Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-In for John Dunlop, Mission Director for the DRC

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Friday, August 5, 2022
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Remarks

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Diana. Thanks to all of you who have joined here in person, especially John’s family. Thanks to you who are out there on the big screen. If you’re so inclined, it would be amazing if you could turn your cameras on so that John and his family can see you and distinguish you from the other dots and letters of the alphabet. I can’t tell you the difference it makes, especially for the people joining from the DRC.

I do get a particular thrill out of presiding over these swearing-in ceremonies. It’s become really one of the highlights of my time here as Administrator. I’m glad that they’re appreciated, but it’s really a thrill for me to get to know the lives behind the professionals. And that is what we endeavor to do in these events—but also what we entrust our Mission Directors to go and do with the teams that they’re fortunate enough to work with out in the field.

I’d like to start by welcoming the representatives from the countries where this Mission works: Ambassador Martial Ndoubou, the Central African Republic’s Ambassador to the U.S.; Ambassador Serge Mombouli, the Republic of Congo’s Ambassador to the U.S.; and Mr. Yves Bashonga, First Counselor in charge of Political Affairs for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Welcome as well to Angelique, John’s lovely wife of 27 years, and their daughter Malaika—it was great to spend some time with them just now. John and Angelique met while John was working with Catholic Relief Services in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. Angelique has her own incredible story of surviving and escaping the genocide, which claimed the lives of many members of her family. But after finding each other in Rwanda/eastern Zaire, they have since raised three wonderful children—Jimmy, Mignone, and Malaika.

Welcome to John’s mother, tuning in from John’s home state of Massachusetts. I’m told that John’s mother is the reason John can make such a mean spinach and feta salad.

And welcome to John’s family, friends, and USAID colleagues, past and present, joining us in person and via livestream from all over the world.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge a few of John’s loved ones who couldn’t make it today. The first is John’s aunt, Mary Wedge, who passed away just a few weeks ago, and would have loved to share this day with John. The second is John’s father, Jim Dunlop, who taught him the philosophy that has driven so much of his career.

John grew up in Marblehead, a coastal Massachusetts town that today has fewer than 20,000 people. When John was young, he and his father—a retired Coast Guard officer—would spend their summers sailing around the Cape and up the coast of Maine. And when they returned to port and prepared to disembark, Jim Dunlop would always say, “make sure you leave the boat better than you found it.”

I don’t know that there is a better motto for what John has tried to do in his career in development and humanitarian affairs than that: “Leave the boat better than you found it.”

As a teenager, he volunteered at Operation Venus, a national hotline providing information on sexually transmitted diseases. At the same time, he went to night school to become an EMT and worked for the local ambulance company.

After completing his freshman year at UC San Diego—near where his daughter Malaika now attends college—John took two years off to attend paramedic school. Eventually, he returned to UCSD to complete his undergraduate degree in Psychology, which he funded by continuing to work as a paramedic for the final years of his education, helping victims of heart attacks, strokes, stabbings, shootings, and car crashes in Southern California.

By then, it was clear that John’s calling was service. In the early 1990s, he joined the Peace Corps, seeking a higher purpose and, thanks to his sailing days, a site, he hoped, “anywhere near a beach.” He was delighted, therefore, when he was placed in the landlocked Central African Republic, hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean.

But the Central African Republic was where John fell in love with Africa. After two years of adventures and humanitarian work as a regional child survival volunteer, John returned to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. One day, nostalgic for his Peace Corps days, he wandered into one of Baltimore’s unique local liquor stores in search of Mocaf, a beer popular in the Central African Republic. A conversation with a store employee landed him a job with Catholic Relief Services. CRS looked at his Peace Corps service and sent him right back to Africa—a divine inspiration, this time, to Rwanda and what was then Zaire, now the DRC, in the wake of the Rwandan genocide.

From there, John traveled to what would become South Sudan, designing and implementing support programs for displaced populations and assisting the government of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the SPLM. One fateful day, he got a call from Johns Hopkins, informing him of an opening with the Regional Economic Development Services Office at USAID’s Mission in Kenya—a position that would kick off an eventful, heroic career with the Agency.

And it really was heroic—I’m sure you hate that term, John—from the very beginning.

About ten days into that first USAID posting in Kenya, on August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda terrorists bombed American embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. In his office at USAID’s Mission, John and his colleagues suddenly felt the ground shake beneath their feet. In the distance, they could see a cloud rising above downtown Nairobi, as fiery pieces of debris rained down from the sky.

John snapped back into paramedic mode, spending three days leading a search team, digging through the rubble in search of survivors. For his service, he won his first State Department Award for Heroism—I say first, because it was not to be his last.

Almost exactly a decade later, John signed up for a position at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Iraq, as the Senior Development Advisor on the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team. There, he spent his days patrolling with and mentoring Army Captains and noncommissioned officers. And he found beauty and hope in working with local poets, helping organize a poetry contest in the Rashid District and working to preserve and support one of the oldest and most important forms of Iraqi artistic expression.

Yet it was during his time in Iraq, in Doura Market in 2009, that a suicide bomber penetrated one of John’s Civil Affairs patrols. While John escaped with minimal physical injuries, three of his team members lost their lives.

John–ever the paramedic–helped treat the wounded and evacuate them to the Green Zone. For this, he won his second State Department Award for Heroism, as well as the U.S. Army Commander’s Award for Public Service—these awards in addition to his many Distinguished, Superior, and Meritorious Honor Awards from USAID and the Department of State.

But John’s heroism extends far beyond these formally recognized occasions. He started the PEPFAR program in Tanzania, a critical step to fighting the AIDS epidemic in the country, and organized an annual PEPFAR meeting in Rwanda. He headed up the medical logistics effort for the U.S. government in the wake of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and returned in the same role several months later during the country’s cholera outbreak. And in addition to his time in Iraq and around Africa, he has completed tours in Afghanistan, Jordan, back to Iraq as Deputy Mission Director, and here in Washington.

And his work has been recognized not just by USAID, but by host countries, as well. John spent the last four years heading up our Mission in Madagascar. During his tenure, he raised awareness and funding for the drought and widespread hunger in the South. He helped secure new money for our work in democracy, human rights, and governance. And for his work, just a few weeks ago on June 30, he won the National Order of Madagascar—one of the country’s highest honors.

As one colleague put it, “John is exactly the sort of person you want around in a crisis.”

John’s new job will bring him face to face with many challenges as he takes the reins at our Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The posting includes, as Diana mentioned, leading our work in the greater Central Africa Region, which includes operations in the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, as well as the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment.

All three countries covered by this Mission are fighting to alleviate widespread poverty and food insecurity, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. They are seeking to protect the biodiversity and natural resources in the Congo basin, a tropical rainforest second in size only to the Amazon. That work has taken on new urgency in recent days. And they are working to prevent conflict, something I encountered firsthand during my time as UN Ambassador, helping to secure peacekeeping resources as the threat of ethnic and religious violence grew in the Central African Republic—and now of course in the DRC, where the legitimacy of the peacekeeping force has been called into question by many, many communities.

And yet, all three countries boast a wealth of natural resources. The mineral sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, is valued at more than $25 trillion, and its fertile ground and water resources hold the potential to power and feed much of the continent. And the United States remains committed to assisting all three countries in sustainably harnessing those resources, using them to combat poverty, hunger, and conflict and to unlock the potential of their people.

Our partnership was critical in stopping outbreaks of Ebola and yellow fever in the mid-2010s in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Central African Republic, the Agency works to help mitigate conflict between communities, to conserve wildlife and natural resources, and to improve child and maternal health. And just this year, we entered a new phase of the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment, which helps monitor and protect environmental resources and biodiversity in the Congo basin.

In this new, greatly important position, John will lead these initiatives and more. It’s a big job, but also a kind of homecoming. His whole career, he has, as he puts it, “nibbled around the edges” of the DRC. This is your chance, John, to take a big bite. And as the posting includes leading programs within the Central African Republic, it’s a full-circle moment as well.

I am so glad that you are taking up this post—with your deep sense of civic responsibility, your love for and experience in Africa, and your heroic leadership during some of Africa’s most challenging crises, as well as those in the Middle East. It’s only the latest example of your commitment to your father’s long-ago motto—and I have every confidence that you will leave our boat—in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond, much better than you found it.

Thank you so much, and thanks Angelique, and Malaika, and the rest of your family, for supporting you as you yet again answer the call of service.

Last updated: August 05, 2022

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