U.S. Ambassador to Somalia: Who Is Stephen Schwartz?

Saturday, August 13, 2016
Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Michael Schwartz, a career member of the Foreign Service, on June 27, 2016, was sworn in as the first U.S. Ambassador to Somalia in 25 years.


Schwartz was born in Buffalo, New York, son of Robert and Carole Schwartz, and grew up there. As he got older, he worked at his family’s bowling alley and attended Williamsville South High School, graduating in 1976. It was at Williamsville where he took a class in Afro-Asian cultures that he later credited as spurring an interest in that part of the world.


Schwartz earned a B.S. from Miami University of Ohio in 1980. He later earned two master’s degrees—an M.A. from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in 1988 and an M.S. from the National War College in 2008.


Schwartz quickly got a look at Africa after college, joining the Peace Corps in 1981 as a volunteer in Cameroon. In 1985 he returned to the Peace Corps, this time as a staffer, and served as the country desk officer for Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. He also helped establish the Peace Corps’ program in Chad in 1987.


Schwartz joined the U.S. State Department in 1992. His first posting was as a consular officer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, eventually becoming a political officer there. He also served as a general services officer in Bujumbura, Burundi; and political officer in Nairobi, Kenya.


Schwartz served two tours as East African desk officer; the first from 1994 to 1995, the second from 1996 to 1998, when he was made special assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs.


In 1999, Schwartz was given one of his few assignments not in Africa, serving as a political-economic officer in the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Two years later he was in Pretoria, South Africa, as a political officer. He remained in Africa for a while, moving in 2004 to Port Louis, Mauritius, as Deputy Chief of Mission.


Schwartz returned to the United States in 2007 as Deputy Director of the Office of Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island Affairs. He was back in Africa in 2010, this time as Deputy Chief of Mission in Lusaka, Zambia. His stay was shorter, though, returning to Washington in 2013 as Director of the Office of West African Affairs, during which time Schwartz helped coordinate the U.S. response to the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of hundreds of girls in Nigeria.


In 2015, Schwartz was made Director of the Office of Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Island Affairs, a post he held until assuming the Somalia job. Schwartz will mostly work out of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, staying in a bunker at the Mogadishu airport when he’s in Somalia.


Schwartz’s wife, Kristy Cooke, and their two children adopted from Ethiopia, Hannah and Jonas, will remain in the United States. Schwartz speaks French and Spanish.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Biography

From Williamsville South to the Diplomatic Mission of a Lifetime, Schwartz Tackles Challenge of Somalia (by Jerry Zremski, Buffalo News)


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