Meet and Greet for Embassy Staff

John Kerry
   Secretary of State
Robert F. Godec
   U.S. Ambassador to Kenya
U.S. Embassy
Nairobi, Kenya
May 4, 2015

AMBASSADOR GODEC: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

AMBASSADOR GODEC: (Speaks in Swahili.)

AUDIENCE: (Speaks in Swahili.)

AMBASSADOR GODEC: It is a great, great privilege and a pleasure for me this morning to welcome to the U.S. embassy here in Nairobi our Secretary of State, John Kerry. (Speaks in Swahili), Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)

Joining the Secretary are many other distinguished guests in his party: Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall, Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield, National Security Council Senior Director Grant Harris, and many, many others. Thank you all for coming.

Mr. Secretary, here are the staff, families – the children, particularly – welcome to all of you – from this mission. Joining us are our colleagues in Kisumu and CDC Nairobi. They are all doing extraordinary work each and every single day to advance and deepen relations between Kenya and the United States but also between Somalia and the United States. And they work on so many, many different things: They work on health care, on agriculture, on trade, on security. They take care of American citizens. They assist people with visas. They help refugees. They drive vehicles. They provide maintenance. They keep us healthy. They provide security for all of us. So many, many different things, and they do their work with passion, creativity, courage, and dedication, and I am very proud to have the opportunity to serve here with them as they do their exceptional and important work.

But Mr. Secretary, most importantly, they are here this morning to hear from you. So with that, and without further ado, thank you very much for coming. Again, (speaks in Swahili), Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Bob, thank you very, very much. (Speaks in Swahili.) It’s a wonderful day to be here with all of you. (Speaks in Swahili.) (Laughter, applause.)

I’ll bet you’re just a little bit excited about President Obama coming, am I right? Absolutely. I understand you’re doing a lot of work to prepare for him. I want you to know he is very excited about coming back here, coming as President. You know he’s been here several times, but he’s very much looking forward to coming, and I am personally just overwhelmed by this panorama of people. You all work for the United States Embassy? (Laughter.)

It’s great to be here. What a wonderful, generous welcome. I’ll tell you, I served in the United States Senate for 28 years, just entering my 29th year, and it wasn’t – as a senator elected nowadays to the United States, you don’t always get quite such a nice welcome. (Laughter.) And I was walking through the airport in Boston one day. Anybody from Massachusetts here? How many people from Massachusetts? (Applause.) There. Not too many, wow. (Laughter.) Up here, yay. I just got informed – my day got ruined. I got informed that the Yankees swept the Red Sox and – (laughter, applause). Yeah. Not a good way to start the day.

But anyway, I was walking through the airport, and this guy recognized me, obviously. And sometimes you’d walk through and you’d kind of put your head down so somebody wouldn’t stop you, recognize you. And he says, “Hey you, hey. Hey you. Anybody ever tell you look like that Kerry guy down in Washington?” (Laughter.) And I said, “Yeah, they tell me that all the time.” And he says, “Kind of makes you mad, don’t it?” (Laughter.) So you gave me a much nicer, more generous welcome. I appreciate it enormously.

You are blessed to be led here by a terrific ambassador, one of our more experienced hands in the Foreign Service – who, by the way, almost missed out on the Foreign Service because he was late for his Foreign Service exam. (Laughter.) But he has served in Tunisia, he’s served in South Africa, he’s served on the South Asia and Southeast Asia and so forth. He’s really come to this job with great experience, and especially, he was here in 1998 and he comes back to Nairobi. So Bob, we’re delighted that you’re here. And Lori, thank you – a great Foreign Service officer in your own right. We’re delighted that you’re at the helm of this embassy, and I appreciate your work. Thank you. (Applause.) And well helped by DCM Isiah Parnell and many other folks who are doing the heavy lifting around here, and we thank you for that.

I understand that in this group, I have the largest number of people of any embassy I’ve been to, and I’ve now been to more than 60-some countries, so I’ve had a chance to visit with a lot of embassies. But we have 12 people who have worked here more than 30 years, which is pretty remarkable – local employees – and I want to thank them profoundly for all of us. But particularly, I understand we have two that I want to single out. Charles Ndibui is not here, I gather, but Russ LeClair is. I don’t know where Russ is. Where’s Russ? Somewhere – Russ. (Applause.) (Inaudible) served more than 40 – 40 years-plus for the United States. Thank you very, very much. Thank you.

And let me just say to everybody that when I single out a few folks, there is no way that any embassy could work anywhere without the incredible contribution of all the local employees. And we are particularly grateful to you because you bear our burdens and you work under two flags: the flag of your own nation, your love of your own country; but also your understanding of what another country is trying to do to help and be part of your future. And you have embraced that full-throatedly. So I want to thank you for all that you do to help us to be able to help you, to share our values, share our hopes, share our aspirations, share our interests, and to help to work for them. And I know every single member of our Foreign Service and civil service and all of the 28 United States agencies that are part of this great effort want to join me and President Obama in saying to all of you: Thank you for being part of this great journey. We are really appreciative. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

I am going to shortly have the privilege of going to Memorial Park and laying a wreath and meeting a few of the folks who were there and survived that terrible day in 1998. And I just want to say a special word about that and the world that we’re living in today by way of saying thank you to all of you for efforts. I’m here, as Bob said, with a very strong delegation, representing the folks in our – in the State Department: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, our assistant secretary; and Sarah Sewall, our under secretary; who have come joined with representatives from the White House and the rest of the Department, who are all here because of the importance of Kenya and the importance of Africa and the importance of the work that you are doing every single day to make a difference.

And given events here, particularly with Garissa most recently, of course the past history, we all, and you particularly, are living in a different context from almost any time previously. The world moves at a much faster pace. Not sure that’s altogether good all of the time. Called progress, but you can define it for yourselves. But the fact is that the average person wakes up every day and has more information coming at them, more instant live reporting from more places, so you get the tragedies, you get the conflicts, you get what pay-per-view and cable television and the media today obviously focus on because it attracts viewers. But you don’t necessarily get all the great stories, all the good stories, all the things that are happening that are changing the world.

And I believe there is more change for the positive than there is for the negative. I believe there is more that is happening to cure diseases, to provide education opportunity, to open up new opportunities for people despite what we see in the context of terrorism. What we see in so many countries today in this upheaval taking place through Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, other places, is really a transformation that people are demanding and a confrontation as they demand that transformation – a confrontation with modernity, sometimes a cultural clash, sometimes even religious clash.

And what I’m proud of is that our nation and those who walk in the same footsteps – our allies, our friends – understand that what is important in this world is tolerance. What is important is the ability to be able to live with other people, to reach out and come together and let other people have their beliefs – you have yours, but don’t attack each other over them. Leave the space for people to believe what they believe and to be who they want to be. That is really the hallmark of democracy. It’s the hallmark of freedom; it’s what we stand for. And I am convinced that in the end, as we keep going down this road of transformation, that will be the outcome that the vast majority of people on the face of this planet embrace. No question in my mind.

So I say thank you to you, because you are working for that transformation, every single one of you. It doesn’t matter what you do here. If you’re behind that window, interviewing somebody for a visa, you may be the first face they see of America and the person who defines for them what the road is to getting there if that’s where they want to go to, or if they just have a family reunification issue or a challenge in terms of health or medicine or care or whatever. You will make a difference in that person’s life.

And I’ve got news for you: I met a lot of people in a lot of different jobs who go to their job with a sense of drudgery, a sense of – a lack of passion. They don’t have the opportunity to say, “You know what? Today I’m getting up and I’m making a difference in the world, and I’m going to help other people, and I’m also going to do something for my country at the same time.” So in a sense, you are very, very blessed, whether you are Foreign Service, civil service, TDY, political appointee, a transfer from an agency, you are part of a great enterprise. And I just want to say a profound thank you to you on behalf of our country, on behalf of the United States of America and everybody in the world who cares about the difference that you’re making.

You are helping people deal with the scourge of HIV. You are helping to preserve the wonderful land that I got to visit yesterday – the Nairobi National Park and the orphan elephants and all of the things that you’re doing to preserve the long-term heritage of humankind. You are working on security and helping to provide improvements in governance, and you’re working with entrepreneurs. And when President Obama comes, there’ll be this enormous opportunity to infuse in people a sense of excitement about the possibilities of new jobs and new horizons in business.

So you’re working in so many different fields, making such a difference, and that really, I’ll tell you, is a blessing. So thank you, everybody. (Speaks in Swahili.) I am very blessed to be here. Thank you all so much. I want to have a chance – I want all the kids to come up and do a photo with me.

Who here – I want to know something. Is there anybody here 11 years old? How many? I want you to know that is the exact age I was when I was privileged to join my father, who joined the Foreign Service back in 1950, so I’m really dating myself. (Laughter.) And I traveled over to another country and went to school in another country, and I didn’t know where I was, folks. (Laughter.) I think I cried for three weeks. But I finally found my way, and I have to tell you, the experience is something. Learn another language, learn about other people, and you will have a skill and an asset that so few other people have, regrettably. And it will serve you well for the rest of your lives.

So come on up here and join me, and we’ll do a big photo if we can, all right? Thank you. (Applause.)