An ambassador finally leaves for his post, as others watch


Michael Hoza, nominated as the new ambassador to Cameroon, and his son Christopher Hoza,18, have been waiting to make the move to Cameroon since last year. They are seen in the temporary apartment they shared on July 24 in Falls Church. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

Before leaving for August recess, the Senate could barely muster the energy to clear even a handful of career diplomats who have long been waiting to be sent to their ambassadorial posts. But some did get through, including Michael Hoza, the new ambassador to Cameroon.

So there was more than the usual reason for celebration in the Treaty Room at the State Department a week ago today at Hoza’s swearing-in ceremony, where many in attendance were other diplomats ready to ship out — but have no idea when they will.

Hoza, who returned to the States last summer from a posting in Moscow, has been living for the past year in temporary housing in Falls Church with his school-age son, waiting for a floor vote in the gridlocked Senate that needed to confirm his ambassadorial appointment.

That vote happened shortly after The Washington Post wrote about Hoza and several other ambassadors hanging in limbo.

Hoza’s case is hardly unique. Of the 169 countries with a U.S. Embassy, about a quarter do not have an ambassador in place, and there’s little chance of those numbers improving during the summer. Among the celebratory crowd in the Treaty Room last week were at least three other ambassadors-in-waiting, including John Hoover, 54, who was nominated more than a year ago for the top job in Sierra Leone. Hoover finished his previous State Department job exactly a year ago, on Aug. 22, 2013.

The West African country where Hoover would be leading the U.S. mission is at the epicenter of the lethal outbreak of Ebola, and the United States is pouring in resources, Hoover says. But that work  “is handicapped by not having a chief of mission to coordinate and lead that very urgent effort.” Hoover, who has been a diplomat for 26 years, has experience managing the response to  unprecedented epidemics: He lead the interagency efforts from the U.S. consulate in Shanghai in 2003 when SARS swept through China.

Beyond that, Sierra Leone is a  success story and “critical partner,” having emerged from a period of civil war with a rapidly growing economy. “It’s a reminder of the importance of  small countries that people don’t often think about,” says Hoover.

According to the State Department, of the 46 ambassadors in limbo, 33 are, like Hoover and Hoza, career diplomats, rather than political appointees.

Hoza left for Yaounde within days of his swearing-in ceremony and arrived Thursday in Cameroon’s capital. Back here in Washington, “I’m living day-to-day,” says Hoover, who has no idea when he will be able to travel to Freetown.

Frances Stead Sellers is senior writer at The Washington Post magazine. She joined the magazine in 2014 after spending two years as the editor of the daily Style section, with a focus on profiles, personalities, arts and ideas.
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