A little over a week ago we hosted a large delegation to visit some of our organization's work. It was the largest of such visits I've had and fortunately all went well. It's a bit nerve-wracking. High-level people require a certain amount of protocol and have the ability to change whatever they want whenever they want. If you have several joining together, you just multiply the risk.
The key figure in this delegation was the Belgian Vice-Prime Minister/Foreign Minister. The Belgians play an important role in this part of the world and this guy is the point person. I'd read about him before his arrival. Even before meeting him I thought he might be interesting. In addition to a remarkable CV of course, he seemed like the kind of guy who speaks his mind. And he is.
|Wasn't a great day for my communications guy so photos are a bit weak - US ambassador being briefed by our governance staff|
Security was a big issue. One of the reasons we agreed with the Belgians and Americans on this particular area (we have activities funded by them in other parts of the country) was that it is a volatile rural region surrounding the capital. According to what I've heard from staff, much of the fighting during the civil war took place in this region. Even today it is the least stable part of the country with a high proportion of violent crime and what some are calling "rebel attacks". The government is calling the violence banditry trying to portray itself as an emerging rebellion. Whatever you call it, it's not good and many are living in fear.
|Just to be clear, in spite of the menacing look, the fear-inspiring pose and the US flag on his t-shirt, this is NOT a US security officer.|
The Belgians came equipped with a solid team of tough-looking guys with suits, earpieces, crumb-catcher beards and eyes darting back and forth behind their shades as they scanned the crowds as we went. They looked pretty bad-ass, I have to say. I felt protected, even more so since I road with the US ambassador in her armored Land Cruiser. That's one sweet vehicle. It weighs a couple tons and drives more like a limo than an SUV but it's well built for its purpose. Her head of security told me a bit about its security features which are quite cool but I'm sure there are a lot of other cool things built into it.
As we entered the villages, it was quite the scene. I'm used to creating a stir pulling into rural villages but this was something these people are unlikely to see for quite some time. In addition to three ambassadors and the Belgian Foreign Minister and their respective security teams, there was a large entourage which included a van full of journalists who travel with the BFM around the globe. On top of that we had our staff vehicles and a number of Burundian government officials and their corresponding security team. More suits and guns than a Godfather movie.
|Not a great photo but it does show an atypical day in the village - Belgian ambassador partially in the photo on the left, US ambassador speaking with the BFM left of center; I'm behind him as we follow the security guys.|