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Ambassador Nicole Avant - A Job Well Done

ALTHOUGH only in her post for two short years, Nicole Avant was considered among the more popular of the US Ambassadors to be posted to the Nassau Embassy.

As the second woman in the job, she had a hard act to follow in Carol Boyd-Hallett who served as ambassador from 1986 to 1989. A no nonsense woman, Ambassador Hallett on arrival piloted a DEA aircraft to Nassau, accompanied by her husband and pet cats, as a message to our drug-infested islands that her arrival signalled the drug peddlers’ departure.

Mrs Avant, a friend of the Obamas and one of the President’s active campaigners and fund raisers, was faced on her appointment 20 years later with temporary separation from her husband, Ted Saranados, chief content officer for Neflix. Frequent commuting became necessary for both of them.

She told reporters on her departure two years later that as ambassador she considered it important to “demonstrate that the United States understands and supports the aspirations of the people of the Bahamas, especially the young who often underestimate their potential as future leaders.”

While here she focused on five priority initiatives: Education, alternative energy, economic and small business development, empowerment and raising awareness about the challenges facing people with disabilities.

Towards the end of her tenure, an inspector from the US Inspector General’s office arrived to conduct the usual embassy inspection.

It discovered that Ambassador Avant had inherited an embassy that was “recovering from an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement, which has caused problems throughout the embassy.”

Also it was discovered that she— not a career ambassador — had little guidance from Washington. It was revealed, said the Inspector General’s report, that “the front office of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and other Washington agencies were not in regular contact with the Ambassador about the conduct of her mission. This lack of regular contact contributed to the Ambassador’s sense of isolation from the Department.”

Continued the report: “According to numerous accounts from mission personnel, the previous Deputy Chief of Mission did not provide the Ambassador or the rest of the staff with adequate support and had a management style many found intimidating. The Ambassador did not take effective action to counteract the perception of an unwelcoming front office and instead focused her activities outside the embassy. Her extensive travel out of country and preference to work from the Ambassador’s residence for a significant portion of the work day contributed to a perception of indifference.”

On the other hand it reported that “the Ambassador, with the able assistance of the Public Affairs Section, has implemented an impressive outreach programme in support of Mission Strategic and Resource Plan goals. By drawing on her personal contacts with prominent Americans, organizing civil society-related conferences, highlighting her travel to outlying Bahamian islands, and undertaking activities to promote business connections between American and Bahamian communities, she and her staff have improved the embassy’s reputation among Bahamians. This, in turn, has fostered a close bilateral environment that is conducive to excellent law enforcement cooperation.”

And it continued: “The Ambassador has been active in promoting business education and development. She invited a music industry executive and former basketball player Magic Johnson to the Bahamas to speak to the Bahamian Chamber of Commerce. She also promotes women in business fora for professionals and students.”

And so it was surprising when Foreign Policy, described as the global magazine of economics, politics, and ideas, published an article headed: “Another Obama fundraiser turns out to be a bad ambassador.” The writer focused on the negative of her administration, highlighting the number of visits to the US —obviously to see her family — for which her Washington office had given permission and for which she personally paid.

Many Bahamians were shocked by the report. Today they would prefer to remember Ambassador Avant as described by Charge d’Affaires John Dinkelman, who served under her for a short time. In answer to Foreign Policy’s article, Mr Dinkelman described Ambassador Avant as “a remarkable woman—an effective and conscientious representative of the United States and an honest, considerate and caring individual.”

Mr Dinkelman commended her for her service to the United States and “her successfully advancing the interests of the US government during her tenure in the Bahamas.”

In the final analysis, aren’t these all the hallmarks of a successful ambassador?

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