Africa Braintrust: USAID, According to USAID

On Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, the Africa Braintrust Event was held at the John Wilson Convention Center in Washington, DC.  The annual event, organized by US Congressmember Karen Bass (D-California), is designed to discuss issues of concern to the Afrikan Continent, the Afrikan Community and the Afrikan Diaspora in an open forum, complete with keynote speakers, panel discussions and questions from attendees.  The 2014 Africa Braintrust concentrated on a review of the recent USA-Africa Summit, in which President Barack Obama invited 50 Afrikan heads of state to Washington, DC top discuss US-Afrika relations. 

USAID Logo 1Our previous article featured the keynote address by former Ambassador Johnnie Carson and the follow-up panel discussion. This article will deal specifically with the keynote speech of Dr. Rajiv “Raj” Shah, head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) since 2010.  Here, Dr. Shah begins with a brief discussion about the Ebola crisis in West Afrika and his concern for the people there.  By this time, the first two Americans had already contracted the disease and had recovered after undergoing extensive medical treatment, while Afrikans in the Continent were falling ill and facing death by the thousands.  He then discusses his vision for what USAID plans to accomplish in Afrika, specifically with regard to two key initiatives: Feed the Future and Power Africa. A previous post on this Web Site from November 2013 featured a Congressional Breakfast sponsored by Rep. Bass’ office pertaining to Power Africa and the open discussion that followed.  A following piece (coming soon) will examine USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative in the context of USAID’s previous efforts in India and issues that have been raised about USAID’s activities in Latin America, and as such urges caution in moving headlong into a “food security” initiative that may leave Afrika’s food supply in the hands of major corporate agribusiness and thus anything but secure.  But, for now, let us hear the words of Dr. Rajiv Shah, head of USAID, after his introduction by Rep. Karen Bass:


Karen Bass 1“Everyone is concerned about what is happening on the Continent in regard to the Ebola crisis, and we didn’t feel like we could go through the day without letting you know exactly what the US government and what our role is has been in response to that crisis.  And I feel it’s going to be a moment when we are past this crisis and we will get past this crisis, that it is going to be a moment of tremendous pride when we look back and see the role that that the United States played in regard to the crisis.  But in addition to the Ebola crisis the theme throughout our day is a look back at the Summit and a look forward as to where we’re going to go with US-Africa relations, and USAID plays a tremendous role in that regard.  And some of the most significant initiatives that were actually happening way before the Summit, maybe even before the Summit was even thought of, are very significant initiatives that have been taking place in regard to our relationship with Afrika, has been under the leadership of Dr. Shah and USAID.  One of my complaints that I’ve told him several times, is that the work that we do sometimes is just not that widely known.  And I know it came up with one of the comments, it was certainly my frustration with the Summit too, that it really didn’t get the press coverage that it deserves.  As a matter of fact, if you saw the President’s press conference, he walked right out of the Summit and had a press conference with all of the US press, who asked him no questions about Afrika or about the Summit.  They wanted to know why Congress wanted to sue him.  That was what they asked him during that press conference.  So I think it’s not only my responsibility as a member of Congress, but I think it’s all of our responsibilities to spread the good news about what us happening in Afrika and also to talk about what this Administration has been doing in regard to Afrika.  

“So on that note, Dr. Raj Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 10,000 professionals in 80 missions around the world.  That’s a heck of a job.  But since being sworn in, he was baptized by fire.  He was sworn in on December 31, 2009.  Dr. Shah managed the US government’s response to the devastating 2010 earthquake on Haiti.  He co-chaired the State Department’s first review of American diplomacy and development operations and now spearheads President Obama’s landmark Feed the Future Food Security Initiative, and he also leads USAID Forward, an extensive set of reforms to USAID’s business model, focusing on seven key areas, including procurement, science and technology, and monitoring and evaluation.  Please join me in welcoming Dr. Raj Shah.” 


Rajiv Shah USAID 1“The success of the Summit will really be measured years out, not days out, and it will depend entirely on whether or not we’ll be able to follow through on the high aspirations that were set in that context. … 

“I will start today with a few comments about Ebola. Not because I think that this is a defining moment in the future of US-Africa relations but because I think it is such a critical and urgent and immediate national security priority, to use the President’s language, that I just want to introduce the concepts of what we’re doing.  I was actually very moved about a week ago when I read a Washington Post story about a young mother in Monrovia that I really can’t get out of my head.  When her three year old son developed a fever, she brought him to an Ebola Treatment Unit, but in violation of ETU—that’d what we refer to them as, Ebola Treatment Units—in violation of their protocols, she refused to leave his side.  She chose to walk with him into the isolation unit.  Within the care center she chose to stand by him and care for him and hold him and hug him and bring him water and rehydration in an effort to save his life.  And she was with him when her son died.  Before long, after that tragic moment, she too began to exhibit the telltale signs of this virus.  I share that with you because the reality of Ebola is, it actually, believe it or not, does not spread as easily as people think.  It spreads through personal contact and through body fluids.  And one of the devastating realities of this crisis right now in West Africa is that it strikes down the people who care the very most.  It’s the mothers who refuse to let go of their children.  It’s the caregivers who rush to the front lines communities and homes to identify those who might be sick.  And it’s the doctors and nurses and the trained medical professionals inside the care units that are dealing with an epidemic at a proportion that had really never been seen before.  And so, even as we try to achieve on the grand and involved vision and aspirations that I think were set at the African Leaders’ Summit this past August, I think it is worth pausing and recognizing that at times of crisis like this, it is incumbent upon America as the world’s unquestioned humanitarian leaders to so what President Obama did last week.  What he did was he said, We’re going to use capabilities that only America has, to ensure that the world has a strong, coordinated and effective response. He said that there are hundreds, thousands of cases, now.  If we get on top of this right now, we will be looking at tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of cases.  He noted that this was not just a health emergency, but it threatens the fabric of society immediately in the three countries that are all coming out of conflict and aspiring for peace, prosperity and growth themselves, but also could have devastating consequences throughout the region and throughout our connected world.  And he directed us to put all of the resources of the United States government, the civilian resources of USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and the military resources we have access to, to work to mount a strong response.  So we will have more than 3000 US service members on the ground in West Africa.  We will provide the world’s logistic and operational backbone to get hundreds of thousands of sets of protective equipment every month to dozens of new Ebola Treatment Units that we will build in Liberia and Sierra Leone and Guinea.  We will help support the salaries, the recruiting, the training of thousands, tens of thousands of health workers so they can go to every door and every community, in some cases providing simple improved hygiene, in other cases identifying those who are sick or tracing the contacts of those who have been positively diagnosed.  And we will deploy a range of technology, from mobile laboratory diagnostics to improved forms of protective equipment, to new vaccines and therapeutics and immunotherapies that are aggressively under development to ensure that if this crisis gets even further beyond our grasp, the world has a set of tools that can be brought to bear to protect our colleague communities throughout West Africa.  And it is times like this—as Representative Bass mentioned, my first week on the job was the Haiti earthquake, and this is a photo from that experience—but it is times like this when you realized that there are situations where only America can lead.  And that we embrace those opportunities on behalf of our colleagues and friends in Africa and around the world.  And so, while we’re not looking to displace others—in fact the President just yesterday convened a group of world leaders at the UN General Assembly and called on them to do more and I was a little bit late [to this meeting today] because I was following up on his call, with some of our partners around d the world—we need everyone to do a lot more here, but we are prepared to step up and lead, and we are prepared to make sure that this crisis is contained, and I’m happy after my remarks, if we have time, to take any further questions or comments, but I want to thank you for your interest and support of the Ebola effort. 

“But stepping back, to the African Leaders’ Summit.  That Summit was really designed to craft and communicate a clear message about the future of US-Africa relations.  It was not about humanitarian crisis or state fragility, but rather, focused on the other side of the coin that we know has been the single most dynamic story of global economic affairs over the last decade.  And that is the tremendous economic potential and progress of Africa, now and in the future, and what we believe some day could easily be the world’s largest common market, in what is already the world’s largest source of young people seeking jobs, and what we know can be a massive accelerant to global growth and prosperity.  It’s in that context that, four or five years ago, the President directed us through the first-ever Policy Directive from a US President on development, to adopt a new model of engagement with our developmental partners in Africa and around the world.  We embraced a new way of working, that involved, even in difficult budget environments, increasing our budget resources for Sub Saharan Africa to nearly $8.6 billion a year, the largest commitment to any part of the world.  It involved asking more of our African leaders, and saying, as we’re going to expand our investments in agriculture and power and health, we want to see more African leadership which we have seen in each of those areas.  It involves working with country governments more closely, to embrace a set of policy reforms that ensure that our investments can deliver results, and it involves really standing up, reaching out and to the private sector and attracting tens of billions of dollars in private investment commitments for these areas of work.  And while I agree, Representative Bass, that we should do more to communicate what we do, and that it was unfortunate that in that press conference folks wanted to know about who was getting sued by Congress and why, the reality is, the Summit itself, I hope, sent a profound message to those who are paying attention.  The fact that, how many of the top Fortune 100 CEO’s in our county did we have in person, in town, to engage with the 50 African heads of state.  The fact that the President spent all day, every minute of the entire day, and going late into the evening, tom personally moderate the sessions for the formal Summit.  And the fact that we heard of tens of billions of dollars of investment commitments in sectors like energy and agriculture.  Those announcements were made possible because of a handful of initiatives that I would like to describe to you because I think of them as defining of this new approach for how we work with Sub Saharan Africa. 

“The first is Feed the Future, and when President Obama took office, he really made this the top developmental priority. The slide you’re looking at is a picture of an Ethiopian farmer and daughter collecting the harvest.  In Ethiopia today, through Feed the Future, we’re working with DuPont, and a host of local farming cooperatives to increase the farm yields for 35,000 maize farmers and their families.  Today, as a part of our Feed the Future partnership, the government has liberalized its seed sector, has refined the way it protects private capital investments, has offered licenses and engaged foreign investors, and has built upon the innovation labs that were set up across American colleges and universities.  Now, we measure the results of these efforts through legitimate and widespread household surveys, and we now know that as a result of this program in Ethiopia, public and private, Ethiopia has driven down the rate of hunger, of poverty, of stunting, which is an expression of malnutrition in children that robs them of their future, and has increased the rate of reduction of poverty and malnutrition three times just the last two and a half years.  That’s an extraordinary achievement, and as a result 160,000 children today who would have been hungry are now laughing, learning, playing, going to school, and not because we’re handing our more American food, but because we’re helping their farmers, mostly women, improve the productivity from their own labor and their own ingenuity.  That kind of story is plating out in Ethiopia, but also in 14 other countries in Sub Saharan Africa.  It’s plating out across more than 200 companies that have committed more than $10 billion of private investments.  It’s playing out in the African Union that has reaffirmed this year is the year of agriculture for Africa, and has put into place a set of leadership commitments and policy reforms, and it plays out at a global level in last week’s announcement of global hunger levels that have come down by more than 40 million individuals, almost all of whom are in Sub Saharan Africa over the last three or four years. 

“These are extraordinary successes and gains, and I just want to note and thank the United States Congress and its leaders, including Representative Bass, for introducing, on a bipartisan basis in both the House and the Senate, Feed the Future legislation that will authorize this program into law and ensure that we can stick with it, using this model of development to continue to drive down hunger and poverty and drive up agricultural investment and growth for decades to come. So I would like to take this moment to ask for your support for Feed the Future, and that you support Representative Bass and that you support the bipartisan members of the House and Senate that are going to try to make this happen, we hope, in the Lame Duck Session this year, because I think it’s telling that our political leaders, at a time that, sometimes, is a little fractured and a little partisan, can come together to support this kind of an effort, executed to this level of excellence.   So thank you for your leadership, Representative Bass. 

“The other program I want to talk about is Power Africa.  And I know you heard about it a little this morning, but I was with President Obama last summer in Africa when he launched Power Africa.  The idea was very simple.  It’s Africa is home to six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world.  These economies are growing at 6, 7, 8% annualized per decade, and they’re doing that despite the fact that they have the highest energy costs anywhere on the planet.  Right now in the United States, we’re experiencing an investment boom because we have the lowest energyRajiv Shah USAID 4 costs anywhere on the planet.  And the President simply said, Why can’t we bring more technology, ingenuity and partnership to transform energy access in Sub Saharan Africa? And so we have.  We made a commitment to support the generation of 10,000 new megawatts of power generation in Africa.  We have achieved 8800 megawatts of that in just one year alone.  We’ve worked with dozens of companies, to invest in large scale power plants and dozens of entrepreneurs to create little solar powered lighting systems for rural villages so that more kids can come home and read at night.  We’ve seen that, as this has moved forward, country governments have embraced the opportunity, and much of the African Leaders’ Summit accelerated the success and progress of Power Africa, allowing President Obama to, in less that one year, triple the commitments to announce that we will commit ourselves to produce 30,000 megawatts of energy in Sub Saharan Africa, and we will do it with the support of $26 billion of new private investment commitments that were made in the run-up to and at the African Leaders’ Summit.  These are extraordinary achievements.  You know, if we’re being honest, I think a lot of folks might have said that that kind of effort might be expected from other countries like China, where if you go and you see these big numbers and announcements, and some questions about would the American business community want to accelerate its efforts just as rapidly, and I think that was definitively answered in the context of the African Leaders’ Summit.  We’re eager to see if Congress can also pass the Electrify Africa Bill, and so we look forward to that effort being supported in authorizing legislation that can help that also succeed for the timeframes required to achieve the outcomes we seek.

“Let me close just by noting the reality of the more competitive world that we live in. I am struck, despite the success of these initiatives, that every time I visit Africa, we will see Turkish business leaders showing up to make investments.  We’ll see a lot of Chinese infrastructure already on the ground.  And we know that countries like Brazil have more embassies in Africa today than the United Kingdom does.  The reality is, I think the rest of the world already knows that Africa is going to be a driver of growth, of investments and prosperity for decades to come and they’re already playing aggressively to position themselves to be beneficiaries of those trade and economic relationships.  Sometimes, the United States is criticized for bringing to our model of partnership a set of conditions: our support for civil society, our political engagement to ensure that democratic rule of law is elevated as a priority.  Our insistence that the way our companies operate abide by laws such as the US Foreign Practices Act.  And a lot of folks believe that, because of those conditions, African leaders and businesses will turn to others as opposed to us.  And if there’s one reality coming out of the African Leaders’ Summit that I just want to highlight for you, it’s that the exact opposite is taking place.  That by and large, leaders seek American brands, and American companies.  They seek American partnership with US universities.  They want the reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, of the Dodd-Frank Disclosure Requirements, of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, to define how their economies grow, both so that a broader proportion of people in country experience the benefits of rapid growth, but also because it’s a symbol of mature, forward-looking leadership that has prioritized the future of countries and economies over the future of individuals.  And that’s what we need to continue to embrace and take forward.  It’s what we will continue to do through Power Africa and Feed the Future and all of these innovative new public-private partnerships.  It’s what we hope the laws that come into practice to support these efforts will enshrine.  And it’s why we remain very confident that no matter what you hear about other countries engaging in Africa, and we welcome their engagement so long as it’s transparent and helpful at reducing poverty and building a better life for everybody.  No matter what you hear, we’re confident that American leadership and American partnership and American trade with this vibrant and dynamic continent will remain the priority for African leaders, for businesses here, and for the global economy as it continues to evolve.  So thank you for your time and attention and thank you for being here today.”

Coming Soon: An analysis of USAID, its history in Latin America, its efforts to end hunger in India, its connection to Genetically Modified (GM) foods and major biotech agribusiness, and the implications for Afrika