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How EU, UK, US promote gender inclusion in diplomatic terrain

Whether by sheer coincidence or through deliberate design, the United States, the European Union member states and United Kingdom (UK) are making a strong case for gender inclusion in the diplomatic landscape by choosing women as heads of their diplomatic missions in Nigeria and other countries. Assistant Editor BOLA OLAJUWON reports on the implication of the development.

The Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals) are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Gender equality is the fifth of the SDGs 17 goals established by the United Nations in 2015. The SDG 5 main focus is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” because gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

According to experts, gender equality is a notion that all services, opportunities and establishments are open to all people and that male and female stereotypes do not define societal roles and expectations. While Nigeria subscribes to the implementation of the SDGs and the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063, it took the Federal High Court in Abuja to order the Federal Government to implement its 35 per cent affirmative action policy on public service positions before President Muhammadu Buhari assured the nation that he would ensure the implementation of the court judgment. The President, who spoke through the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, promised to reserve 35 per cent of appointments in the public offices for women. However, the promise is yet to materialise into action. Surprisingly, Mrs. Uzoma Ikechi Emenike, a politician, writer and diplomat, is the current Nigerian Ambassador to the United States since her appointment and official designation last year.

But for countries like the United States, the European Union (EU) member states and United Kingdom (UK), promoting gender inclusion through the creation of demonstrative examples of the concept in action is of the utmost importance. It is not surprising that United States Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard, European Union Ambassador to Nigeria, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Ambassador Samuela Isopi, British High Commissioner to Nigeria Catriona Laing and German Ambassador Birgitt Ory are all women. Many other women are also holding critical positions in diplomatic missions in Nigeria and other parts of the world.

The duties of a diplomatic mission are germane in relationship between two countries because the job entails representing the sending state well in the host state,  the protection within the host state of the interests of the sending state and its nationals as well as their property and shares in firms, the negotiation and signing of agreements with the host state when authorised, the reporting and gathering of information by all lawful means on conditions and developments in the host country for the sending government.

Such diplomatic missions also promote friendly relations between the two states and the furthering of their economic, commercial, cultural, and scientific relations. They also provide public services for their nationals, including acting as a notary public, providing electoral registration, issuing passports and papers for military conscription, referring injured or sick nationals to local physicians and lawyers, and ensuring non-discriminatory treatment for those charged with or imprisoned for crimes. Since taking charge at their countries’ missions, many believe Nigeria’s relationship with their countries have strengthened.

Before reporting in Nigeria, Ambassador Leonard served as the representative of the United States of America to the African Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, serving concurrently as U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) from 2016-2019.  Before her sojourn in Ethiopia, she was previously the U.S. envoy to the Republic of Mali from 2011-2014.  Her service in Mali was recognised with the Department’s Diplomacy for Human Rights Award in 2013, an honour that yearly recognises a U.S. Chief of Mission, who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to defending human rights and advancing democratic principles in his or her host country.

Among others, she served as the State Department’s Senior Faculty Advisor at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, following a year as the Department’s Diplomat in Residence for New England, based at Tufts University.  Ambassador Leonard was the Director for West African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 2009-2011, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Bamako, Mali from 2006-2009. Since coming to Nigeria, the American envoy has improved ties in the area of culture, education, promotion of intellectual property, tackled issues of genital mutilation, fight rights abuse, promote establishment of 18 American Corners and American Spaces in Nigeria for students, teachers, entrepreneurs, academics, journalists, civic organisations, government officials, and community leaders, in addition to many others.

On economic from, the U.S. goods and services trade with Nigeria, according to Office of United States Trade Representative, totalled an estimated $10.4 billion in 2019. Exports were $5.3 billion; imports were $5.1 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Nigeria was $251 million in 2019. Nigeria is currently our 54th largest goods trading partner with $7.8 billion in total (two way) goods trade during 2019. Goods exports totalled $3.2 billion; goods imports totalled $4.6 billion. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Nigeria was $1.4 billion in 2019. Trade in services with Nigeria (exports and imports) totalled an estimated $2.6 billion in 2019. Services exports were $2.1 billion; services imports were $464 million. The U.S. services trade surplus with Nigeria was $1.7 billion in 2019.

In the area of export, Nigeria was the United States’ 52nd largest goods export market in 2019. America’s goods exports to Nigeria in 2019 were $3.2 billion, up 19.1% ($512 million) from 2018 but down 13.2% from 2009. The top export categories (2-digit HS) in 2019 were: vehicles ($938 million), cereals (wheat) ($494 million), machinery ($479 million), mineral fuels ($287 million), and plastics ($189 million). U.S. total exports of agricultural products to Nigeria totalled $608 million in 2019. Leading domestic export categories include: wheat ($473 million), prepared food ($24 million), wine & beer ($24 million), condiments & sauces ($11 million), and vegetable oils (ex. soybean) ($7 million).

U.S. exports of services to Nigeria were an estimated $2.1 billion in 2019, 5.1% ($115 million) less than 2018, but 63.8% greater than 2009 levels.  Leading services exports from the U.S. to Nigeria were in the travel, transport, and technical and other services sectors. On imports, Nigeria was the America’s 51st largest supplier of goods imports in 2019. U.S. goods imports from Nigeria totalled $4.6 billion in 2019, down 17.9% ($1.0 billion) from 2018, and down 75.9% from 2009. On trade balance, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Nigeria was $1.4 billion in 2019, a 51.9% decrease ($1.5 billion) over 2018.The United States has a services trade surplus of an estimated $1.7 billion with Nigeria in 2019, down 6.2% from 2018. According to records, the U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Nigeria (stock) was $5.5 billion in 2019, a 21.5% increase from 2018.

Ambassador Isopi

Ms Isopi arrived in Abuja to assume duties as Ambassador of the European Union to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on August 31, 2021. She presented her letters of Credence to President Buhari on October 25, 2021.

Before her current duty in Nigeria, Ms Isopi, who is an Italian diplomat, occupied the same position of EU Ambassador at the EU Delegation in Bangui, Central African Republic. She had previously served as Ambassador of Italy to Cameroon, with concurrent accreditation to Central African Republic, Chad and Equatorial Guinea. Previous postings include the Russian Federation, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Deputy Head of Mission and First Counsellor.