A View from the CT Foxhole: Donald Yamamoto, United States Ambassador to Somalia.

Author:Warner, Jason
 
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CTC: You told us earlier today that you hold the distinguished title of being the longest-serving foreign service officer in the State Department. What stands out, really from an outsider's perspective, is the profound degree of experience you have on the African continent. How did that come about, and what have been the issues you have worked on?

Yamamoto: I started off as a Middle East expert, and then because I was able to speak some Asian languages, the Asia Bureau recruited me to serve as Ambassador Michael Mansfield's chief of staff because of his desire to have a Japanese speaker. I had great experiences working with great ambassadors: Michael Mansfield, who [was] the longest-serving Senate Majority leader, and of course later on with Vice President [Walter] Mondale when he was ambassador to Tokyo. And then in China, as the human rights officer with James Lilley, who was the station chief for President Bush 41 when he was the head of the mission.

Going to Africa probably offers an opportunity that you don't have in other embassies. We have over 270 embassies, diplomatic missions, and consulates worldwide. As a young ofcer, you're assigned sometimes to a big embassy, and your job has a very focused scope. But [with] Africa, we have limited human resources, and we expect everyone to assume multiple roles in a significant and dynamic manner.

And in that context, right now particularly in the service because we had not hired for so long, we have a lot of people retiring. And so the corps is really young. Maybe 65 percent to 70 percent have less than 10 years of service, and most of them have less than five years of service. So it's a very, very young service, and we expect them to do a lot of work. In Somalia, I include my staff, which is not very many, when we go meet the president [of Somalia], the prime minister, local leaders, they're there in the meetings with me. When we're talking to [U.S. AFRICOM Commander] General [Stephen] Townsend, I'll have a couple of young officers there with me to understand what the military's doing. And then we have our daily and weekly meetings with the most senior officials in Somalia but also with our U.S. military personnel at the different commands. And our staff is right there. So it's an opportunity that you do not see in very many embassies in the world. It's a very unusual operation.

The State Department and the military are very similar in one regard. You have combatant commanders, regional combatant commanders [in the U.S. military]. Same thing at the State Department; we have regional assistant secretaries. So I did two stints as Acting [Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs], and it's like the combatant commanders. You really have a lot of authority and say over your personnel, your budgeting. And Africa is probably the newest of the regional bureaus. We have about 1,500 or so officers and then 3,200 interagency staff and about 14,000 local staff and a number of dependents working in our embassies focused on Africa.

What we did, evolutionary-wise [as concerns U.S. policy in Africa] was how to help transition Africa from colonial to post-colonial to development, to a model were countries move toward self-reliance. For instance, we had [former U.S. Ambassador Ryan] Crocker and the others who were looking at this transition in South Africa. The second major issue for U.S.-Africa policy was how to forgive debt. And so simultaneously, we have to help countries transition from post-colonial to development to self-reliance by forgiving debt, we thought we could get countries back on their feet and become stable.

A third sector that U.S. policy has focused on is democracy and governance issues. We had very few countries which were democratically elected at this moment in time. You've got to use that term very loosely because [democracy] is still an evolving process. But now we have probably two dozen African countries that are democratically elected, again, with varying levels of freedom and fairness in their elections.

Then the next phase [the fourth aspect of U.S.-Africa policy] is, of course, security and terrorism. After 9/11, there has been profound change in this area. You have not only the rise of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups within certain countries but also international groups affiliated with ISIS and al-Qa`ida, including, of course, al-Shabaab in Somalia. So those are some of the areas that we're seeing trendlines [in].

CTC: As we're at this 30,000-foot view of trying to understand what the U.S...

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