By Ajong Mbapndah L
He came in with a precise mission to restore the frail relations between the West African country of Benin and the USA. Coming from the private sector and having lived for decades out of Benin, the task given to Omar Arouna by former President Yayi Boni was a daunting one. Not a man to shy away from challenges, and with love for country and his characteristic passion for Africa, Omar Arouna took on the role as Ambassador for Benin to the USA and for two and half years, he left an indelible mark.
“Relations between Benin and the USA, have improved tremendously,” said Ambassador Arouna as he takes stock of his stint in office. Benin may be a small country, but thanks to the hard work we put in, the country is today a strategic partner of the USA, he goes on. It is thanks to the hard work of Ambassador Arouna that Benin returned to the good books of the Millennium Challenge Corporation with a tangible fall out been a compact for vital support towards electrification projects across Benin.
With a hugely positive balance sheet that involves renovation work at the Benin Embassy, the elevation of Benin’s culture, facilitating a number of trade missions for American Business men and enterprises to Benin, and generally rekindling the moribund state of diplomatic ties between the USA and his country, why is one of Africa’s relatively young, dynamic and visionary Diplomats in Washington, DC, stepping down so soon?
“First, it was for a specific mission that I came in, and I think the mission has been completed,” said Ambassador Arouna. The change of government in Benin too is also a factor in the decision of Ambassador Arouna to take a break. Appointed by former President Yayi Boni, the election of a new government under Patrice Talon means a new direction for the country. “The new government has its policies and visions, and the proper thing is to step aside and allow them to work with people closely aligned with what they stand for,” said Ambassador Arouna.
The new government in Benin did send an audit mission to the Embassy of Benin in the USA, a mission which was warmly received by Ambassador Arouna. The new administration deserves the right to take stock of diplomatic missions and my collaborators were instructed to give the team maximum support in the discharge of their mission here, Ambassador Arouna said of the audit mission.
For the two and half years that he was Ambassador, Omar Arouna was one of the most visible faces of Africa in the diplomatic circles. He was readily available to talk about his country Benin and did a lot to promote its culture in Washington, DC and across USA. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas Greenfield had nothing but warm words at a recent send off for Arouna , and so too did his peers at the Ghana Embassy where he was treated to a rousing sendoff by the West African Group of Ambassadors.
While he thought it too early for the new government in Benin to be judged, Ambassador Arouna however cautioned that the people expected results. The new administration will not have all the time in the world to execute its game plan, Ambassador Arouna said.
Has Africa benefitted anything for eight years of President Obama, the first African American President of the USA, yes, says Ambassador Arouna. The USA –African leadership summit was a milestone in relations between Africa and the USA. In addition to the extension of AGOA, The Mandela Washington YALI Fellowship to empower the next generation of young African leaders with new skills is something President Obama will be remembered for, Arouna said.
The diaspora has to be more proactive if it wants to be a source of more meaningful change in the continent. In addition to what they are currently doing, the diaspora must build itself to a level where it can influence policies of their host countries towards the continent, Ambassador Arouna said.
What next for Omar Arouna as he steps down as the Ambassador of Benin? That’s not hard to figure out, says Arouna. Before becoming Ambassador, my challenge was the private sector, investment and Africa and I am headed back there and expect even better results with the experienced acquired in the world of diplomacy, Arouna said.