US names Yamamoto acting Secretary of State for Africa

Thursday August 31 2017

Diplomat Donald Yamamoto, who will take office

Diplomat Donald Yamamoto, who will take office next week as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. AFP PHOTO | KAREN BLEIER 

By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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NEW YORK
A career diplomat with extensive experience in the Horn has been appointed to the State Department's top Africa post on a one-year term.
News website allafrica.com reported Wednesday that Donald Yamamoto, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, will take office next week as acting Assistant Secretary of State for Africa.

Mr Yamamoto, 63, has also served as the senior US diplomat for Somalia and Eritrea. He previously worked in the same acting capacity as head of the State Department's Africa bureau during the first Obama administration.

His reported appointment fills, at least temporarily, a vacancy that has contributed to a vacuum in US policymaking regarding Africa since President Donald Trump's inauguration seven months ago.

SPECIAL ENVOYS

At the same time, however, the Trump administration is seeking to eliminate the stand-alone positions of special envoys for two conflict regions in Africa: Sudan/South Sudan and the Great Lakes/Democratic Republic of Congo.

The duties of both those jobs would be incorporated under the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently indicated.

The post of special envoy for climate change would also be scrapped as part of a decision to cut or downgrade more than half of the 66 US diplomatic slots focused on specific issues or hot spots.

The responsibilities of the US special envoy for HIV/Aids are to be enhanced, however, as Secretary Tillerson moves to reorganise and streamline a globe-spanning bureaucracy with 75,000 employees.

CIVIL WAR

Mr Yamamoto's pending appointment is drawing praise from Africa advocates in Washington, while the scale-back of special envoy posts has elicited a mixed response.

"Don Yamamoto has broad knowledge and experience, both in the field and in Washington," said former US ambassador to Kenya Johnnie Carson.

Some activists focused on Sudan and South Sudan had called for the special envoy position to be filled as the Trump administration reviews US sanctions against the Khartoum regime and remains largely silent on the civil war that has taken tens of thousands of lives in South Sudan.

Some key members of the US Congress appear willing to endorse Secretary Tillerson's internal shake-up on the grounds that many special envoy posts have outlived their usefulness.