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Buffalo native to serve as next ambassador to Somalia

Photo from U.S. State Department

A Buffalo native will be sworn-in today to serve as the next U-S Ambassador to Somalia. Stephen Schwartz is a member of the Senior Foreign Service.  President Obama nominated him in January. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in May.

"We hope in the coming months and years to build facilities and establish more of an effective presence in Somalia,” said Schwartz, in a WBFO News interview. 

Schwartz grew up in Western New York is a 1976 Williamsville South High School graduate.  He will take an oath Monday as he is sworn by Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken to serve as the official ambassador to Somalia.

“I’m going to Somalia at a very important time for Somalia. It’s engaged now with in a struggle with a terrorist group, an al-Qaeda affiliated group called al-Shabab which is strongest mostly in the southern part of the country, but even in the capitol city,” explained Schwartz.  

Schwartz points out that Somalia has had a difficult time since the early 1990's and civil war is ongoing. In Oct of 1993 U.S. soldiers conducted a raid in Somalia. They were on a mission to capture to a warlord who was causing starvation to hundreds of thousands in Somalia. But two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down. The true story is portrayed in Black Hawk down.

“That was probably the worse period for Somalia. They had had a dictator who was running the country and that regime fell apart, which left the country with no central authority. For 20 years there was considerable insecurity in the country. The economy wasn’t functionally well, there were very few educational opportunities, health care is very poor,” Schwartz noted.   

Many from Somalia have sought a new life here in Buffalo -- in fact they are the second largest refugee group here in the city.

“For Somalis, who want a better life, they’re trying to leave. They’re among bigger components of the migrants we see trying to get to Europe and often dying in the Mediterranean and many are in refugee camps Kenya,” said Schwartz. 

The U.S. no longer as an actual embassy building in Somalia. Schwartz will be working at the U.S. embassy in Kenya. But he tells WBFO News they do hope to reestablish the embassy at some point.

Schwartz has conducted extensive international work. Among his experience, Schwartz previously served as Director of the Office of West African Affairs from 2013 to 2015. He officially leaves for his new position in mid-July.