The U.S. finally fills key diplomatic posts in Africa

U.S. Embassy in South Africa

U.S. Embassy in South Africa

BY JIBRIL TURE

Before Congress adjourned for its current recess earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee chaired by Senator Lindsey Graham finally confirmed the heads of U.S. diplomatic missions in key African countries, thereby filling positions that have been vacant for very long, in some cases since Trump came to power more than two-and-a-half years ago.

Many critics have viewed the delay in filling these positions as one among several proofs of the Trump administration’s little interest in the African continent.

The diplomatic posts thus filled include Nigeria, with H.E. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard; Egypt, with H.E. Ambassador Jonathan R. Cohen; Cote d’Ivoire, with H.E. Ambassador Richard K. Bell; Libya, with H.E. Ambassador Richard B. Norland; the African Union, with H.E. Ambassador Jessica E. Lapenn; and Malawi, with H.E. Ambassador Robert K. Scott.

Mary Berth Leonard, the new U.S. envoy in Nigeria, was previously U.S. ambassador with the African Union and in Mali. A career diplomat, Leonard is replacing another career officer in Abuja, W. Stuart Symington, who faced the tough task of managing the relations between the two countries during the challenging changing of the guards in Washington in January 2017 and the Nigerian presidential election that followed just a month later.

Jonathan R. Cohen, heading to Cairo, leaves the U.S. Mission at the United Nations just when Trump’s pick for that position, Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft, takes charge in New York.

If Ambassador Lapenn is replacing her colleague Leonard after two-and-a-half years as the U.S. envoy in South Africa, the candidate to fill her previous post in Pretoria has so far not been confirmed.

The position of U.S. Envoy in South Africa, a high-profile diplomatic post on the African continent, has been vacant since the end of 2016 when Ambassador Patrick Gaspard—appointed by President Obama—left. Lana Marks, the South African-born fashion designer Donald Trump nominated last November for the post won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but her name did not appear on the list of nominees presented for approval before the congressional recess earlier this month. (A contact of “The African Magazine” we reached today by phone at the State Department declined to to provide us with any explanation.)

Several news articles have pointed out the personal ties between Donald Trump and the would-be-U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and her husband. The reports mention their membership in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Not surprisingly, though, during her appearance before the Senate Subcommittee on Africa, Lana Marks (born in South Africa, who came to the United States in 1974,) pointed to her South African heritage, her business experience and her ability to speak three of the 11 official languages in South Africa.

In addition to the long-awaited confirmation of these diplomats, the White House has a new director for Africa, Elizabeth Erin Walsh.

The personnel changes come at the end of the slow roll-out of Trump’s ‘Prosper Africa Africa policy designed to foster U.S. trade and investment in Africa as a means to counter growing Chinese influence on the continent.

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