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Name: Knight, James
Current Position: Previous Ambassador

The troubled African nation of Chad will soon have a new ambassador from the U.S., a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who has spent almost his entire career serving in Africa. James A. Knight will succeed career diplomat Mark Boulware, who has served as U.S. Ambassador in ‘'Djamena since September 2010.


Born circa 1949, James Alcorn Knight served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from 1970 to 1973. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. at Wichita State University and a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1988, with a dissertation entitled, “Being Twareg: Social Order and Process in Central Niger.


Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Knight worked as a software developer in the private sector and an economic development specialist for the U.S. Agency for International Development in the African nation of Niger.


At the State Department, Knight's early career assignments included service as the general services officer at the embassy in Lagos, Nigeria; political, economic and consular officer at the embassy in Banjul, Gambia, from 1993 to 1995; political officer at the embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, from 1995 to 1998; and country affairs officer for Ethiopia in the Department’s Office of East African Affairs from 1998 to 2001.


Knight then served two straight stints as deputy chief of mission, first at the embassy in Praia, Cape Verde, from 2001 to 2003, and then at the embassy in Luanda, Angola, from 2004 to 2006. Like many other non-Middle East specialists, Knight was called on to serve a “hardship posting” in Iraq, serving as team leader of the Ninewa Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul from 2006 to 2007.


Back in Washington, Knight served from 2007 to 2009 as director of the Office of East African Affairs, which has purview over relations with Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda.


Knight was appointed to his first ambassadorship by President Barack Obama in 2009, serving as ambassador to the West African nation of Benin from September 2009 to December 2012, when he was appointed assistant chief of mission at the embassy in Baghdad.


Knight and his wife, Dr. Amelia Rector (Bell) Knight, a crisis management specialist at the Foreign Service Institute, have three sons and a daughter. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Henry Massey Rector (Democrat), who was governor of Arkansas from 1860 to 1862, and James Lusk Alcorn (Whig/Republican), who was governor of Mississippi from 1870 to 1871, U.S. Senator from 1871 to 1877, and founder of Alcorn State University. In 2008, the Knights contributed to the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.


Through no apparent fault of his own, Knight has been, in a sense, victimized by the notorious Internet confidence artists of Nigeria, who have run a scam using Knight's name.


To Learn More:

Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (pdf)


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