Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs: Who Is Linda Thomas-Greenfield?

Friday, July 05, 2013

The next head of the State Department Bureau of African Affairs, which handles relations with 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, will be a career diplomat who has focused her career on Africa. President Barack Obama has nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has been director general of the Foreign Service and director of Human Resources since April 2012, to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate as expected, she would succeed Johnnie Carson, a former ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda, who served from 2008 to 2012. 

 

Born in Baker, Louisiana, circa 1952, Linda Thomas-Greenfield earned a BA in Political Science at Louisiana State University in 1974 and an MA in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin in 1976.

 

Thomas-Greenfield taught political science at Bucknell University before joining the Foreign Service in 1982. Her first assignment came that year as a consular officer in Kingston, Jamaica. In Africa, she has served in Nigeria (for two and a half years), Gambia (for three years) and Kenya.

 

Her sojourn in Kenya was not without incident. After just nine months there, in 1995 she told Keith B. Richburg of The Washington Post, that her home in Nairobi had been burglarized five times. An electric fence failed to stop intruders so the local police agreed to station two officers on her grounds. But then the officers began demanding side money for their services. “I've gotten to the point where I'm more afraid not to give them money,” she said. “They're sitting outside with automatic weapons.”

 

In April 1994 she was sent to Rwanda on an official visit to assess refugee conditions, but two days after she arrived, the plane of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down, and the Rwandan genocide broke out. Six-feet tall and black, Thomas-Greenfield was mistaken for a Tutsi. Hutu soldiers held a machine gun to her head, while she begged for her life, emphasizing her Louisiana accent: “I don't have anything to do with this. I'm not a Rwandan. I'm an American.” She then watched as the soldiers killed a Tutsi gardener. A few days later, she was allowed to leave Rwanda.

 

Other overseas postings have included stints in Pakistan and Switzerland, where she served at the U.S. Mission to the many UN organizations that have their headquarters there.

 

In Washington, Thomas-Greenfield served as a staff assistant in the Office of the Director General of the Foreign Service from 1991 to 1993; in the Bureau of Human Resources; as a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration from 2004 to 2006; and as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs from 2006 to 2008.

 

From 2008 to 2012, Thomas-Greenfield served as ambassador to Liberia. In 2005, she had led a State Department delegation that observed the Liberian national elections.

 

Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her husband, Lafayette, have two children, Lindsay and Lafayette II.

 

-Matt Bewig, David Wallechinsky

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography

Diversity Network Leadership Interview Series (by Diversity in Global Education Network)

Thomas-Greenfield Likely Choice for Assistant Secretary (by Tami Hultman and Reed Kramer, allAfrica)

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