Sean Jones assumed leadership of USAID Ethiopia in July of 2019. USAID Ethiopia is one of the largest USAID missions in Africa and is a focus country for presidential initiatives covering HIV and AIDS, malaria, child survival, agricultural growth, food security and nutrition, climate change and energy. The mission’s portfolio also has a robust basic education program and activities that promote good governance and prevent conflicts.
Prior to this, Sean served as the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, which leads the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative.
He talked to Capital about his future plan and how the mission supports the country’s fight against poverty. Excerpts;
Capital: What are your plans during your stay?
Sean Jones: I believe USAID is here because we have things to offer. America wants friends and partners like Ethiopia. The best ideas, resources and some of our capacity to help Ethiopia through this historic period of time that Ethiopia needs right now.
Right now there are many reforms underway that are more focused on democratic values and systems, so our support will be helping Ethiopia in the upcoming election by supporting the election board, we also want to support substantially and the economic reform agenda of the government in line with American values we also need to support the people who need food assistance and humanitarian assistance and crisis response.
Capital: What are your plans in the healthcare sector?
Sean Jones: There is a commitment to stop the spread of HIV. We also want to help alleviate tuberculosis and malaria, we want to continue that, we are not dramatically changing, our level of investment to maintain the gains that Ethiopia has made with HIV in particular, the cases have dropped substantially thanks to the tremendous support and commitment of the Ethiopian government to ensure that the case load is down and identifying new cases very quickly by working with the targeted populations.
Capital: What is the status of tuberculosis in the country currently?
Sean Jones: We signed a MOU to continue working with the Ministry of Health. The health system is sufficiently strong now so we are working with civil society organizations.
Capital: Can you tell us about the justice reform program called FITIH?
Sean Jones: This program helps protect the rights of citizens and updates the justice system. We are working with the Attorney General and the Ministry of Peace to strengthen the way that it engages with the public to review laws that may need updating and provide additional capacity for Ethiopia’s lawyers, judges and prosecutors. It has some focus on capacity building and how to technically implement Ethiopia’s vision.
Capital: How are you helping the electoral board?
Sean Jones: Outside of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), we are helping civil society organizations and citizens to engage with NEBE to provide advice, on how to conduct free and fair elections.
Capital: Do you think the election will be conducted on the scheduled time?
Sean Jones: It is the government’s decision but we want to ensure NEBE is as strong as possible for the election. It is a lot of organization, a lot of people, a lot of things have to happen. NEBE is one part of that. The other is the government ensuring security.
Capital: You work with private sector. Can you tell us about the meat processing plant in Jigjiga.
Sean Jones: I just have had the opportunity to talk with the general manager, owner and founder of the factory, he closed it temporarily and wants to have another project in that area to grow food for the livestock. Actually he is increasing investment in that area so that he can have a long consistent supply for the factory, that is a tremendous support for the country and I am proud of the investors working in that region investing substantial money. More broadly our investment in the private sector is very important like now, we have had private sector involvement for a long time but it hasn’t been strong necessarily as it could be. A robust private sector will do wonders for economic growth.
Capital: How are you actually helping the private sector?
Sean Jones: In policy we are working with government officials on reforms to help the private sector. We are working to help businesspeople and farmers to access finance, we are also working with financial institutions so business can access land and resources.
Capital: How are you involved in the Agricultural sector?
Sean Jones: We want to help Ethiopia have less reliance on external factors to grow, produce and sell food while making sure that the crops are healthy.
Capital: What is your take on hybrid seeds?
Sean Jones: The US government basis this on the needs of the country, not every country desires hybrid seeds, not every country needs genetically modified seeds. Our programs works in this manner, especially in Ethiopia to try and understand what Ethiopia really needs and provide that assistance, experience across the world. We are mobilizing that experience.
As related to hybrid or other types of seed technology we do believe that every country should make their own decisions regarding what types of seeds and technologies and approaches they want to bring to their local market.
Capital: So how are you helping the farmers boost their products?
Sean Jones: One is seed varieties. This could be local seeds, weather controlling pests and other pests’ like fungus, or it could be the introduction of hybrid seeds that are outside of Ethiopia we work with as well, and when Ethiopia’s ready, in a position to have genetically produced seeds or other types of seed technologies we support that, we are not pushing to do that right now we want to have Ethiopian farmers help to have access to seed varieties.
Capital: You help set up some seed shops, and these shops are selling only your own products that came from you directly. Does USAID fund them?
Sean Jones: So that is not accurate. I appreciate that because I can help correct it, we went into partnership with a company called Dow DuPont which changed their name to Corteva, what we did is we introduced tens of thousands of farmers to new products that were legally brought by this company and also other companies. We didn’t fund them, this is done by the private sector, we encouraged them to use better products.
Capital: Isn’t it possible they will become dependent on certain fertilizers?
Sean Jones: That is true in general not specific to Corteva, if seed technology has patent rights, and a lot of seed technology doesn’t germinate every year, that is true. I think that is farmers’ decision whether they can continue or use local seeds even hybrid varieties where they do germinate every year. They can see higher production yield and a higher rate of protection in their farming.
Capital: What are you doing to help Ethiopia with its economic reform?
Sean Jones: This is a new area in our assistance program in Ethiopia, again we are really proud to be invited to provide assistance to the Ministry of Finance, the Prime Minster and the Central Bank. We have brought in a very famous economist and signed a three-year contract and his team from Harvard University to provide advice to the very capable people here the Ethiopian people are leading this reform effort they came and provide assessment, and diagnostics. Particularly it is a critical period for Ethiopia and Ethiopia’s economy.
Capital: How can we be sure about their advice?
Sean Jones: They didn’t come and start offering advice for them; there are also a bunch of Ethiopian teams that travel here and back to Harvard University in the US. They give advice considering global perspectives, and bring some of the best ideas. It is a conversation between really brilliant people there in Addis Ababa leading reforms and people from Harvard.
Capital: Is there anything you want to add?
Sean Jones: We have a lot of projects focused on helping the Ethiopian people one thing about USAID is that we are invited here and we are proud to be a partner of the people and government.