Obama Nominee for USAID Chief Criticized for Supporting Repressive African Regimes

Gayle Smith / AP
• June 15, 2015 4:59 pm


Critics have come forward against President Obama’s nominee for USAID Chief, Gayle Smith, citing her support and relationships with oppressive regimes in Ethiopia, Uganda, and other African countries.

Smith, who is currently special assistant to the president and senior director at the National Security Council, was nominated for the position by the President on April 30.

"There were major Africa policy blunders under the Clinton and Obama administrations that she should be asked about," former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Herman Cohen, told International Business Times.

Smith, along with her colleague Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs at the time and now White House national security adviser, presided over failed talks to reduce political tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The two countries engaged in a two-year war from 1998 to 2000, and relations between the U.S. and Eritrea have suffered as a result of sanctions levied on the country based on unsubstantiated claims from the State Department.

Before serving under the Obama administration as special assistant, Smith was senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council from 1994 to 1998. She went on to live in Africa for 20 years as an aid worker, journalist, and founder of the nonprofit "Enough Project."

"Smith’s outlook on Africa and its relationship to America is disturbing" Alemayehu Mariam, a constitutional lawyer and a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, wrote in a blog post for the The Hill, opposing Smith’s confirmation.

"Smith promotes a welfare foreign policy of aid handouts and alms-giving to Africa generously supported by American taxpayers. In 2014, USAID spent over $5 billion in Africa on various health and development programs," Mariam said.

Smith, if confirmed, would take control of directing the USAID’s $20 billion budget aimed at humanitarian issues across the globe. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in 2013 exposed "lax management practices" of USAID that put $236 million of U.S. taxpayer funds "at risk of waste, fraud, or abuse."

A Wall Street Journal investigation also revealed that thieves and organized networks hijacked large quantities of  "donated malaria drugs [to] ship them from East to West Africa, where they end up for sale at street markets"

The U.S. spent nearly $10 billion in Africa between 2002 and 2012 on a variety of health projects and humanitarian efforts.

"No African country has developed [while] hooked to the life-supported system of U.S. aid," Mariam said. "[Smith’s] long and chummy relationship with Africa’s strongmen will make her a weak advocate of human rights, the rule of law and good governance on the continent."

Published under: Africa, Barack Obama, USAID