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Heads up – Embassy 35

Rebuild and rebrand

Claude Bouah-Kamon, Côte d’Ivoire’s new Ambassador to London, is the sort of man you want to have around in a crisis.

Throughout the turmoil that blighted the once peaceful and prosperous West African nation, Ambassador Bouah-Kamon played a key role within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Côte d’Ivoire in keeping communication open with various external partners, especially on humanitarian issues.

The Ambassador, a career diplomat with postings in Berne, China, Washington, Algeria, Geneva and New York, recalls the extent of the challenges his country was facing upon returning from his UN posting in 2002.

With his extensive experience in peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs, he was appointed Director of Political and Humanitarian Affairs, finding himself at the very heart of the sensitive matter of any armed conflict: responding to the distress of thousands of refugees.

“At the peak of the crisis, I was constantly in touch with the UNHCR in Geneva to seek assistance for the 100,000 Ivorian refugees that had fled to Liberia. I would also, as much as required, travel to western Côte d’Ivoire to monitor the overall situation of the refugees. What made the situation difficult were the cross-border mercenary activities fuelled by light weapons trafficking in the region.”

Compounded with that was finding the resources to aid thousands of internally displaced people. But fortunately, says the Ambassador, maintaining close relationships with the contacts he had made during his posting as Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva (1996-99) proved vital and enabled him to secure additional funding for the refugees and internally displaced persons.

In 2004, Ambassador Bouah-Kamon was appointed Technical Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs just as UN peacekeepers were being deployed in the country. With tensions rising between the UN troops and supporters of the incumbent president, the Ambassador’s experience as Permanent Representative to the UN in New York (1999-2001) once again proved invaluable.

“When there is a peacekeeping operation on your territory there is always scope for misunderstanding. I realised that what was missing was genuine and constructive communication between the different stakeholders. Luckily the contacts I had gained in my role as vice president on the UN peacekeeping committee were used extensively to link up stakeholders and mitigate the tensions.”

The Ambassador’s skills as an interlocutor came to the fore again during the post-electoral crisis in 2010 where he kept channels of communication open with foreign diplomats who had relocated to neighbouring countries during the violence. And he is particularly pleased that the return of stability has heralded the reopening of the British Embassy next year.

Meanwhile here in London, Ambassador Bouah-Kamon has one overarching aim for his tour of duty: to rehabilitate his country’s image and promote UK investment in Côte d’Ivoire.

On the domestic scene, a process has begun to heal the divisions in the nation, he says. “Things are improving. The new President is committed to consolidate the social and political situation by setting up a Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation and we are in the process of creating hearing commissions in different regions of the country – and even abroad.” (In fact, Chelsea football star Didier Drogba, will be a spokesman for Ivorian communities abroad).

With the UK being an international hub for development and the promotion of human rights all over the world, the Ambassador is keen to work with the UK government and the many NGOs headquartered in Britain on these areas.

“It is important that I can tell our side of the story and give an insight into the progress we are making,” says Bouah-Kamon.

“In return we do hope that the UK government will offer their assistance in consolidating the social and political stability on the one hand, and encouraging UK companies to come and invest in Côte d’Ivoire on the other hand. The forthcoming reopening of the UK Embassy in 2012 is a strong and positive signal toward the business community and we are grateful for that.”

Already there are signs of a recovery on the economic front. Cocoa production – amounting to more than a third of global production – has leapt up by 25 per cent this year. 

Côte d’Ivoire is also launching an ambitious post-crisis economic recovery and reconstruction plan and is seeking development partners and investors in infrastructure, energy, mining and agriculture, to quote but a few areas.

The Ambassador is planning to host a conference at the end of February next year to boost development cooperation. He will also be lobbying hard for a British Airways stopover in Abidjan to bring planeloads of tourists and investors to his country.

The Olympic Games next year will also be an opportunity for Côte d’Ivoire to rebrand itself to a global audience and the Ambassador is planning to stage a series of cultural and business events at the African Village in Hyde Park.

With so much to do, there’s only one crisis the Ambassador has yet to solve: how to find the time!

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HE Mr Claude Bouah-Kamon

“Things are improving. The new President is committed to consolidate the social and political situation by setting up a Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation”

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