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Coup means Malian envoy’s mission is explanation

By Kristen Shane      

Most new heads of mission in Canada have the luxury of easing their way into their new work, making courtesy calls and dipping their toes into the reception circuit.

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Most new heads of mission in Canada have the luxury of easing their way into their new work, making courtesy calls and dipping their toes into the reception circuit.

Not Ami Diallo Traoré.

Within two weeks of receiving her accreditation on March 8 as Mali's ambassador to Canada, her West African homeland fell into chaos. On March 21, junior military officers, saying they were frustrated that the government wasn't giving them enough resources to break a northern separatist rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs, grabbed power from Mali's democratically-elected rulers.

The coup leaders have since handed over power to a transitional government, but the crisis left space for the Tuareg rebels to join forces with Islamists and declare the northern part of the country, situated in the Sahara Desert, independent. Some northern leaders' reported affiliations with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and their goal to implement Islamic law has Western countries worried.

With every new development in the crisis, Ms. Traoré says she's informing Canadian government officials and other heads of mission in Ottawa.

"It's a mission now of explanation—explanation of the situation to people, as and when [it happens]," she says in French.

She's happy to keep her Canadian friends informed, she says.

"Canada is a very good partner of Mali. Mali has a good place in the co-operation of Canada with Africa, so it's completely normal for allies to explain everything to each other," she says.

"There's nothing to hide."

Mali has traditionally been a favourite of Canada and other Western donors, as it was seen as a democratic bastion in the region. The country is one of 20 to which Canada funnels 80 per cent of its bilateral aid. In 2010-11, that amounted to nearly $86 million to Mali.

But Canada condemned the coup and, as a result, stopped aid flowing to the Malian government. It supported Mali's suspension from the club of French-speaking nations, La Francophonie, closed its embassy in Mali, and warned Canadians to get out while they still could.

Before the coup, Canadian trainers from the Department of National Defence and the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre taught at the Peacekeeping School in Bamako, Mali's capital.

Canada also concluded talks with Mali toward the signing of a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement. The country is Africa's third-top gold miner, with Canadian involvement from companies such as Iamgold Corp. and Avion Gold Corp.

Ms. Traoré, seated beside her first counsellor Boubacar Ballo at their office in her embassy in Ottawa's Sandy Hill neighbourhood, proudly sports evidence of her country's top mineral export in the form of a handmade necklace.

While her work in Canada so far may be unique, she's experienced almost everything there is to do in diplomacy, and travelled widely—starting while she was still a student.

She studied international relations at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, and still speaks Serbo-Croatian.

She also has a handle on German, having been posted in Germany from 1995 to 2000 as a counsellor responsible for co-operation.

She has worked as a deputy director and interim director of international co-operation as well, the file in which she specializes.

For the last five years, she's been serving Mali at its permanent mission to the United Nations in New York.

But that's not all. In rapid-fire French, she lists a series of countries, from China to Switzerland, where she's visited either as a delegation leader or done professional training.

Her husband Abdoulaye Traoré is with her in Canada, and a daughter is planning to come later.

Ms. Traoré is proud to be a female diplomat. Women, she says, excel at diplomacy.

"It's a natural thing for women," she says. The passion in her voice is palpable.

She likes Canada. "There's promotion of women here," she says.

She used to be the president of the association of women in diplomacy in Mali. She was giving a speech in that role a few years ago when she learned that she's one in a very long line of female Malian diplomats.

The first Malian diplomat was a woman, dating back to the 13th century, she says.

She's eager to tell the story.

"I was very proud—very, very proud," she says of the revelation.

She smiles and laughs when asked whether she would recommend that her daughter join the diplomatic profession, usually seen to be a man's domain.

"Yes, of course," she says. "No wars, it's all on the table. We discuss everything. That's a good job."

kshane@embassymag.ca

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