Foreign Office first as black woman takes top diplomatic role

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NneNne Iwuji-Eme is to become the first black female career diplomat to ever serve as a High Commissioner when she takes up her role in Mozambique this summer. The moves comes as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) seeks to diversify their predominately white upper-class staff.

The role of High Commissioner is the head of diplomatic missions in nations which are members of the commonwealth. Iwuji-Eme will take over from Joanna Kuenssberg, the sister of BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, spoke of the appointment saying: “As a continent with some of the world’s fastest growing economies, Africa is an important partner post-Brexit. NneNne has the vision, experience and energy to take our relationship with Mozambique to the next level, and I congratulate her on her appointment.”

In a 2015 blog post Iwuji-Eme spoke of her hope that her son would grow up in a world where his skin colour did not affect his potential. Image courtesy: Ms Iwuji-Eme

Iwuji-Eme, who speaks four languages, currently serves as a diplomat in Brazil and has worked for the FCO for 16 years. In an official press release, she said: “I hope my appointment as the first British black female career diplomat to this position will inspire young talent, regardless of race or background, to pursue their ambitions in the Foreign Office. I look forward to forging even stronger connections between Britain and Mozambique two close members of the Commonwealth family.”

Only a third of British diplomatic missions are lead by women. This number is hailed as progress by the FCO as it represents a 200% increase in the past 10 years. Half of the FCO board is female and Black and ethnic minority staff make up 13.4% of the diplomatic service. The FCO is set to send Britain’s first female ambassador to United Nations in April.

Change is slow compared to other government bodies. Until 1973 women who married were forced to leave the diplomatic service, despite this rule being repealed in all other civil service professions 20 years earlier. In 1976 Britain appointed its first female ambassador. Until 1991, just 27 years ago, openly gay diplomats were barred from the profession. It was not until 2009 that the first ever female black High Commissioner was appointed, hers being a political rather than career based appointment. And a woman has never served either of the two most highly regarded diplomatic positions of ambassadors to Paris and Washington DC.

Iwuji-Eme, who described the role as an “honour and a privilege”, will take up her new role based in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, in July.



Feature image courtesy: FCO


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