Ambassador Susan Stevenson, who was confirmed as Ambassador of the United States of America to Equatorial Guinea in January of 2019 has spent the last two years and eight months, being the “bridge” between both countries and as the curtains come down on her time in the country, we sat with her to talk more about what is has been like; and as she eased into her seat, ready to answer questions and share more insights on her time in the country, one could feel it was going to be insightful.
The role and importance of bilateral relations can’t be over emphasized and Ambassador Stevenson, aptly described it when she said, ‘’the role of the Ambassador is to serve as the bridge between the host country and our capital.’’ In her role and capacity, she set the tone and direction on some of the obstacles that were there and worked with civil society and the EG government to accomplishing goals, including addressing the issue of trafficking in persons.
‘’Even though the same objective in regard to trafficking in persons was there with my predecessor, I realized that the government had a different concept of what trafficking in persons means and I believe it is important to understand the situation in the local society, what do the people think on the ground, and to be the bridge you say what do I need to do to make them understand what I want and how do I understand where they are. So the biggest problem we had was that Equatorial Guinea said we don’t have slavery, we don’t have trafficking, we don’t know what you are talking about.’’
How she responded to that was by making the government understand what it was – forced labor – and together with the Equatorial Guinean Foreign Minister last year, formed an approach that recorded success and elevated Equatorial Guinea from Tier 3 to Tier 2-Watchlist in the annual Trafficking in Persona report released by the U.S. Department of State. By moving up, the United States of America and Equatorial Guinea have now been able to enjoy more bilateral corporation.
It is important to note that every country, including the United States is on the list but what differs is where they are as there are different tiers – tier 1, tier 2, tier 2 watchlist and tier 3.
‘’Unfortunately with COVID last year, the government was not able to do all the activities that they had planned. I regret that Equatorial Guinea remains on Tier 2-Watchlist and did not advance to Tier 2 but am hopeful that in the coming months, the government will be able to work with us on some of the recommendations, so it can achieve Tier 2 next year,’’ she concluded.
Being an Ambassador is not an easy job and being the ‘’bridge’’ between both countries comes with its own challenges.
‘’We need to understand how both governments operate and so if am a bridge, I don’t control what Washington is doing and I don’t control what Malabo is doing. And so some of the frustrations are when we have a request and the government here sees the issue differently and so we are unable to resolve it. Most of the issues I have worked on have been issues that we have been able to resolve.’’
Patience and persistence have been fundamental to her time in the country and with those, she has been able to get some desired results. From elevating Equatorial Guinea’s standings in the trafficking in persons list to the work being done in maritime security and transparency to help the business environment, the Ambassador has focused on the most critical things to make the United States’ programs in the country continue.
With an important part of the population under 35-years old, planning for the future is very important to the country and one of the pillars of a strong, successful society is education. The Young African Leaders Initiative, a program started in 2010 by the U.S government has played a role in supporting young men and women of Equatorial Guinea to participate in shaping its future.
“What’s really struck me here in Equatorial Guinea is that all of the Mandela fellows already have their day jobs and the reasons they were selected for the fellowship was their social entrepreneurship projects that they have taken it upon themselves to contribute to the society and help the people coming behind them, and I find that incredibly inspiring,’’ said the Ambassador.
In her time in the country, travelling to the different parts and recently hosting the children of Huevos de Cristal program have been some of her favorite moments.
“The visit we had of the Dreams Hub students was one of the most rewarding things I could do. I was very fortunate to arrive pre-COVID and able to travel. One of the highlights for me was my first trip to the mainland, where I was able to travel to the mainland. From Bata all the way to Ebibeyin,and then down to Mongomo.’’
El proyecto @HuevosDeCristal de @HubDreams, liderado por @NchasoOscar, visita la embajada 🇺🇸 para conocer su funcionamiento y labor de sus empleados. Los niños fueron recibidos y orientados por la embajadora Stevenson. #USinGE #youthandfuture pic.twitter.com/AaEgErxge8
— U.S. Embassy Malabo 🇺🇸🇬🇶 (@USEmbassyEG) September 2, 2021
Ambassador Stevenson visited other communities such as Añisok and Batete. While at the latter, she visited the church, commented on its beauty and expressed her appreciation for being let into the culture of the people.
As our time with the Ambassador wound to an end, we asked her for words of encouragement to the girls from the Huevos de Cristal program who were inspired by her during their visit to the Embassy.
‘’It is good to hear if young girls look and say, wow, maybe I can do that because I see a female Ambassador. Society takes a while to change but I think as you see yourself in other positions in society that helps people understand that anybody can be in these roles and that is an important way to broaden people’s horizon,’’ she concluded.
As Ambassador Susan Stevenson counts down to the day she leaves the country, we do hope she enjoys more of the sights and sounds of Equatorial Guinea and wish her the very best with what comes next.