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Somalia sends first envoy to Washington in 24 years
Diplomatic Pouch / September 10, 2015

By Larry Luxner

After nearly a quarter-century without an ambassador in the United States, war-ravaged Somalia finally has one: Ahmed Awad.

The 60-year-old diplomat’s appointment comes two years after Washington and Mogadishu renewed bilateral relations, and 24 years after the last Somali ambassador left town as the impoverished East African country descended into civil war.

“In August 2012, the current government of Somalia came into being, and the international community, led by the United States, saw it as the most representative, legitimate government that Somalia has had since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991,” Awad told the Diplomatic Pouch. “But only now are we establishing an embassy.”

That embassy will be housed in a third-floor office suite along DeSales Street, and should open in the next few weeks, said Awad.

Yet no similar U.S. diplomatic outpost will open in Somalia anytime soon. Until now, a Somali Unit has been embedded at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. That mission has been expanded to embassy status, but will remain in Nairobi for the foreseeable future.

“There will not be a U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu right away, but there will be formal, official representation, and there will be frequent visits to Somalia,” Awad told us. “And if the security situation allows, the embassy will eventually move to Somalia.”

Al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group that took over most of southern Somalia in late 2006, is responsible for a string of murderous attacks throughout East Africa, including the 2013 Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi that left 67 people dead and more than 175 injured.

Yet Awad claims the vicious terrorist group is on its last legs and is dying.

“Somalia is seen as a place of piracy and al-Shabaab terrorism, but we want to give Americans a complete picture,” said Awad. “While it’s true these issues have bedeviled Somalia for some time, there’s been a lot of improvement, and Americans are witnesses to that. With the support of the African Union, Somalia has been able to rejoin the international community and to defeat al-Shabaab.”

Awad studied political science and conflict resolution and for the past 10 years worked in Sudan as part of the United Nations peacekeeping operations there. From 2001 to 2004, he was chief of staff to Somalia’s prime minister in the transitional government.

He told us that his priorities as ambassador will be “to cement our relationship with the United States, to raise the profile of Somalia, and to improve the image of our country.”

As ambassador, Awad joins a slew of other new diplomats in town.

On Aug. 20, the British Foreign & Commercial Office announced that Sir Nigel Kim Darroch will replace Sir Peter Westmacott as Her Majesty’s ambassador to the United States early next year.

Darroch is currently national security adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. From 2007 to 2011, he was London’s permanent representative to the European Union in Brussels. He joined the Foreign Service in 1976.

“For the past three years, I have served as the prime minister’s national security adviser, protecting the UK’s national security interests, including working closely with U.S. colleagues on a range of shared national security priorities,” Darroch said. “As ambassador, I look forward to advancing the UK’s bilateral relationship with the United States — our greatest ally and most steadfast friend.”

Westmacott, who is retiring after four years in Washington at the end of a long diplomatic career, called his successor a “friend and consummate professional.”

“I am looking forward to making a new life outside public service, maintaining and renewing the relationships I have been fortunate to make over the last four decades in the FCO, as a member of the royal household, and abroad in Iran, Turkey and France as well as the United States.”

On Aug. 3, the ambassadors of four countries — Cambodia, Colombia, Gambia and Ukraine — presented their credentials at the White House.

Before coming to Washington, Cambodia’s Chum Bun Rong, 65, spent the previous seven years as advisor to the prime minister as well as secretary-general of the Cambodia Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), and member of the Permanent Central Committee of the Cambodian Red Cross.

The devout Buddhist also served as deputy secretary-general of the National Land Authority, helping to mitigate mounting land issues (2006-08), and as director-general, from 1994 to 2006, of the Social Fund of the Kingdom of Cambodia — a government entity that manages World Bank aid money for rural development projects. From 1979 to 1991, he was press director for the Foreign Ministry’s Africa and Mideast Department.

Colombia’s new top envoy here, Juan Carlos Pinzón, 43, is the country’s former defense minister and ex-chief of staff for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Before that, Pinzón was senior advisor to the executive director of the World Bank; vice-president of the Colombian Banking Association; assistant vice-president of investment banking at Citibank, and economist for Colombia at Citigroup.

The Bogotá native taught economics at two top Colombian institutions — Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, where he earned a master’s degree in economics, and Universidad de Los Andes. In 2011, the World Economic Forum named him a Young Global Leader. Pinzón has completed advanced courses in international relations and strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, and in science and technology at Harvard University.

Sheikh Omar Faye, who represents the tiny African nation of Gambia here, was the embassy’s chargé d’affaires since March 2014. Previous jobs include deputy head of mission of the Gambian Embassy in Mauritania (2007-14); Gambia’s minister of youth, sports and religious affairs (2006-07); and director of public relations in the Office of the President (2006-07).

A retired major in the Gambian Army, Faye held various military postings in the 1980s and early 1990s at home and in Great Britain, Pakistan, Nigeria and the United States. He represented the Gambia at various sporting events including the University Games in Mexico City and the Commonwealth Games in Australia. He was also a team captain-flag bearer at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

War-torn Ukraine also has a new ambassador: Valeriy Chaly, the former deputy head of President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev. Before coming here, Chaly, 45, supervised the foreign policy, international law and security programs at a leading Ukrainian think tank — the Razumkov Centre — while serving as its deputy director-general from 2006 to 2009 and again from 2010 to 2014.

In November 2009, Chaly was named Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, but resigned just five months later to protest the foreign and security policies of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Chaly’s earlier public sector career also includes postings as assistant to the deputy secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (1997-99) and senior consultant at the Assistants’ Group to the President of Ukraine (1995).

Chaly has a degree in postgraduate international law studies from the Institute of International Relations at Kiev’s National Taras Shevchenko University. He also studied history at the Vinnytsia State Institute of Pedagogy.

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