I arrived at the Graduate Institute in 1990 and left in 1995 after completing a PhD in International Relations under the supervision of Professor A.G. Hopkins. The Institute’s multidisciplinary training prepared me for a career in diplomacy and international development that began with a brief stint at the Labour Law Information Division of the International Labour Office in Geneva. I then joined the diplomatic service of the Gambia, starting as Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before being assigned first as first secretary, and then counsellor, at the Gambian Mission to the European Union in Brussels.
Our activities in Brussels revolved around high-level negotiations between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States. I also shuttled regularly to Geneva to take part in the various trade talks underway at the World Trade Organization (WTO). These multilateral diplomatic activities were pursued simultaneously with bilateral diplomacy that saw me crisscrossing between Brussels and various European capitals that were under the Mission’s jurisdiction.
In 2002, I was appointed Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, with concurrent accreditation as High Commissioner to South Africa and Kenya. The five and a half years I spent in Addis Ababa could not have been more fulfilling. The budding African Union had just been launched and I felt privileged to be part of the processes that shaped it.
In March 2008, I was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, barely six months after I had been appointed Permanent Representative of the Gambia to the United Nations in New York. The main challenge of the ministerial assignment consisted in realigning the Gambia’s foreign relations in a manner that would foster national development as well as promote peace and security.
In October 2009, I began a fulfilling international career, first as an independent consultant for various UN and AU agencies and then as Regional Policy Advisor for the World Food Programme in Nairobi. In July 2012, I joined the Islamic Development Bank, a multilateral development bank at the forefront of development finance.
Throughout this time, I have managed to stay academically active with publications that include peer reviewed monographs – The Gambia and the World: A History of the Foreign Policy of Africa’s Smallest State (Hamburg: Institut für Afrika-Kunde, 2000), The African Union: The First Ten Years (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) – and several papers on African affairs and international development.
I recall the words of former Institute Director, Professor Alexander Swoboda. Addressing the new students in September 1990, he said in his characteristic eloquence, “Vous êtes chanceux.” Yes, I have indeed been lucky.
This article was originally published in Globe #17.