Barring any unforeseen, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, having served across the diplomatic spectra, particularly in Africa, is set to return to a familiar terrain as the new US Ambassador to the United Nations. Within the past decade, and before her retirement in 2017, I encountered her on many occasions, a few of which I am induced to share for pertinent reasons.
In April 2010, she was the US Ambassador to Liberia when the US Warship USS GUNSTON HALL made a brief call on Monrovia Port. This was after month long sea training for the pioneer batch of Liberian National Coast Guard sailors, as part of the effort to rebuild the country’s Armed Forces. GUNSTON HALL embarked the multinational staff of the US-led Africa Partnership Station (APS) Mission for the Gulf of Guinea where I served as the Deputy Commander.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield seized the opportunity to host the APS Command Team in her US Embassy office. Upon noting my nationality, however, she was quick to privately hint about her DNA roots which tied her ancestral origin to Lagos and Borno States in Nigeria; both are separated by over 1000km. Apart from learning about the DNA tracking process for the first time, the distance disconnect between the 2 states further threw up wild guesses. Although this is not the Roots/Kunta Kinte model, the key lesson and question was – How deep could I trace my ancestry? I puzzled on this repeatedly for the next 2 months as we transited through the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters until my return to Nigeria. Obviously, I needed to test the genealogical idea and possibly recruit volunteers.
Subsequently, as I drilled through older members of my family, I was also lucky to recruit a close friend, an admiral. He called me a few months later to confirm that, contrary to earlier belief influenced by his parents, he successfully tracked his ancestry from the South West to one of the North Central State communities where he was warmly received. In my case I successfully traced my ancestry back by 6 generations across 3 states. The project is still on and enjoyable, thus far. While observing that very few could trace their ancestry beyond 4 generations, I do hope that this narrative provides willing readers a challenge to a genealogical trip, possibly exceeding 6 generations.
The next time I met Mrs Linda Thomas-Greenfield was in December 2015 at Annapolis where the US Government hosted heads of African navies. In her opening address, she pointedly delivered a mixed bag remark about Nigeria. While noting that the Ahmadu Bello University shared comparable standard with the Havard University in the 1970s, she was at a loss on the challenges that have affected many facets of Nigeria’s development, including the maritime domain and the education sector, where no Nigerian university currently ranks among the top 1000 globally. A case of proud and promising past but a challenging present. This concern remains germane as I imagine that her expectations from Nigeria, as a continental leader, would revolve around how to rekindle its past developmental glory.
In the words of President-Elect Joe Biden, Amb Linda Thomas-Greenfield and other members of the lead team were selected to help “reclaim America’s seat at the head of the table, rally the world to meet the biggest challenges we face and advance our security, prosperity and values”. From this pro-active stance, the global community awaits the return to what I call “America’s Leadership and Partnership”, away from “America First or America Alone”. At the risk of being trite, Amb Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her cabinet colleagues would need to develop and implement convincing policies and strategies. For Nigeria and the rest of Africa, the need to embrace more pro-active and specific policies to drive their interests in the emerging Biden administration cannot be over-stated. Beyond the genealogical sentiments, therefore, the new dispensation offers Amb Linda Thomas-Greenfield a challenging but stimulating scenario to bring her valuable experiences to bear.
Jimi Osinowo (Rear Admiral, retired)
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