
flourish. The 2010 election will be very much
important. We have discussed with the government
about opening up space as much as possible because
these loyal opposition can participate. The party is
very strong; it has done many good things. It has
made all the public investment, and actually tried
to build a sense of a nation of Ethiopia, rather
than the different cultures. I fully expect it to
continue the leadership role; but not having an
opposition, it just does not work.
When you leave this week, will you be
leaving this country with a feeling that the
political space is more or less narrowed?
Since I was not here in 2005, it is hard to say
because it was really the base line. It is hard for
me to say whether it is opening or closing.
I gathered that you are a tough manager who
focuses on the job. I am sure you would like to be
remembered in some ways when you leave; how would
you want to be remembered in Ethiopia?
I am happy that I have the reputation to be as a
tough manager because we do move a lot of money; it
is wise for people to know that we care about how
each dollar is used.
If you were to leave a message on your desk
to your successor, what would be your important
advice about Ethiopia, its people and the thing that
he should be careful about?
Certain things are not as they seem to be; as we
Americans want to move quickly and we like to make
decisions fast, we have to be very careful. This is
a very complex country and culture. You cannot make
assumptions, and take the first opinion you hear;
you have to think about things very well. What I
would say is do not believe every thing you hear;
get out, see, meet people and spend your first
months fully appreciating Ethiopia. That was best
thing I did when I came first to this country;
visiting and feeling. I could not just imagine,
because in imagination you see political
polarization, and excesses.
Do you have a last word for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi?
He has got a tough job, because he truly believes
in bringing the country to democratization. I just
hope that he continues with some of the excellent
programs he is doing in terms of infrastructure; and
the appreciation for the role of economy.
Would you like to see him running for another term?
He seems to be a pretty strong candidate. But, I
have not seen anyone who has quite the competence
that he does. He is widely respected in Africa and
he is becoming its spokesman. We feel that Ethiopia
is the rock of stability and he seems to be part of
that. But again, I do not know the competition and
what the choices are.
You were enormously positive about Ethiopia
when I talked to you two years ago. Do you that same
My job is to be positive because we would not have
been able to finish it if were positive. I am a paid
optimist. But I think I am a bit more searching now
because I realise the magnitude of some of the
difficulties. The government can have very good
partners in the NGOs community and the private
sector. It is very nice for the government to build
partnership with all these other people to help
solve its problems.
What are the memories you will be taking
from Ethiopia and cherish for the rest of your life?
The religious festivals here are unique; they are
very colourful. I will never forget the beauty of
the country; I will never forget those colourful
places in Tigray and Abiyata Lake. Overall, I will
not forget the hospitality of Ethiopians and basic
politeness, and the welcoming nature of the people.
It is really wonderful.