By Steve Straehley,
GAYLE E. Smith, a member of the National Security Council staff, was nominated on April 30, 2015, by President Barack Obama to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Smith, who was 59 when she was nominated, is from Bexley, Ohio. She attended Bexley High School, where she was a cheerleader, and graduated in 1974. She went on to earn a B.A. from the University of Colorado.
Smith worked in the Horn of Africa as a freelance journalist during the war and famine of the 1980s. She was particularly close to Meles Zenawi, who led the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was president of that country’s transitional government beginning in 1991 and became prime minister in 1995. Meles remained in power as Ethiopia’s dictator until his death in 2012.
An article Smith wrote in May 1983 appeared to defend the kidnapping of 10 westerners by the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front as a way to get publicity.
By 1986, Smith was a development consultant for the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), a province of northern Ethiopia. She later joined The Development Group for Alternative Policies, a non-profit organization devoted to development.
Smith first worked for USAID in 1994, as senior advisor to the administrator and chief of staff and as special representative for the Horn of Africa. She moved into the White House in 1998 as senior Africa director for President Bill Clinton.
When the George W. Bush administration took over in 2001, Smith joined the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, as a senior fellow. There she led the Sustainable Security Project and co-founded the ENOUGH Project, which focuses on ending genocide and crimes against humanity and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, which attempts to maximize U.S. foreign aid impact. From 2005 to 2007, Smith also worked for the Clinton Global Initiative, the organization founded by former President Clinton.
Smith joined the Obama administration in 2009 as special assistant to the president and senior director for development and democracy on the National Security Council staff, with responsibility for global development, democracy, and humanitarian assistance issues. She is a longtime associate of Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor.
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The controversy over Gayle’s nomination to head the USAID creates a fierce debate in Washington. As the administrator of USAID, Smith would be charged with directing the agency’s $20 billion budget to tackle humanitarian disasters around the world.
But some critics raised concerns that Smith will use these funds to coddle friendly dictators in strategic locations, like Ethiopia, rather than enforce democratization and encourage real development in Africa.
The criticism made by Herman Cohen, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Ronald Reagan and former U.S. ambassador to Gambia and Senegal stands out loud than others. Here is what he has said about her and the dangers associated with her nomination to countries like Eritrea:
I happen to know – and like Gayle. She has a lengthy relationship and a deep knowledge of Africa. But she was also very close to the Ethiopian government [under Meles Zenawi], writing officially on behalf of the TPLF aid arm – REST.
While serving under former President Bill Clinton, Smith, along with her colleague Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs at the time and now the White House national security adviser, were mediators in an ultimately failed attempt to reduce tensions between rivals Eritrea and Ethiopia. They totally failed in the mediation and during the process they won the hatred of the president of Eritrea [Isaias Afwerki] because he accused them of plagiarizing the Ethiopian side.
Under both the Clinton and Obama administration, Smith and Rice have ordered tough sanctions against Eritrea for allegedly aiding Somali-based terror group al Shabaab – a claim which experts said was never proven.
As of now, everyone agreed there was nothing going on between Eritrea and al Shabaab. But the U.S. didn’t want to lift sanctions. I contend that this was just because of Gayle’s personal animosity [with Eritrea].
The million dollar question is, therefore, given Gyale Smith’s long and cozy relationship with Ethiopia and her personal animosity with Eritrea, how did that affect Eritrea further if her USAID nomination went through?
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