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Rajiv Shah heads to Kenya and Ethiopia

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is on a plane right now on the way to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he will be touring areas affected by the worst drought the region has seen in over six decades. "I’m going to Kenya and Ethiopia to visit with heads of state and senior leadership as well as to ...

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is on a plane right now on the way to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he will be touring areas affected by the worst drought the region has seen in over six decades.

"I'm going to Kenya and Ethiopia to visit with heads of state and senior leadership as well as to pull together the humanitarian and NGO communities to assess progress on the challenges that the drought has brought to the Horn of Africa," Shah said in an interview with The Cable on his way to the airport.

He won't be going to Somalia, however, which has been ravaged by a famine that shows little sign of abating. Shah said there are good reasons why Ethiopia and Kenya are doing better than Somalia -- beyond the fact that the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia is getting in the way of delivering aid.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is on a plane right now on the way to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he will be touring areas affected by the worst drought the region has seen in over six decades.

"I’m going to Kenya and Ethiopia to visit with heads of state and senior leadership as well as to pull together the humanitarian and NGO communities to assess progress on the challenges that the drought has brought to the Horn of Africa," Shah said in an interview with The Cable on his way to the airport.

He won’t be going to Somalia, however, which has been ravaged by a famine that shows little sign of abating. Shah said there are good reasons why Ethiopia and Kenya are doing better than Somalia — beyond the fact that the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia is getting in the way of delivering aid.

"In Kenya and Ethiopia, because of constructive investments in protecting communities dependent on livestock, we know more than four and half million people stayed in their communities and have weathered this drought…. In Somalia the opposite has taken place," he said.

Shah said that more than 30,000 people have died, mostly children, due to Somalia’s failure to prepare for and deal with the crisis, and the State Department estimates another 750,000 are at risk over the next four to six months, Shah said.

The United States has provided more than $640 million to date in response to the Horn of Africa crisis, including a new announcement of $42 million late last month.

The focus of this trip will be to recommend policy reforms  in Kenya and Ethiopia to better handle the crisis. Those governments are taking some steps, such as ensuring the safe passage of aid and making sure refugees are accepted and assisted, but the problem continues and more government action is needed, Shah said.

Shah will meet with the humanitarian organization leaders in both Kenya and Somalia to help coordinate emergency action inside Somalia. The State Department has removed some restrictions on contractors and aid workers in Somalia, in recognition of the fact that strict rules preventing interactions with groups like sl-Shabab were impossible to enforce in Somalia.

"We have made exceptions on a range of policies that have allowed credible partners to be aggressive in their efforts to try to save lives," Shah said. "At the same time, we’ve asked for all of our partners to track and monitor the flow of food and benefits, commit themselves not to pay bribes, and we continue to watch that."

"Unfortunately, though, that’s not the key to saving lives inside Somalia. The key is actions taken by leadership inside Somalia and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this visit."

In Kenya, Shah will attend a health conference along with Ambassador and former Special Envoy Scott Gration and in Ethiopia he will attend an agricultural conference. Shah is traveling with Ertharin Cousin, ambassador to U.N. agencies for agriculture

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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