I am honored to chair this hearing for the ambassadorial nominees to Kenya and Lithuania, Ambassador Robert Godec and Ms. Deborah Ann McCarthy. Both nominees have impressive records of accomplishment in the Foreign Service and I look forward to hearing their priorities for advancing U.S. policy and interests. I am also pleased to be joined by my good friend and Ranking Member, Senator Isakson, as well as Senator Durbin.
Kenya has special meaning for me. The first time I ever set foot in Africa was as a college student studying at the University of Nairobi and later volunteering in the late "80s at an orphanage in Ngong Hills. My experience in Kenya was transformative, as it changed my perspective and gave me a new sense of purpose in the world. This May, I returned to Kenya for the first time in twenty-five years, as Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee.
In Nairobi, I had the opportunity to speak at the Kenyan National Prayer Breakfast with President Kibaki and others, where I affirmed that the U.S. is closely watching the upcoming elections with the sincere hope that the violence and chaos that accompanied the 2007 elections can be averted. I also affirmed that the U.S. is closely watching the process surrounding this election, and will continue to work with Kenyan officials to ensure the elections are peaceful, credible, and transparent. Finally, I emphasized that the United States does not favor any one outcome or candidate, and our primary interest is ensuring the process is free and fair.
Kenya has made remarkable progress in recent years reforming its constitution, building its democratic institutions, expanding press freedom, and improving its economy and infrastructure. During my visit, I was particularly impressed with the younger generation of Kenyans and the great potential that exists among technological innovators and entrepreneurs. Despite these very positive developments, I remain concerned about the many uncertainties surrounding the elections and the chance that violence surrounding the election could place Kenya on a difficult trajectory and present very really challenges for its future.
Specifically, we are closely watching the process surrounding the new biometric voter registration, which just began last week and is scheduled to be completed on December 19. We do not know how or when party nominations will be complete, or how campaign finance will be regulated. International election monitoring has yet to be established, and it remains unclear which candidates will be eligible to run. All of these questions are compounded by uncertainty surrounding devolution efforts mandated by the new constitution, which -- while well intentioned -- also have the potential to exacerbate conflict at the local level.
Several factors may influence the outcome and aftermath of the upcoming election, including public confidence in the results; ethnic tensions surrounding national and local balloting; the presence and behavior of police and security services; messaging of the candidates; and the determination of who is eligible to run pursuant to the new constitution, which has yet to be decided by the courts.
Finally, Kenya's military involvement in Somalia, including its recent incorporation into AMISOM and its taking of the port city of Kismayo, may have an impact on Kenya's own security. Concerns remain about the presence of Al Shabaab and affiliated extremists within Kenya's borders, as well as increased instability and the potential for violence along the coast. In addition, we take seriously reports raised by human rights groups about possible abuses committed by Kenyan security forces -- sometimes in the name of counterterrorism -- and encourage the Kenyan government to hold human rights violators accountable for their actions.
Kenya is home to the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in Africa, from which a host of U.S. government agencies oversee both bilateral and regional programs. Kenya also serves as a base for regional humanitarian relief efforts and is a focal point for U.S. food security and global health initiatives. Additionally, Kenya's economy is one of Africa's largest, and it remains a regional hub for finance and transportation, as well as focal point for U.S. trade and investment.
To serve as ambassador in this critical post, President Obama has chosen wisely in nominating Ambassador Godec, who has served as the Chargé in Nairobi since August, where he has been received very positively by the Kenyan government, civil society, and NGOs. He has built a strong career as the former Ambassador to Tunisia from 2006 to 2009, and he has most recently served as the Principal Deputy Counterterrorism Coordinator in the State Counterterrorism Bureau. Prior to serving in Tunisia, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2005 to 2006. This is Ambassador Godec's second time serving in Nairobi, following a posting from 1996-1999 as Economic Counselor.
As Kenya has worked to reform and improve its democracy, Lithuania serves as a model of democratic transition since the Cold War. Lithuania was the first former Soviet Republic to declare its independence on March 11, 1990, but Moscow did not recognize this proclamation until the following year. Since then, Lithuania experienced a smooth transition to democratic elections, restructured its economy, and joined both NATO and the EU. Having just competed elections in October, our incoming ambassador must work with the new Lithuanian government to encourage economic growth and greater cooperation on energy security, as well as other issues presented by Lithuania's complex relationship with Russia and other regional actors.
Ms. McCarthy has a long and distinguished career, having served in the Foreign Service for more than 30 years. She is currently serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy Athens, Special Coordinator for Venezuelan Affairs, Senior Advisor for Counter Terrorism and as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.
I look forward to hearing from both our nominees and encourage them to introduce their families, who are the unsung heroes in terms of their sacrifice in support of service. First, let me turn to Senator Isakson for his opening remarks.