Good morning, afternoon, and evening, to everyone tuning in all around the world. A special welcome to Andy’s mother-in-law who has come all the way from Liberia, I believe, and has joined Andy, his mother, and his daughters there. We are thrilled that the whole family is going to be part of this event for Andy.
Thank you Maria for kicking us off, and Chargé d’Affaires Haskell, and so many distinguished USAID colleagues and alumni for joining us here to swear-in development-All-Star and proud Bostonian, Andy Karas, as our Mission Director to Southern Africa.
Like all proud Bostonians—myself included—Andy’s a die-hard Red Sox fan. But he isn’t just any die-hard Red Sox fan—he’s a wake-up-your-parents-including-
fan. A bring-all-your-pennants-and-
Northern-Connecticut—better known as Yankee territory—Red Sox fan. A stay-up-late-to-read-the-
latest-box-scores-in-Accra Red Sox fan. And this morning, of course, after a Yankees sweep, a sad Red Sox fan.
Not to read too much into his biography, but if you want to know where Andy gets his sense of loyalty, dedication, and belief in beating long-odds, you may wish to start there.
But commitment runs throughout Andy’s career. Over his 20 years at USAID, he’s served throughout Africa, with posts across the East and West. Tours in Rwanda, Djibouti, and Kenya where he also served as a Peace Corps volunteer back in the day. He served as Mission Director first in Ghana and most recently in Tanzania.
And now, Andy is headed to the South. He did so well as Mission Director in two countries, we decided to give him six. Our regional bureau oversees our development footprint in South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia. In addition to those countries, he’ll have a further hand helping countries where we don’t have an on-the-ground presence like Comoros, Seychelles, and Mauritius. And, because many development challenges know no borders, he’ll help coordinate regional programming in Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar.
It’s a big job by definition, overseeing a staff of 400. But it’s made even bigger by the persistent challenges the region faces, even amidst some bright headlines.
While trade within the region and with the United States is increasing, millions of Southern Africans are locked out of this newfound wealth due to poverty, unemployment, and inequality. More work is needed to bring inclusive and equitable economic gains and job growth to the region.
Many countries in the region have achieved or are on the cusp of achieving control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a monumental achievement. But more work and international public and private sector support is needed to ensure every country in the region can achieve the same result.
And while millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines have already been delivered to South Africa and the region, many more are needed to end this pandemic and prevent new variants from arising.
And if these complex challenges weren’t enough, climate change is wreaking havoc and fueling hunger across the region—and corruption and democratic backsliding threaten impressive gains in gender equality, press freedom, and the strength of the rule of law.
But I’m convinced we have the right person for this essential job. A true leader who has made his mark everywhere he has served.
In Rwanda, as an agriculture officer, Andy supported the burgeoning fair-trade coffee initiatives that have brought amazing Rwandan coffee to the world, one cup at a time—for which I know I am personally grateful.
This formative time in Rwanda, only four years removed from the genocide, imprinted on Andy the importance of inclusiveness and reconciliation, and the power of hope.
In Tanzania, he led the Mission to several meaningful achievements, including in girls’ education, where they established an early warning system that identified hundreds of girls at risk of dropping out of school and offered them counseling to keep them in classrooms.
What is equally impressive are the deep connections Andy made with the staff. Colleagues at the mission describe his walks through the hallways and cubicles to talk, listen, and share a laugh together. They talk of “chomo poa” —barbecues—at Andy’s house where they bonded over dancing, games, and food. They tell stories of Andy’s impeccable Swahili that would instantly build trust with the highest-level government official, as well as those Tanzanian girls who were seeking an education. They talk about his commitment to enshrining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive approach to leadership, especially his commitment to empowering our Foreign Service Nationals and encouraging them to lead high-level meetings.
And they talk about his empathy. When one of his staff members was hospitalized with a neurological condition, he visited them every single day in the hospital. And when COVID-19 reduced all of our abilities to connect in person, Andy turned to calling every single one of his staff each week to check in on them and their family.
Empathy. That’s an emotion that’s been in all our hearts lately, as we grieve for the thousands who lost their homes and lost their lives in Haiti following Saturday’s devastating earthquake and as we watch the searing events in Afghanistan and are heartsick with concern about the safety of colleagues, partners, and the Afghan people.
Andy served in Afghanistan, in 2011. He traveled around the country as our lead agricultural officer, working with farmers to convert poppy fields into pomegranate groves. But his home was the U.S. Embassy. Every day, true to form, he walked through the tunnel and into that building to work, often under lockdown security conditions, engaging a dedicated team of interagency professionals on behalf of the Afghan people. Engaging, working with, partnering with, elevating our Afghan staff.
Andy, I can only imagine the depth of feeling you must have seeing that building on TV—seeing the smoke rise from its chimneys and the flag come down from its roof.
For thousands of people at USAID who have either been stationed in Afghanistan like Andy, supported the Mission’s efforts from afar, or merely been proud of the meaningful development gains we’ve helped the Afghan people achieve across 20 years of service, these are days of anguish—there is no denying it.
But it says something to me about the way our colleagues have banded together in these past few days, doing all we can to help our Afghan partners and colleagues reach safety, that in harrowing times, this Agency shows its greatest resolve—and leaders like Andy, step forward to serve.
“Andy is a natural born leader,” his teammates said.
“ A very humble man who made every team member feel valued.”
“A great man with passion, courage and zeal, who made sure that everyone was valued, supported, and motivated to be their best self.”
The only way we will make progress on all the complex problems we face in Southern Africa and elsewhere is by leading the way that Andy knows how: bringing people together, connecting with them, and working towards common goals.
Southern Africa will have no better partner than Andy. All of us simply cannot wait for him to start.
With that, Andy, it’s my true pleasure now to administer the oath.