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Alum named U.S. Ambassador

Nicole Michels | Friday, November 30, 2012

Geneva to Quebec City, Lisbon to Maputo, Rabat, Geneva, Port-au-Prince and Guayaquil. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths, a member of the Class of 1986, has traveled the world as a part of the United States Foreign Service corps, representing U.S. interests abroad. President Barack Obama appointed Griffiths to his current post as American ambassador to Mozambique in March of this year.

Griffiths said his skill set allowed him to contribute to the advancement of U.S. interests in global health, refugee and migration affairs, but of all his time in the corps two periods stand out.

“I was fortunate to work on the South Africa desk at the State Department just after Nelson Mandela’s election and during the transition to democracy. I had front row seats for an exhilarating moment in history and had the honor of working closely with an inspiring group of South Africans,” Griffiths said. “Serving as Deputy Chief of Mission and acting Ambassador in Haiti during its own return to democracy was another high note.”

“Although my family was evacuated due to violence and instability, it was a privilege to lead a dedicated group of Haitians and Americans at the Embassy who brought essential services to the Haitian people in difficult conditions.”

From 2006 to 2009, Griffiths served as the principal officer at the consulate general in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and since 2009 Griffiths has been the deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.  Griffiths said this time in Geneva was formative and allowed him to explore his interests in international humanitarian development.

“It was particularly rewarding to advance U.S. interests in global health, refugee and migration affairs and economic development,” Griffiths said.  “I enjoy the challenge of multilateral diplomacy, negotiating complex agreements with a constantly changing constellation of interlocutors.”

January will mark his 25th year in the Foreign Service, but his desire to serve others originated much earlier, Griffiths said.

“I studied government at Notre Dame and spent a year in Angers, [France], so Notre Dame gave me great formal preparation for the Foreign Service. … Notre Dame’s emphasis on service very much guided my career choice,” Griffiths said. “I learned of the Foreign Service through a dorm-mate who was registering to take the Foreign Service exam. … Diplomacy has been a perfect match for me, I love changing jobs every two to three years as we rotate around the world.”
As American Ambassador in Mozambique, Griffiths said he works to build a prosperous, stable and democratic Mozambique

“I lead an embassy of over 100 American and Mozambican colleagues joined by almost 200 Peace Corps volunteers,” Griffiths said. “We have an ambitious development cooperation program in Mozambique and we are making impressive strides in fostering economic growth, reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, stimulating rural development and improving education.

“Mozambique has had a decade of impressive economic growth, therefore we are working hard to improve the prospects for American companies here, leading to job creation in both countries.”

The goal for the American Embassy in Mozambique is to help the people recover from a long war waged to win independence from Portugal and a brutal civil war, Griffiths said.  

“With enormous reserves of coal and natural gas, Mozambique is on the brink of significant economic development. … Our goal is to help Mozambique invest those resources productively in their people,” Griffiths said.  “Despite economic growth and investment development in the major cities, human development indicators remain very low.  We’re collaborating closely with Mozambican officials and private and faith-based organizations to ensure that economic growth translates into improved living standards.”

Griffiths said the collaboration with American partners is particularly strong, because all involved parties want to attract American companies to Mozambique to create jobs in both countries.

Griffiths is based in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.  He mostly interacts with senior government officials, business people, opinion leaders and other representatives of civil society.  Communicating with community leaders is very easy because the embassy-workers and national partners all speak Portuguese, Griffiths said.

“It is easy to form strong partnerships,” Griffiths said.  “However, when traveling up country only the most educated people speak fluent Portuguese, so we depend on local partners to communicate in the 13 main indigenous languages.  My wife Alicia has started studying Shangana, the dominate language in Southern Mozambique.  I’ll start in the new year, once I’m finished shaking off the vestiges of Spanish from my Portuguese.”

Griffiths said he also makes an effort to travel to the development cooperative sites so that he can see the results of decisions for himself.

“Last month I drove north to visit some of our aid projects,” Griffiths said.  “At every site we were greeted with songs of celebration … with relatively small investments we are transforming lives and communities.  I feel very fortunate to see these tangible contributions of American foreign assistance and to feel the gratitude of our partners.”

His family has assimilated into the country very easily, Griffiths said.  

“The climate is just about perfect, and the capital Maputo is charming.  Mozambique is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and spectacular savannahs,” Griffiths said.  “Our two teenaged daughters, true global nomads, are delighted to be back in an area where community service can be an important part of our lives.”

Contact Nicole Michels at
nmichels@nd.edu