After a new embassy opened its doors in Ottawa on Valentine’s Day, Chad’s first-ever resident ambassador to Canada is hoping to woo Canadian businesses and expand trade links between the two countries.
“We thought that we should be physically present here, to invest ourselves in the relationship,” Ambassador Mahamat Ali Adoum told Embassy in a recent interview.
The relationship, a "modest" one according to Canada's foreign affairs department, is friendly, he said, "but it’s not very active. We need to make it more dynamic.”
Mr. Adoum was accredited as ambassador last June, but didn’t arrive in Ottawa until January 11. After a "very tough" winter and a couple of months in a hotel, he and his wife settled in to a new house in Aylmer March 1.
Chad had been planning an Ottawa embassy for a long time, Mr. Adoum said, but plans were delayed because "the country was in trouble" in recent years.
Chad was unstable for years in the aftermath of the Darfur crisis, with tensions between rebel and government forces hitting a peak between 2005 and 2010. The country now faces additional pressure from Boko Haram and, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, Chad hosts more than 450,000 refugees, mostly from Darfur and the Central African Republic.
Still, Mr. Adoum said “the country is really stable, in peace. Now we can devote our time to useful things.”
The delay in setting up an embassy had nothing to do with a bribery scandal that had embroiled a previous ambassador to the US and Canada, Mr. Adoum said. Two years ago, Canadian company Griffiths Energy paid $10 million in fines after admitting it gave US$2 million to a company owned by the wife of ambassador Mahamoud Adam Bechir to secure oil and gas rights in 2009.
In February of this year, Mr. Bechir and his wife launched a lawsuit against the company and its law firm, claiming they were wrongfully accused of bribery. The lawsuit was news to Mr. Adoum, who said he knew nothing more than what newspapers had reported when the alleged bribery first came out.
Mr. Adoum is both a successor and a predecessor to Mr. Bechir, having served as the ambassador to US and Canada from 1983-1991. Before that, he had studied political science at the Université de Laval.
While ambassador to the US and Canada, Mr. Adoum would visit Ottawa on a quarterly basis, though he said the visits were short. “My contacts at the time were limited to the foreign ministry. I did not have a chance, really, to explore my work environment,” he said.
After leaving Washington in 1991, Mr. Adoum was posted briefly to Belgium, before beginning a long stint at the World Bank from 1994 to 2003. He then became Chad’s permanent representative to the UN from 2004 to 2008. Between 2008 and his accreditation to Canada last June, he worked as an advisor to Chad’s foreign ministry.
Meanwhile, three of Mr. Adoum’s four children—two girls and two boys, now aged 30, 28, 26 and 25—completed their Bachelor’s degrees at the University of Ottawa before returning to Washington, where they currently live.
When Embassy spoke to Mr. Adoum, his kids had just spent the weekend visiting Ottawa and showing their father around. “They know the city better than me,” he said.
“We went to different places to have nice meals," said Mr. Adoum, and enjoyed beautiful weather over the weekend. “No more boots. No more coat,” he said with a smile.
Mr. Adoum said he plans to travel across the country and establish connections with Canadian businesses focused on commodities such as gold, diamonds and oil, an industry Chad entered in 2003.
For the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Chad's business environment is "one of the toughest in the world, characterized by red tape, problems with the legal framework and judicial system, and difficulties associated with starting up a business and obtaining credit." However, "the country presents interesting opportunities for Canada in the mining and energy sectors," according to the ministry's website. Two-way merchandise trade amounted to only $25 million in 2013.
“We have a lot of things to offer, because everything is still unexplored and unexploited," he said. "Canadians have the capital. They have the knowledge. They have the know-how. They have the technology. My intent is really to sensitize them, to attract them to Chad."
In his spare time, Mr. Adoum can be found watching sporting events of all kinds: “I like watching things like boxing, like wrestling, like basketball, like football, like soccer,” he told Embassy.
But what about Canada’s favourite sport? “Hockey! Of course, hockey!” he said, laughing. Staying up late to watch Habs games wasn’t unusual at the Université de Laval, he said. With a playoff match-up coming up between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens, Mr. Adoum didn’t say who he would be cheering for.
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