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Statement of Senator Coons on Nominations for Ambassadors to Kenya, Botswana

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I am pleased to call to order the first Africa Subcommittee nomination hearing, and will start by saying I am both humbled and honored to assume the chair. Africa is a continent of tremendous strategic importance to the United States and the world, and I am extremely grateful to Senator Kerry and my colleagues on the Committee for entrusting me with the gavel.

I look forward to working with my friend Senator Isakson to accomplish a shared vision and strategic goals, and hope to serve as a model for bipartisan cooperation on issues pertaining to Africa in the 112th Congress and beyond.

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about my predecessor, Senator Feingold, who chaired this subcommittee for four years with great integrity, focus, and resolve. I only hope to bring to the table the degree of substance, direction, and drive which made Russ Feingold such a well-respected Senator and Chairman of this subcommittee.

Today, I am honored to chair the confirmation hearing for Ms. Michelle Gavin, nominated to be ambassador to Botswana, and Major General Scott Gration, nominated to be ambassador to Kenya. While different countries with divergent histories, accomplishments and challenges, the issues we will discuss today in the context of Botswana and Kenya -- governance, democratic institutions, health initiatives, human rights, trade, counterterrorism, U.S. interests and a broader regional strategy -- will serve as focal points for the Africa Subcommittee.

Kenya has special meaning for me, as I developed a deep interest in Africa during my junior year of college when studying at the University of Nairobi and traveling through Kenya and Tanzania to immerse myself in African culture. After college, I wrote about anti-apartheid divestiture strategies while serving as an analyst for a research center in Washington. I subsequently returned to Africa on behalf of the South African Council of Churches, so my ties to both Kenya and Africa are both professional and personal.

Today's nominees bring to their positions equally meaningful experiences. Ms. Michelle Gavin knows this subcommittee extremely well, having served as the staff director under Senator Feingold, for whom she also served as Foreign Policy Advisor. Following her tenure with Senator Feingold, Ms. Gavin was Legislative Director for Senator Salazar. Most recently, Ms. Gavin served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council. Prior to joining the NSC, Ms. Gavin was an Adjunct Fellow for Africa and an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she focused on democracy and governance issues. Perhaps most importantly, I am extremely proud that we are both Truman Scholars.

General Scott Gration most recently served as the President's Special Envoy from March 2009 until just last week, when Ambassador Princeton Lyman was appointed to the post. I recently met with Ambassador Lyman and look forward to working with him on priorities relating to Sudan, such as humanitarian conditions in Darfur and preparations for Southern Sudan's impending independence, for which both General Gration and Ms. Gavin have played an instrumental role in their former capacities. Today, I look forward to hearing from General Gration lessons he learned as Sudan Envoy that may apply to Kenya, with a particular focus on human rights and accountability.

General Gration served in the United States Air Force from 1974 to 2006, where he began his career as an F-5 and F-16 instructor pilot, including a two-year assignment with the Kenya Air Force. In 1995, General Gration took command of an Operations Group in Saudi Arabia during the Khobar Towers bombing. The following year, he was transferred to Turkey to oversee Operation Northern Watch, enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq. Since then, he has served as Deputy Director for Operations in the Joint Staff; Director of Regional Affairs for the Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs; and commander of the Joint Task Force-West during Operation Iraqi Freedom, among other roles. General Gration speaks Swahili and has served as the CEO of Millennium Villages, an organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty, as well as Safe Water Network, an organization helping to provide safe water to vulnerable populations in India, Bangladesh, and Ghana.

I look forward to hearing from both of you about how we can advance U.S. interests in Botswana and Kenya -- two strong allies which play distinct yet critical regional roles. Since the 1960s, Botswana has moved on a path of outstanding governance and economic growth. It is a model for stability in Southern Africa and a close partner of the United States, including in its extraordinary battle with HIV/AIDS. I look forward to hearing from Ms. Gavin about how we can continue to deepen bilateral ties in a matter that furthers shared diplomatic, political, and economic goals in the region.

I look forward to hearing from General Gration about the role he will play during this critical period as Kenya implements a new constitution and prepares for elections, emerging from the dark experience of the 2007-2008 violence in a manner that holds those responsible to account at the International Criminal Court. As President Obama has said, the United States "…stand[s] with the Kenyan people as they reach for a better future," and I hope that brighter future is near, especially as it relates to democracy, accountability, and national reconciliation.

I would now like to turn to the distinguished Ranking Member, with whom I am honored to serve, for his opening remarks. Senator Isakson.

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