Page 19 - FSJ June 2012

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your initial Foreign Service assignment
to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, as a
vice consul in 1963 was a good intro-
duction to your new career?
WLS:
Yes, though it certainly did not
seem so at the time! Everyone else in
my A-100 class was assigned to high-pro-
file diplomatic posts such as Paris, Lon-
don, Tokyo and Buenos Aires. When
my assignment was read out no one, in-
cluding me, even knew where it was.
Although a two-person consulate
might seem a rather odd first posting,
Port Elizabeth turned out to be an ex-
cellent choice, at least for me. (At 29,
I was the oldest member of my A-100
class and had already had a career.)
First, within a month of my arrival I
found myself in charge of the post for
several weeks while the consul was
away.
Second, it fell to me to do all the re-
porting on the heavy U.S. investment
in the automobile industry in the East-
ern Cape. It was also my good fortune
to cover the first two Transkei legisla-
tive elections, from which Washington
quickly concluded that Prime Minister
Hendrik Verwoerd’s “Bantustan” pol-
icy was inhumane and doomed to fail-
ure. That first assignment stood me in
unusually good stead when I returned
in 1989 as ambassador to find that
apartheid and the Bantustans were,
sadly, still in place.
FSJ:
Five of your six U.S. ambas-
sadorships were to countries in Africa,
and you have continued to be heavily
involved there. Do you consider your-
self an “Africa hand”? And if so, what
about the continent do you find espe-
cially intriguing?
WLS:
It has been my great good
fortune, as you note, to be able to serve
my government and the American
people for nearly five decades in
Africa. Whether this makes me an
“Africa hand” or not, I don’t really
know, especially since I still have more
questions than answers about the con-
tinent. But I remain optimistic about
the future of Africa, not only in terms
of its being the “resource continent” of
the 21st century and beyond, but also
because of its overall evolution.
I have never subscribed to “Afro-
pessimism,” and I believe that those
who do misread developments and
J U N E 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
19
“To refuse to talk
to someone is not a policy,
and to talk to someone
is not a political
declaration.”