This blog is in follow up to an excellent event in support of Project Tembo in which Hannah Thibedeau interviewed me on Moral Hazards. You can see the interview here. We didn’t have time to answer all the questions from the participants - so here are the questions from the Zoom QandA function and my answers. With a little bit of time for reflection, the answers might have improved!
Q.1. You have an African/Indian wife and 2 daughters Lovely, engaged and empowered successful women in their own rights. I thought of them a lot when I was sitting in your place as the omiscient observor and recorder. Did you consult them certainly as you were thinking of them as you wrote? It made my relationship with my wife and daughter and grand daughters more vivid with a deeper sense of responsibility in my own work.
A.1. Yes, I did! My daughter Jena is an emergency room nurse and helped me ensure that the description of Anik’s experience was realistic and credible from both a human and clinical perspective. Natasha is a creative person and fantastic writer who has helped me as an editor from the beginning. Fatima was my first beta reader. I treasure the support and encouragement they have given me throughout the writing and publishing process.
Q.2. I read the book and I loved it. Were some of the characters in the book were modeled on real life people you encountered?
A.2. Yes, the main characters have behaviours that echo several people I have encountered or worked with. Anik, the General Cristiani, Omar, Ibrahim and Randy all are connected to people I have met. It is an important resource for my writing to be able to me visualize people and their conduct based on real encounters.
Q.3. When you went into the diplomatic corp years ago, did you have any idea what you would experience in your career? Also what gave you the courage to write this book?
A.3. Where do I start? I never really planned to join the diplomatic corps. It was the first job I got after grad school. And lucky I was to get it!
As I discussed with Hannah, some young people are eager to get out into the world and see it from bottom to top. We chase the excitement. I also felt at that time (1983) that international development was the most interesting and most important kind of diplomatic service. (My views have evolved). I guess I sought out jobs that would take me to places I had never been. So really, my career has been full of surprises. There is this strange diplomatic phenomena - sometimes the longer you are in a place, the less you understand.
About courage - I’m not so sure that’s the thing. Some anger and frustration, maybe. I’m frustrated when I see lazy self-riteousness in the face of super tough human problems. I’m frustrated when there is political misdirection that confounds military intervention with virtue. You hit a nerve with that question - I need to think about it more!
Q.4. Can you bridge to what’s happening in Yemen right now? How can Canadians push for the Canadian government to do the right thing?
A.4. It’s not about Yemen, it’s about other regional actors. Canadians could start discussing an arms embargo on the parties to the conflict in Yemen, as a straight forward approach. I also think that any Canadian approach needs to be in a broader context of promotion of peace and human rights in the Middle East. Peace in the Middle East is to diplomacy what the NHL is to hockey.
Q.4. Hi Tim, nice to see you. One of the positive impacts of Tembo is that the girls who participate can become role models for younger girls in their communities. Have you seen this elsewhere?
A.4. Totally. I think that is a huge contribution. But they need to be in a supportive environment. Your comment reminds me of when I was Ambassador in Colombia and went to visit a program to stop sexual exploitation of kids in Cartegena. The kids participating in the program had a wonderful demonstration effect. But also, the program raised awareness at the level of all the enablers. Taxi drivers, hotel concierges, tour guides were all encouraged to take responsibility and protect kids too. It was really effective, and created a level of community solidarity that delivered protection and re-established the taboo against sexual exploitation of kids.
Q.5. Can’t help but feel disheartened with the ongoing gap between reports/recommendations/rhetoric and action on the gender equality/Women Peace Security Agenda/meaningful participation. How do you think we break through this plateau of good intentions but little progress?
A.5. Here is my three step plan.
Step 1. Appoint a woman as Chief of Defense for Canada (that will make 2 out of 30 for NATO).
Step 2. Push NATO to have gender equity among its Chiefs of Defense.
Step 3. Insist that 50% of all commanders of UN peacekeeping missions are women.
Q.6. Clearly, one of your talents is arranging words to create a story—the evidence is your wonderful book. But what role does clear language play in diplomacy and effecting change? It seems that these days, governments, politicians and the media choose their words much too carefully when they describe atrocities around the world. Did you feel an unusual sense of freedom of expression in writing your book?
A.6. Wow. There is a lot in that question. First and fundamental. Never lie. Ever. As a diplomat, you can keep your mouth shut, but never lie. Second, trust is the most important ingredient in effecting change. Trust is not simple, it is a very complex and high order of human relationship. It requires that your word and your conduct are completely coherent. It requires that you understand the aspirations of your interlocutor. It requires that you take responsibility for what people understand and take away from what you say. As a diplomat working for a government, you are bound to communicate accurately the position of your government - even if your personal views diverge. Now that I have completed my diplomatic career, I can speak freely. At the same time, I require of myself that I be authentic. Now here is a tough question - “What is honesty in fiction?”
Q.7. Will you write another book?
A.7. The working title is “Dark Bargains”. Its about the trade in rare minerals underneath the aftermath of the Rwanda Genocide. Stay tuned!
Q.8. In your book, the warlords were certainly ruthless but I was shocked how disengaged the peacekeepers were to the protection of women. What are your thoughts on this.
A.8. In the case of Somalia, the peacekeepers were not trained to recognize and respond to that challenge. At a deeper level, look at how long it has taken us to see and understand issues of systemic racism under our noses. I think awareness needs to preceed understanding and effective engagement.
Thanks for these great questions. They sure made me think. I would love to hear your reactions. If you think I am getting off easy - push back!