U.S. Ambassador to Mali: Who Is Paul Folmsbee?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

On September 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of career Foreign Service officer Paul Folmsbee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Mali. If he’s confirmed by the Senate, it will be the first ambassadorial post for Folmsbee.


Becoming a Foreign Service officer was just about predestined for Folmsbee. He was born in India, and grew up there and in Chiapas, Mexico, where his father, Glenn, was a missionary doctor. Folmsbee is one of four children, one of whom was adopted when the family lived in India. Folmsbee attended Kodaikanal International School in Chennai, India, but returned to the United States to graduate from Taconic Hills High School in Philmont, New York, in 1978.


Folmsbee initially planned to go into aviation and attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He did earn a pilot’s license, but then decided to change course. He went to Tabor College in Kansas, where he was a wide receiver on the school’s football team, and earned a B.A. in public administration and political science in 1982. Football wasn’t his only sport; at one time Folmsbee was a nationally ranked squash player. Folmsbee then went to the University of Oklahoma, where he earned an M.A. in Social Anthropology in 1985.


Folmsbee joined the Foreign Service in 1987. His first assignments included postings in La Paz, Bolivia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Libreville, Gabon; and Nairobi, Kenya. He also served at the U.S. Mission to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in Geneva, Switzerland and worked in the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.


In 2000, Folmsbee was sent to the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as management officer. He moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2003 in a similar role.


In 2003, Folmsbee published a novel, Flight of the Feathered Serpent, about two Icelanders who are shipwrecked in 12th century Mexico.


Folmsbee was sent to Pakistan in 2006 as director of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, working on counter-terrorism issues. The following year, he was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq as a Provincial Reconstruction Team team leader. His group worked on economic development, governance and rule of law, political reconciliation and infrastructure in the country destroyed by war.


His next assignment was far more pleasant: Folmsbee returned to India as consul general at the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai. He served there three years, delighting in displaying his Indian cooking skills. He was in Mumbai during the 2008 terror attacks and helped coordinate the American response to them.


Folmsbee was brought back to Washington in August 2012 as executive director of the Bureau of African Affairs, where he has served since.


Folmsbee speaks Spanish and French. He and his wife, Juanita, have three children: Christopher, Eric and Megan. Juanita Folmsbee, who trained as a nurse, is the Ukraine country director for an U.S. Agency for International Development entity that helps ensure medical supplies are delivered to needy countries.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Nomination Announcement

LinkedIn Profile

Daddy Cool (Upper Crust India)

State Department Cables 2006-2009 (WikiLeaks)


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