ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here with us today, and thank you, Monde, for kicking us off.
I want to thank Ambassador Meg Whitman, a great colleague and collaborator who I know David – and the whole team in Kenya – are excited to have at the helm. She’s been in Nairobi just a few short months. I missed her on my trip unfortunately by a week, but we’ve had a number of contacts and hope that with our new Mission Director in place we’ll have many many more. Ambassador Whitman was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. I'm not sure that there’s anything other than Meg Whitman that 100 U.S Senators can agree upon, but it’s a great tribute to her.
One of the things that was really great to learn in talking to David before this session is the ways in which Ambassador Whitman already has gotten to know the power and expertise and grace of our Foreign Service Nationals at USAID. Apparently it didn’t take Ambassador Whitman long. She went on a field trip and was led by one of our Foreign Service Nationals and came back and said something along the lines of: these people are amazing. We need to integrate them better across the board, across our Mission, on trips and alike. That is just wonderful to hear from Nairobi, it’s absolutely the spirit in which we are trying to make real the Foreign Service National Empowerment Agenda. And when a Chief of Mission recognizes all that we have to learn from our Foreign Service Nationals, it’s a game changer for the whole Embassy, for the whole Mission. So we are thrilled about that, among many other aspects of Ambassador Whitman’s leadership.
I want to thank Kenya’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Marc Dillard. Marc has been with the State Department for almost 25 years working on economic issues around the world, a passion that David shares as well – which I will come back to.
We have with us a few very special guests, three of our Foreign Service Nationals who will be working with David in Kenya. We have Betty Mugo, who serves as a Gender Advisor; Mary Ngima, who is one of our Food Aid and Commodity Specialists; and Joseph Chege, who is a Food Security Project Management Specialist. Welcome to you all, thank you for being here.
While they couldn’t make it in person today, I’d like to welcome David’s family. His mother Nancy is watching from their family home in Palo Alto, and his sister Diane, who also lives in California, is joining us today from her vacation all the way in New Zealand. We also have David’s uncle Bob watching from New Mexico, welcome to you all!
And a big thank you to those joining from the Mission in Kenya. I know you’re watching on a Friday night after work, you might have been tempted to do a few other things on Friday night after work – after a long week at a really really tough time there in Kenya. But also a hopeful time in the wake of a successful and effective political transition – peaceful transition – but thank you for making time to be here to make the swearing-in of David official, who of course you’ve had the chance to work with for a number of weeks now.
Born in San Diego, since day one – as David’s mother puts it – our next Kenya Mission Director was, “in constant motion.”
There was not a tree or jungle gym that he left unchallenged, David climbed everything he could. One of his favorite things to do was to run full speed down the hallway and slide on his knees across the floor to land in front of the TV. David’s family jokes that Sears changed their “return for any reason” policy on clothes because David’s infamous slides put holes in far too many pairs of jeans.
David also had quite the knack for debate; his mother aptly called him, “the great negotiator.” He was so good that one time, when David and his friends wanted to go on a ski trip, David was the one tasked with convincing other parents who were holding out to let everyone go. After the ‘negotiations,’ David’s mother heard from the parents, they told her, “David left us no reason to say no, he countered all our objections perfectly” – useful training for all that field negotiating!
And of course, as a California kid, David loved the outdoors. Going to the beach, boogie boarding, and swimming were second nature. David also spent a lot of time with his uncle Bob who took him and his cousins on countless camping trips where they would canoe and hike – hobbies David still loves to this day.
In keeping with his love for nature, for college David moved up the coast to Northern California and attended Humboldt State, which is just a short drive from both Redwood National Park and the beach.
It wasn’t until after graduation that David took his first trip abroad and it happened to be with the Peace Corps. For two years, David served in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where he taught math and science at a secondary school.
After the Peace Corps, David moved back to the U.S and got his master’s in International Affairs at Columbia, but his time in Zimbabwe sparked a love that compelled David to spend nearly twenty years so far serving overseas with USAID.
Since 2004, David has been a Foreign Service Officer. He was immediately thrown into the deep end. His first overseas assignment was in Iraq just a year after the war began.
There, David helped manage what was the largest economic growth program in the Agency's history at that time. He was also the economic development team’s point person for welcoming new staff and helping them transition into a very difficult operating environment. It was David’s ability to connect and relate with others that made him an ideal fit for this assignment.
One colleague said, “David is a caring, compassionate, and even-keeled leader, who is committed to the welfare of his team first, and the impact of the team's efforts second.”
After a year in Iraq, David went to Tbilisi where he served for more than four years. There, he worked closely with the government to remove bureaucratic obstacles that transformed the nation’s business environment. David facilitated a massive reform that permitted businesses to shorten their registration process with the government from months to a single day, removing massive backlogs and cutting red tape. And we will be consulting David as we deepen our burden busting efforts here, and really start to lighten the load on our Mission staff and others who are immersed in bureaucratic and administrative burdens.
David’s time there also coincided with Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and much of his work transitioned to recovery efforts that helped the country’s economy rebound after the invasion.
His next posting took him to South Sudan just as it became the world’s newest nation. As one colleague said, “David was the heart and soul of our South Sudan Mission. He provided utterly brilliant leadership to our economic growth team by throwing himself into a number of challenges, digging into the details, and leaving no stone unturned to quickly become a rural development expert in this highly complex conflict setting.”
David did everywhere he went, he worked closely with our Foreign Service Nationals to develop thoughtful and impactful programs. David also served as a mentor to many FSNs who survived years of violence during the civil war.
After a posting in Thailand, David returned to South Sudan in 2016 as Deputy Mission Director. Unfortunately, after David’s first stint there a civil war broke out, and during his return, it intensified. The Mission was under orders to evacuate but David was one of five remaining direct hires still in Juba. Many South Sudanese staff were relocated to Uganda and Kenya for their safety, and David worked directly with them to make sure they were safe and that their individual concerns and needs were met.
After what was a trying posting, David did not take a break and went to El Salvador as our Deputy Mission Director, and a year later he became our Mission Director. During his first few years, the prior Administration had frozen all assistance to El Salvador. This time was particularly difficult for our Mission staff. Many had been there for years and were concerned about the security of their jobs – especially our Salvadoran staff. But as one colleague said “despite all the hiccups and uncertainty, David navigated this time as gracefully as possible. He was in constant communication with our staff to make sure they felt heard and understood.”
Once funding was restored, David helped reimplement programs that were previously stalled and oversaw a number of new ones.
And as we all know, David is now in Kenya, where he’s been serving for a few months during what is such a trying time for the region.
For years, East Africa was on the upswing after sustained investment. Economies were growing, democracy was strengthening, and conflict was subsiding. But in recent years, a deluge of compounding factors have rolled back many of these gains.
The entire region is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Many nations are dealing with sizable debts they incurred to keep their economies afloat during the pandemic.
And the Horn has been ravaged by a historic drought. This summer I traveled there and witnessed firsthand the devastation. Farmland is turning to dust, millions of livestock have died, and as of this month, 21 million people are on the brink of starvation. This drought comes as the price of food and fertilizer has risen globally – which of course exacerbates the crisis. It makes it hard for people to buy as much fertilizer as they once did, thus planting less than they once did, thus compounding the food crisis.
The U.S government is stepping in and helping countries deal with this crisis. USAID has provided $1.2 billion to the Horn to try to stave off additional starvation and death. America’s contributions to the World Food Program appeal, though, account for 89 percent of their emergency appeal for the Horn of Africa. This is not the ideal division of labor for a crisis that imperils so many. We need other donors and nations to step up to support humanitarian efforts in the Horn, and David and I discussed all the ways that we intend to work together to raise the alarm and profile of this crisis amidst so many competing needs globally.
The region is also unfortunately plagued by conflict and rising authoritarianism. Last year, the military crushed dreams of a democratic opening in Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be bogged down by violence and instability. And the conflict in Northern Ethiopia – on top of the devastating drought – has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Civilians have borne the brunt of that conflict. And after the truce fell apart, nine million people now have been cut off from their only source of food with humanitarian corridors completely shuttered. Nearly one million people are at risk of famine, and those who are severely malnourished will start to die at alarming rates – especially those under the age of five.
But with all of that plaguing this part of the world, and affecting those in Northern Kenya, where David and the team will be spending a lot of time, the truth is, East Africa remains still a vibrant region full of opportunity and potential for growth. Last year, Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president and her administration has signaled an openness to democratic reforms and changes to laws that have been used by other administrations to oppress civil society.
The East Africa Regional Mission is a crucial part of our Prosper Africa initiative which encourages American companies to invest in Africa. In Kenya, starting in 2018, with a $35 million investment from USAID, we have mobilized over $310 million from the private sector to grow key sectors of the economy and have helped create almost 2,000 new jobs.
The Kenya Mission has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of our development work and supercharging the Agency’s localization efforts. The Mission has increased implementation through local partners and is finding creative ways to include Kenyan voices in the planning and execution of programs – many of which are led by our incredibly talented FSN staff.
As someone who spent much of his career in East Africa, David will be a key piece of accelerating our efforts in the region. And as he’s done his whole career, David will empower our staff and elevate their needs, always prioritizing them.
He’s only been there for a few months but he’s already made quite an impact. As one colleague said, “David is such a great team player that despite his discomfort with karaoke, he took the entire office out for an evening belting out tunes across the decades.”
David, on my next visit, I need to see those karaoke skills! But I know especially given your background in catalyzing economic growth, and thinking about jobs and economic opportunity and your knowledge about the link between economic opportunity and democratic progress – because they go hand in hand – you are just the perfect person for this job at this time.
Before I invite David to come up, I want to thank your friends and family for supporting you along this journey. This is not an easy life, an itinerant life, where you invest so much in the communities where you are deployed. But you have served this Agency and this country and the communities in which you’ve worked so beautifully over time. We know that has come with sacrifice, a sacrifice of being away from loved ones, so we are incredibly grateful to you all for having David’s back and for always being there for him – virtually, across the oceans and through long flights and connections. So we’re delighted to share this swearing in with you in a new way and we think with family tuning in, that really reflects how these jobs are really lived out in the real world, and how these lives are lived that put Mission Directors like David in a position to take on such responsibility and do such good around the world.
So thanks to all of you, thanks to you, David, for answering the call yet again. We’re excited to make this official, so come on up!