Strathink Endorses President Obama’s Pick for USAID Administrator: Gayle Smith

(Re-posted)

Last week President Obama announced his decision to appoint National Security Advisor Gayle Smith as USAID’s next administrator, pending approval by the Senate. Strathink hopes that the approval process goes quickly.

A number of people have publicly opposed the President’s nomination, including Washington Post journalist Howard French and economist William Easterly. Why? Mr. French and Mr. Easterly think that Ms. Smith’s relationship to the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, was inappropriate. They accused Ms. Smith of cozying up to authoritarianism.

They are wrong on both counts. In 2009, President Obama said, “Africa does not need strong men. It needs strong institutions.” What better example of strong institutions than the orderly and peaceful transition of power in 2012 following the unexpected death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Ethiopia’s many detractors predicted chaos and utter calamity when Ethiopia’s leader died after being treated in a Brussels hospital. The new prime minister was neither from the former leader’s party or region of the country. And as the nation mourned, the day-to-day, often mundane, business of government continued without a hiccup. Institutions are the cornerstone of democratic governance. Ethiopia did not have a strongman—it has institutions.

Gayle Smith knows Africa. She started off as a journalist in Khartoum, Sudan. This is when she first met Meles Zenawi. They were both at the time in very different places in their lives. He was leading a ragtag group of fighters against the mighty army of a real dictator—Ethiopia’s Mengistu Hailemariam—and she was getting paid by the word for her dispatches to the media on Africa’s messy conflicts. She rose up the career ladder to now occupy the lofty position of special assistant to the President of the United States and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the U.S. National Security Council.

Gayle Smith knows Africa. She has been at the vortex of politics and development for all of her adult life. She has spent her time in some of the most dangerous places in the world working for peace. Her knowledge is vast and deep and comes from real life, not college textbooks. She knows the problems of development first-hand and has the insight to recognize what we can do and cannot do. For this, we wholeheartedly endorse Gayle Smith as USAID’s next Administrator.

The Strathink Editorial Team

 

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