Jon Gandomi, a 2004 graduate with a degree in international affairs with honors, works at the intersection of war and peace. As a field representative in the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, he coordinates with U.S. Special Forces in the region in their efforts to find and arrest warlord Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA. This requires both fortitude and diplomacy, especially considering the gravity of the concern. “The LRA has abducted approximately 20,000 children over the last 25 years and forced boys to become child soldiers and girls into sex slavery,” he explains.
Although there is a significant military dimension to the mission, his directive also involves collaborating with non-governmental organizations, tribal leaders, and other local stakeholders “to build consensus and collective support for the mission,” he says.
“Because most members of the LRA were abducted as children, we want them to know they can leave and they will be welcomed back into their tribes and families.”
As a staff member in the Conflict and Stabilization Operations Bureau of the U.S. Department of State, Gandomi also works with Washington on policy decisions for his and three other embassies on the region. One of the goals of the mission is a more stable Africa, which, he says, is in America’s best interest.
Gandomi is not a newcomer to international relief projects. A Flinn Scholar, he also received the prestigious Boren Fellowship from the Department of Defense which he used to study at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economy and Strategic Research. Later, he received a Truman Fellowship which afforded him the opportunity to pursue a master’s of public policy at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.
He has spent time in Russia, analyzing the economic landscape of the oil industry, as well as Afghanistan, where he was part of the team that helped the government design a development strategy for how the country would move forward as an independent nation. “Making change in the world is extremely difficult, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying,” he says. “You don’t always know that you’re making a difference, but you do know that every day you get up, there are meaningful things to do.”
As for his time as a Wildcat, “the UA offered me the ability to chart my own path and do something unconventional,” Gandomi says. “It was a great lab for me, offering experimenting and opportunities for questioning and exploration. I owe the UA a large debt of gratitude.”