In the late summer of 2003, the media paid a great deal of attention to whether or not the United States would send troops to Liberia to protect the flow of aid and food immediately after former President Charles Taylor fled the country—a debate that ultimately resulted in the deployment of 200 Marines. But the press missed the story that should have been told about U.S. efforts to help Liberia in these trying times—the story of Keith Brown’s helping to set up the transitional government and successfully securing $200 million in U.S. aid for Liberia, along with $520 million in international pledges.
Given Liberia’s historic American roots, the world looked to the United States to lead Liberia’s reconstruction. There was also donor fatigue and skepticism about whether the new peace would hold. USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Keith Brown countered that fatigue and traveled to Liberia to help the transitional government develop a “results-oriented transition framework.” He convinced the United Nations and other donors to use this innovative new plan as the centerpiece of the International Reconstruction Conference in early February 2004. This dramatic new approach brought $520 million of international pledges, much more than originally expected.
Brown also coordinated U.S. government resources and made the case for a $200 million supplemental appropriation for Liberia, which Congress approved. He pushed the UN to take the lead on disarmament and demobilization of combatants while America’s focus would be on reintegration. In doing so, he guided local and international groups to work together with entire communities to reintegrate ex-soldiers, thus ensuring real success.
Even as he was spearheading the U.S. response in Liberia, Brown was tracking a drought in Ethiopia that was putting 13 million lives at risk. As a former USAID Mission Director in Ethiopia, he used his knowledge of the country to force both long-term actions to deal with fundamental food security issues and short-term actions to prevent against massive famine.
To respond to the immediate fear of famine, Brown led an inter-agency team in providing $500 million of food aid to Ethiopia over the past year. He also prodded the USAID mission to reprogram existing resources more creatively, resulting in $17 million of funds previously stuck in a “pipeline” being used for urgent short-term health needs.
As a development expert, he knew that a longer term famine prevention framework was also needed. As co-chair of an inter-agency task force, he went to Ethiopia to discuss a new reform agenda with the Prime Minister, leading to new reform commitments. He brokered a consensus within our government on food security in Ethiopia and convinced reluctant donors to join after convincing them that the United States was not “dumping” food aid. These efforts ultimately led to a G-8 initiative on a long-term, multi-donor effort to provide food security to scores of millions of Ethiopians.
When people enter public service, either within the government or at a non-profit, a common facetious reply to the question of why they chose to serve is that they wanted to “save the world.” Well, government employee Keith Brown truly is saving the world—one country at a time.