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Soon-to-Be US Ambassador to Guinea, Alex Laskaris, Concerned About a Return to “Authoritarianism”

July 13, 2012

Sept. 27, 2011:  Opposition demonstration in the streets of Conakry.  Here, security forces brutally beat the driver of opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo.  Laskaris would be wise to bring his flak jacket and helmet he undoubtedly acquired in his last posting, in Iraq, to his new job as ambassador to Guinea.

Below is the text of Alexander Laskaris’ testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his nomination hearing, July 12, for ambassador to Guinea.

After the obligatory reference to Conde as “Guinea’s” first-ever democratically-elected president,” reading between the lines reveals that Laskaris is concerned that Guinea could fall back into “authoritarianism” and that behind the “headlines” Guinea has real “social and economic challenges.”

Testimony of Alexander M. Laskaris
U.S. Ambassador-designate to the Republic of Guinea
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

July 12, 2012

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am deeply honored
to appear before you today, and grateful to President Obama and Secretary
Clinton for the confidence they have placed in me as their nominee for
Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea.
For my family and me, this is another milestone in our American
journey and our American dream, both of which began in the chaos of post-
World War II Greece. My presence here today is made possible by the land
of opportunity that embraced my late father in 1946 and my mother in 1960.
I approach an assignment in the Republic of Guinea – if confirmed –
knowing that Guinea has sent a large number of immigrants to the United
States … originally via the horrors of the African slave trade, but later in the
manner of my parents, young people seeking better lives for themselves and
their future children. A walk down 125th Street in Harlem shows part of a
prospering and vibrant Guinean-American community with which I will be
engaged, if confirmed. Together with this diaspora, a large community of
returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former missionaries and other dedicated
Americans serve as committed advocates for Guinean-American relations
and for the welfare of the Republic of Guinea.
My first exposure to the African continent was a two year stint as a
volunteer high school teacher in a township parochial school in Galeshewe,
South Africa. It was 1989 and 1990, and in those two years, I lived the
miraculous democratic transition led by men and women of goodwill; as
hitch-hiking was my only means of travel, I missed Namibian independence
by a few days, but still managed to absorb the career lesson that even the
most momentous political changes can take place peacefully and
My first exposure to the Republic of Guinea was quite the opposite
from the inspiration of South Africa. I arrived in Monrovia, Liberia – my
first Foreign Service posting in 1991 – as the countries of the Mano River
Union were falling into chaos and violence. The Guinea I first encountered
was host to some one million Liberian refugees; its armed forces served in
the West African peacekeeping force, known as the Economic Community
of West African State Monitoring Group or ECOMOG; and its government
sought to avoid the abyss from which Liberia and Sierra Leone are only now
This experience suggests to me that – if confirmed – I will be working
in a country that both supports us and needs our support. The Republic of
Guinea has recently been in the headlines for the best reasons – real
democratic progress after a succession of dictators – but the story behind the
headlines reveals the longstanding social and economic challenges that
impoverish the country and stymie its development.
My experience in a number of African conflicts tells me that past
performance is indeed an indicator of future performance when it comes to
countries emerging from dictatorship and civil conflict. To break the cycle,
to keep the Republic of Guinea from lapsing back into authoritarianism, we
need to be part of the architecture of democracy, supporting all three
branches of government plus free media and civil society. We need
engagement with the military to professionalize the force and bring it firmly,
irrevocably under elected civilian authority. We need to be engaged in
poverty relief and disease eradication, as well as in responsible mineral
exploitation and sustainable agriculture.

The Republic of Guinea achieved a landmark election in 2010, its first
free and fair democratic presidential campaign. President Alpha Conde,
who spent decades advocating for democratic change, emerged as Guinea’s
first-ever democratically-elected head of state, ending 50-years of despotic
rule and military repression. However, Guinea’s transition to a fully
functioning democracy will not be complete until the long-anticipated
legislative elections are held. I do not need to remind this chamber on the
importance of the legislative branch to sustainable democracy; if confirmed,
I will have no higher priority than helping Guinea to seat a new legislature
and then motivating that branch of government to fulfill its critical
institutional role.
In the Republic of Guinea, we have a willing but technically-limited
partner on regional and international issues. If confirmed, I will work with
the Government of Guinea on a coordinated approach to regional crises in
Mali and Guinea-Bissau; I will do my best to strengthen cooperation on
counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics issues, as well as other forms of
transnational crimes, such as trafficking in persons and money laundering. I
will also make promoting the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens my highest
priority and seek out commercial opportunities for U.S. companies.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, for the
opportunity to address you today. If confirmed, I look forward to working
with you in representing the interests of the American people in Guinea. I
am happy to answer any questions.

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