Good afternoon, and thank you for coming today for this very special event to honor and swear in Larry Wohlers as the next U.S. Ambassador to Central African Republic. I would like to particularly welcome Ambassador Kembe, who is the Central African Republic’s Ambassador in Washington and our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnny Carson. I also want to welcome Smithsonian Under Secretary Kurin and his staff.
Most importantly, I wish to recognize Larry’s wife, Ann; his mother, Barbara Wohlers; their children, Christopher and Marion; and his brother Paul and Paul’s wife Mary Jo.
Larry Wohlers and I have a lot in common. First of all, we both have foreign service officers as parents. In 1952, at the inception of the United States Information Agency – USIA -- Larry’s mother accompanied his father, Lester, to Tito’s Yugoslavia, where he was the USIA country film officer.
They also served in Japan, and finally Pakistan. Larry knows what it is like to change locations, schools, and cultures every few years – and he willingly succeeded his father in the “family business,” as a successful and respected American diplomat.
Larry and I also share a firm belief in the power of public diplomacy, as well as a love for Africa. Larry has served in Benin, Mauritania, CAR and Madagascar. His assignments included senior tours of duty as Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union.
Larry then provided leadership to the public diplomacy function during the interim period between administrations, as the Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy in 2008. When I was nominated for Under Secretary, Larry was a valuable advisor and guide as I wended my way through the confirmation process.
More recently, Larry brought his passion and leadership to the Smithsonian Institution where, as Senior Advisor for International Programs, he capitalized on the strengths of both the Smithsonian and the State Department to strengthen our cooperation for engagement with other nations.
Now Larry will be our Ambassador to the Central African Republic. This is appropriate recognition for his achievements and leadership skills. It is also a most fitting assignment, for Larry Wohlers served in CAR twenty five years ago as our Public Affairs Officer. At that time, he oversaw the construction of the Martin Luther King cultural center – and I am pleased to say that this center is still operational in Bangui today.
I am also delighted to tell you that this year, 15 years after USIA withdrew from CAR, we will be sending a new PAO to that country – a clear signal of our commitment to strengthening our public diplomacy there and across the continent of Africa.
Our need for deep engagement and real dialogue with the people and government of the Central African Republic has grown. Our interests in CAR are to promote better governance, democratic institutions and human rights, and to help support U.S. interests.
In naming Larry Wohlers our Ambassador to Central African Republic, the President has affirmed our confidence that Larry’s knowledge and experience will make him an effective steward of American policy interests in the country.
I know that Larry Wohlers will be both a good friend to the people and government of Central African Republic, and a strong advocate for U.S. foreign policy goals in our bilateral relationship. Larry told me that he and his wife convinced our Foreign Service Institute to give them a month of intensive training in the Sango (SAN-GOH) language, so he can engage more effectively with the people of the Central African Republic – and I am certain that he will succeed with this, as he has succeeded so often throughout his career.
Therefore, Larry, it is my pleasure to invite you to the podium, so we may proceed to swear you in as America’s 5th Chief of Mission to the Central African Republic.