Just as the US President-elect Joe Biden has begun to name his cabinet choices ahead of taking the helm at the White House on January 20, a pearl among women and lover of Africa and Africans, who had served in Nigeria and other parts of continent is one appointment that has struck the right chord.
At the turn of 2021, the next U.S Ambassador to the United Nations is a career diplomat who has focused her career on Africa in the past decades. Appositely, President-Elect Joe Biden has nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has been Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former Director of Human Resources at the State Department.
In Nigeria, the nomination has been received with overly excitement and if you like with some gamboling against the backdrop of fears in some quarters about Biden’s African policy.
In her duty tour of Africa, she had served in Nigeria (for two and a half years), Gambia (for three years) Liberia and Kenya.
I met Ambassador Greenfield sometime early 2014 at an event in Washington, and a couple of days later, we met again at the office of the then Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S, the late Amb. Adebowale Adefuye. It was what folks these days call party-after-party. It was at the end of an event hosted at the International Drive, property of the Embassy of Nigeria at the District of Columbia, DC. She was there with her daughter and we chatted while she ate some Nigerian delicacies.
She talked about her love for Nigeria and Africa as a whole and the several policies she’s putting in place to assist Africa.
About two weeks later during the UN General Assembly in New York, due to the hellish New York traffic with over 200 world leaders and their delegations in the city, most roads in midtown were closed to traffic with the only best option — to walk down to the UN building.
I had started trekking from Times Square and after several minutes walking, the pain on my foot became unbearable due to the uncomfortable shoes I had on. So I decided to hop into a commercial city bike to navigate the traffic gridlock and ferry me to the UN Building. Just about a block or two to the UN Building I saw Amb Greenfield in another city bike too and was so shocked she recognized me and waved cheerfully tinged with a smile.
We got down eventually at the same place and exchanged pleasantries briefly.
For Ambassador Greenfield, she is always ready to talk about Africa and her experiences on the continent.
She once talked about how in April 1994 she was sent to Rwanda on an official visit to assess refugee conditions, but two days after she arrived, the plane of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down, and the Rwandan genocide broke out.
Then came a terrific and life-threatening experience in line of duty. Thomas-Greenfield was mistaken for a Tutsi. Hutu soldiers held a machine gun to her head, while she begged to spare her life — “I don’t have anything to do with this. I’m not a Rwandan. I’m an American,” she quipped.
She then watched as the soldiers killed a Tutsi gardener. A few days later, she was allowed to leave Rwanda.
For analysts of African foreign policy, Biden’s choice is both a reaffirmation of his love and a reminder that the links that Washington still maintains with Africa are nearly all that stand between the U.S and a decidedly more humble international stature.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has been a committed leader with passion for the growth of Africa. I have seen firsthand her selfless service, hard work and love for the continent. She has been in the forefront of developmental policies, events and programs from the United States – African Leaders Summit to the US–Africa Business Forum and many more.
In dozens of programs I have been involved with, either with the U.S Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, or the Corporate Council on Africa, CCA, the State Department, the Atlantic Council, Bureau of African Affairs and many more, she has been ever helpful, committed and held Africa high as a strategic U.S partner.
What the continent needs now is a leader who would not leave them to wonder and worry alone, but would stand with them, walk with them, celebrate with them – whatever the parade might be.
Her nomination will no doubt help to reset U.S.-Africa policy.
In the last four years, outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump made several changes to U.S. policy toward Africa. His signature, “America first” approach, was inherently skeptical of foreign involvement, especially in what he allegedly called “shithole countries” in the developing world particularly in Africa.
He opposed international trade agreements, including with African nations that he viewed as unfair to the United States. He sought to reduce U.S. funding for international organizations upon which Africa depends heavily for aids. And as a part of his administration’s shift from countering violent extremism and toward great-power competition with China and Russia, he proposed reducing the small U.S. military presence in Africa.
Trump seemed disinterested in and even contemptuous of Africa. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, he did not travel to the continent during his first term neither did he engage personally on policy issues of particular importance to Africa.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is not only a lover of Africa; she is also a lover of African dishes.
Born in Baker, Louisiana, circa 1952, Linda Thomas-Greenfield earned a B.A. in Political Science at Louisiana State University in 1974 and Master of Arts degree in Political Science at the University of Wisconsin in 1976.
She is a senior counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, DC, a city I have lived for over 20 years.
With Thomas-Greenfield at the UN, Africa and especially Nigeria like a dog with two tales, will definitely find a good ally in her and assuredly, a rebound in the U.S.-Africa relations in the Biden Presidency.