otherPriorities.com was supposed to become a site for texts and think pieces, written exchange and debate on the differences in culture and values between Africa, the West, and the Rest of the World. Some time before my retirement, I told a number of friends who all had their own personal attachment to Africa and with whom I had worked together in and on Africa over the years, about my idea for such a site. They were interested and ask me to let them know when I start. So, I buildt the site and, in the fall of 2016, we came together in Bern to see how it would work. The conclusion was that it wouldn’t.
But we founded the ‘Afrika-Stamm’ instead, a regulars’ table on Africa, four times a year, in Bern. I organized my trips to Switzerland around these meetings and in 2017 and 2018, we had our quarterly exchanges and debates on a given African topic, set in advance and introduced by one of us. But barely anything in writing. In 2019, participation fizzled out, and in early 2020, the Corona virus prevented us from getting together to see whether and how we should continue.
In the meanwhile, I had started writing some bits and pieces of text on how I found Africa, over the years that I have worked and lived here, as a Swiss diplomat. And how still today, I continue to live the differences in culture and values between Black and White in Africa. So, I am now using the site to offer my texts which might grow into a book, one day.
Nairobi, March 2021
As diplomatic trainee, I volunteered for Kinshasa and was then, upon nomination by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA in 1982, assigned to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC in Bern, in the field of UN and other multilateral affairs.
In 1986, I joined the Swiss Mission to the United Nations in New York, where I covered economic and operational development activities and, for the year 1988/89, was the First Vice-President of the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme UNDP. In 1990, I was assigned to the Swiss Embassy in Nairobi, where I was in charge of the SDC Country Programme and UNEP and was promoted to Diplomatic Counsellor.
Back to Bern in 1993, I served in the Directorate for International Organizations as the inter-departmental coordinator for the entire Swiss administration for UN General Assembly affairs.
In 1996, I took a temporary leave from the Swiss government, allowing me to follow a call from UNDP to the position of UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia. In this time, I coordinated the UN humanitarian response to the big floods of 1997/98. In 1998, I assisted the constitution of the Federal State of Puntland and compiled the first National Human Development Report for Somalia since the war.
At the end of 1999, I returned to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and was in charge of the development and implementation of a new human resources policy.
In 2001, I became Head of Mission and Coordinator of the SDC Country Programme at the Swiss Embassy in Madagascar. In the post-electoral crisis of the country in 2001/02, I contributed to the international mediation of the crisis. The documentary film by Thomas Lüchinger, ‘Der Diplomat – Dominik Langenbacher in Madagaskar’ testifies of this involvement. See: www.rosesforyou.ch
From 2003 to 2005, again on leave from the FDFA, I was the Swiss ‘Delegate for Migration Dialogue’ with the title of Ambassador ad personam, in the Federal Department of Justice and Police. I negotiated bilateral Migration Agreements and, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration IOM, I lead the multilateral processes of the ‘Berne Initiative’ and the preparations for the establishment of the ‘Global Commission on International Migration’ under the roof of the UN.
In 2005, I became the Swiss Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Republic of Guinea and the Republic of Niger, with residence in Abidjan. As of 2008, Liberia and Sierra Leone replaced Cameroon and Niger. Côte d’Ivoire was lingering in her pre-electoral crisis while Liberia and Sierra Leone were both in difficult post-conflict stages, and I closely worked with the respective UN Missions of ONUCI, UNMIL and UNAMSIL. Together with a group of friends from the ‘Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques’ in Abidjan, I helped design a comprehensive Development Plan for the village of Bringakro and, to the name of Kouassi Bringa, was named honorary Chief of the village. In 2013, I returned to Bringakro on a call from the village council. They asked me to mediate in a conflict between the elders and the youth of the village over the lease of land to a private company.
From 2010 to 2013, I was the Swiss Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, and Representative to the African Union AU and IGAD. In 2011, I was appointed also to the newborn state of South Soudan, all with residence in Addis Ababa. During my tenure, with the Ethiopian House of Federation, IGAD, UNDP and the Forum of Federations FOF, I organized the first regional conference on federalism and decentralized governance for the Horn of Africa. I also gave my support to the effort of a group of Ethiopian and Swiss architects to design and build a ‘New Ethiopian Sustainable Town’ BuraNEST, which became the model for rural towns in the Ethiopian urbanization strategy.
From October 2013 to my retirement in May 2016, I was the Ambassador and Special Envoy of Switzerland to Somalia, posted in the Swiss Embassy in Nairobi. Switzerland investing in federalism, both bilaterally and within the framework of UNSOM and the New Deal Compact, I animated a ‘Federalism Consortium for Somalia’ that regularly brought together the Ambassadors of a group of federal countries with Somali leadership for exchange on principles and practice of federalism. In the ongoing state-building process, I contributed towards the establishment of a federal governance system between the federal government and the existing and emerging federal member states. With regard to the status of Somaliland, I undertook efforts to promote talks between Hargeisa and Mogadishu.
I am married to an African of Kenyan origin and I listen to jazz and blues, and African music. I used to be an active runner who, today, does yoga and fitness, and – as a fan of Liverpool – follows English football on television. I live in Nairobi, Kenya, and on my frequent visits to Switzerland, in Ferenberg near Bern.
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