The Best Move He Ever Made
Andrew Natsios MPA 1979
Surrounded by special forces, Andrew Natsios MPA 1979
touched ground a mere 10 kilometers from Taliban enemy lines when
he arrived in Afghanistan in November. Natsios, administrator for
the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was the first
American official to arrive in Afghanistan following the September
11 disaster, and while only in Afghanistan for two hours, this 22-year
veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves who served in the Gulf War remembers
vividly just how tense the situation was. The security people
were nervous because we were there just as the Taliban were collapsing
in Kunduz. They say you could hear the bombing at night.
Natsios, with 12 years of work in international development
under his belt, says every famine has details that distinguish it
from other emergencies. Two wars against the Soviet Union and two
civil wars exacerbated the situation in Afghanistan, where relief
workers had to contend with ethnic hatreds and 18 to 30 inches of
snow on the Hindu Kush mountain range. That is nothing like
Ive had to deal with.
It makes it more difficult that a war is going
on where the United States is on one side, says Natsios. When
youre asked to deliver humanitarian assistance, it makes it
harder. It causes all sorts of policy and ethical dilemmas.
But the United States, the largest aid donor to Afghanistan
last year, has had a long-term commitment to Afghanistans
development. When the aftermath of September 11 precipitated more
aid, President Bush nearly doubled the amount of aid, from $174
to $320 million, which forced USAID to break with its normal policy
of using only American goods in aid shipments. It usually
takes three to four months to distribute food, and this area is
landlocked, very difficult to get to. Purchasing local goods would
prevent widespread famine death and accomplish the presidents
program, says Natsios.
A Massachusetts state representative while he was
a student at the Kennedy School, Natsios never dreamed hed
end up working in international development. He was asked to just
do it for a few months. Then theyd move him someplace
else. But it was the best move I ever made, he says.
The most interesting jobs Ive held are ones I didnt
Its like stepping into an entirely different
world, he says of his time in countries ranging from Kenya
and Mozambique to North Korea and Somalia. What bothers me
most are the conditions of the children, says Natsios. But
this optimist has seen hope, even in the poorest of countries. He
recalls a time in Mozambique when three million people died through
starvation. Now Mozambique has one of the best functioning cabinets
in Africa, and economic development reform has had a profound impact
on the creation of a strong free economy.
Natsios is well aware that other countries look to
the United States to take the lead on international development.
Even if they dont want to admit that, he says.
But all the Kennedy School graduates, all the money, all the
big publicity wont work well without local leadership. We
also need to be a little humble about the limits on our ability
to work abroad. Should we do it? Absolutely. We should understand
that while American leadership is important, leadership in those
countries is more important. The sustainability of reform should
always be on our minds.