Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Green relishes Tanzania mission

from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Former Green Bay congressman gets word out on America's good works


Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - Mark Green goes to work every day in a relatively new American embassy where a large stone sits under the shade of a tree. On the stone are the names of more than 200 people.

They were killed in twin suicide bomb attacks at the embassies here and in Kenya, Tanzania's neighbor to the north. And that's why the former congressman from Green Bay works in a new building as America's ambassador in this eastern African country.

Ten years ago this August, al-Qaida terrorists drove truck bombs into the embassies in carefully coordinated attacks. Kenya bore the brunt of the deaths. A water tanker truck prevented the attackers from getting close to Tanzania's embassy; 11 died, none American.

"We think about it all the time," Green, 47, said in an interview in his new office.

Green's service in Dar es Salaam follows an unsuccessful run for governor in 2006 and eight years representing northeast Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House. The U.S. Senate approved Green's nomination - which received strong bipartisan support from Wisconsin lawmakers - in August.

When some visitors remark about the new facility, Green tells them, "Good people lost their lives. It's sometimes easy to forget that this place has terrorism."

A man captured in 2004 in Pakistan and held at Guantanamo Bay was charged late last month with war crimes in the Tanzanian attack. Ahmed Ghaliani is accused of buying and delivering explosives as well as scouting the embassy with the suicide bomber.

Though the new U.S. Embassy is heavily guarded, staffers undergo terrorist drills, and the ambassador receives weekly counterterrorism briefings, Green said the best way to combat violence is by encouraging stability in Tanzania and addressing "the conditions that lead to despair and that can too easily lead to extremism."

Chief among those conditions are poverty and an exploding rate of AIDS/HIV infection and deaths from malaria. In a country with a population of more than 39 million, 100,000 people are expected to die in Tanzania this year from AIDS, Green said.

American aid to Tanzania will total more than $600 million this year with more than half spent on AIDS relief. That's one of the reasons why President Bush spent three days of his six-day visit to Africa in February in Tanzania, the first visit to this country by a sitting U.S. president.

Bush met with AIDS patients and toured a factory, partially funded by U.S. money, that makes chemically treated bed nets that help prevent the spread of malaria. The president's visit, along with the news coverage it generated, boosted the efforts of the U.S. Embassy staff and U.S.-backed non-governmental organizations and showed other African nations of America's commitment to improving the lives of residents and combating AIDS and malaria.

"It was the chance for a couple of days for the cameras to be focused on this country," said Green, who took over as ambassador in September.

Green has seen first-hand the devastation of AIDS here.

Recalling a visit in November delivering food to AIDS widows, Green's father, Jeremy, a physician who grew up in South Africa, was visiting to celebrate Thanksgiving and tagged along on the excursion. One woman told Green and his father that she had lost her husband to AIDS and she and two of her four children were HIV-positive. She told them that, with the little money she had, she could buy medicine for her two sick children or send the two healthy children to school - but not do both.

Green frequently encounters such heart-wrenching stories. Currently 1.4 million Tanzanians are receiving HIV treatment.

"It's hard to appreciate it unless you see it," he said of the scale of AIDS in Africa and the loss of so many lives.
Success story

Despite the poverty and AIDS epidemic, Tanzania is actually one of the continent's success stories. Unlike Kenya and Zimbabwe, there have been no disputed elections. Since Tanganyika gained independence from Britain in 1961 - and three years later merged with Zanzibar to form Tanzania - the country has largely avoided the rampant corruption and ethnic fighting that have plagued other African nations.

When he's not managing a staff of 320, Green spends much of his time traveling throughout the beautiful country that earns much of its income from tourists flocking to visit Serengeti National Park and other game preserves.

On a map in his office, where his desk sports a coffee mug coaster in the shape of a cheesehead, 18 pink Post-it strips pinpoint the areas he has visited to meet with Peace Corps volunteers, attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies, give speeches, present textbooks, preside over the start-up of a weekly radio program devoted to women's health, and visit schools and medical facilities.

Soon after the interview, Green was traveling to northwestern Tanzania to check out refugee camps. One of the first things he did was to print small cards outlining America's initiatives in Tanzania with figures on how much is spent on specific programs to hand out to people.

"I try to put a personal face on the good works that everyone here is doing. That's how we win in the long run," Green said.

Moving from Wisconsin to the ambassador's residence has been quite a change for Green, his wife, Sue, and their three teenage children.

After serving four terms in Congress and losing the November 2006 gubernatorial election to Democrat Jim Doyle, the Green Bay Republican worked as a lawyer and inquired in Washington about a job in Africa. He and his wife had spent a year teaching in a western Kenya village in the late '80s, and Green visited Africa twice as a congressman serving on the House International Relations Committee.

Last spring, he was offered the position in Tanzania and despite opposition from two Democratic senators - Chris Dodd and John Kerry - he was approved after lobbying from Wisconsin's congressional delegation.

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