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Zambia’s envoy looking back for the future

By Peter Mazereeuw, Marie-Danielle Smith      

Unfinished FIPA still 'hanging' on him, he says.

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Zambian High Commissioner Bobby Samakai is headed home to an uncertain future this week, having completed his posting in Canada.

Mr. Samakai said he hasn’t yet been told by the Zambian government what his next job may be. The youthful Mr. Samakai is a few years beyond Zambia’s mandatory (though soon-to-be-raised) retirement age of 55, and he has been working on annual contracts since he passed that mark.

Whenever he leaves Zambia’s public service, where he was worked since he was a teenager, Mr. Samakai said he wants to work somewhere he can build on his experience running youth programs as the top bureaucrat under the minister of youth and child development.

“I have a starting point: exactly where I left off,” he said.

One of his roles at the ministry was to run a skills training program for homeless kids aged 16 and older. Following up with the graduates was among his most rewarding jobs, he said.

“It was very satisfying to find out some of them were doing quite well. Seeing where they came from, on the streets. I mean, they used to sleep under the bridges,” he said.

Just one regret

Mr. Samakai’s three years in Canada have been eventful, and he will leave with plenty to boast about.

He served as president of the Ottawa Diplomatic Association, helped to arrange regular exchanges of public servants between Zambia and Canada and hosted a visit from one of Zambia’s founding fathers, former president Kenneth Kaunda.

Mr. Samakai, always quick with a smile, also had his hand on the tiller in Canada during some difficult times. He arrived following the departure of Nevers Mumba, who had been accused by former Zambian president Michael Sata of financial impropriety during his tenure here (the two were political rivals), an accusation Mr. Mumba called a political attack. Mr. Samakai oversaw relations with Canada in the time following Mr. Sata’s death while in office, and more recently, during a dispute over royalties between Zambia’s government and a few large Canadian mining companies operating there.

Having navigated a broad range of diplomatic challenges, Mr. Samakai says he has only one piece of unfinished business.

“The only thing hanging on me now is the FIPA agreement,” he said.

Canada and Zambia concluded negotiations over a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement in 2013, but the deal still hasn’t been signed, said Mr. Samakai.

The negotiating teams for both countries have recently shaken up their ranks, he said, something that may help to move things along. Minor legal issues “here and there” are the only barriers that remain, he said.

Zambia is anxious to get the deal in place by the end of the year, so Canadian investors will feel more secure operating in the country, he said. Canadian companies working there include First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Barrick Gold Corp.

Coffee-powered construction, and other lessons learned

Mr. Samakai couldn’t resist weighing in on the favourite subject of Ottawa’s diplomats: the Canadian winter.

Upon his arrival, he was concerned the frigid temperatures could threaten the health of his now 85-year-old mother, Rosemary, who has lived with Mr. Samakai’s family since the death of his father about 15 years ago.

Mr. Samakai has been married for 33 years—“straight,” he quipped—to his wife, Molly. They have three adult children, including a daughter studying molecular biology at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Rosemary managed just fine during the winters, he said, quickly learning to “do the things the Canadians do” and dress warmly.

Ottawa’s resilient construction workers, toiling away during the winter months, inspired Mr. Samakai, and made him rethink Zambia’s traditional construction hiatus during the rainy season.

Perhaps Zambian workers could endure the rain better if Tim Hortons set up shop to supply them like their Canadian counterparts, he said.  

Mr. Samakai’s successor will inherit his work on the FIPA, as well as plans for a two-week exchange of Canadian and Zambian members of parliament. He or she might want to brush up on wisecracking too.

New ambassador to NATO

Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson announced the appointment of Kerry Buck as ambassador and permanent representative of Canada to NATO in a May 29 statement. 

Ms. Buck is heading to Brussels to replace Yves Brodeur, who held the post for four years.

A longtime Foreign Affairs bureaucrat, Ms. Buck most recently served as political director and assistant deputy minister for international security and political affairs at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.

Her appointment continues along her security-focused career path.

She's had her hands on everything from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty to Canada's work in Afghanistan. She was director-general of the Afghanistan Task Force during Canada's combat mission in the country.

Ms. Buck held a prior international posting at Canada's mission to the UN headquarters in New York, from 1994 to 1996.

In Ottawa, she more recently served in several assistant deputy minister positions, heading the Africa, Maghreb, Latin America and Caribbean and international security programs. 

She also held senior positions within the foreign ministry's human rights and economic and trade law programs. Outside the department, she has had assignments at the Privy Council Office (the prime minister's department), and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. 


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