The new ambassador of the United Kingdom to Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe, Jessica Hand, presented this week credentials to the Saotomean Head of State, Evaristo de Carvalho. In her first visit to the country, the ambassador granted an exclusive interview to STP Digital, where she spoke about the similarities and differences between the two island nations.
A career diplomat, before being appointed Ambassador to Angola and Sao Tome and Principe, Jessica Hand served in Senegal, as Ambassador in Belarus, as Political Adviser to a NATO Commander in The Netherlands, as Counsellor and Consul-General in Moscow, as Consul-General and Director of UK Trade and Investment for Turkey in Istanbul. Her main areas of expertise are multilateral issues, including arms control and security, and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union. She speaks French, Russian and now Portuguese.
She is married with three adult stepchildren. Her husband has dual American and British nationality. He is a retired US Army officer and, after completing his PhD three years ago, is now an independent consultant and academic writer.
STP Digital – This is your first time in Sao Tome. What do you think of the country?
Ambassador Jessica Hand: This seems to me to be a very special and unique place, as well as a very beautiful one. I look forward to exploring and learning more about the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe more extensively in future visits. I also look forward to getting to know the people, and especially key counterparts such as your Ministers and senior officials.
STP Digital – Having in mind that you observe our society and our culture, could you please compare the two countries, Great Britain and Sao Tome and Principe?
Ambassador Jessica Hand: There is one clear similarity – that is that we are both island nations – which means we have to balance a degree of self-sufficiency with an ability to reach out and engage productively with regional and global partners.
We also have some equally clear differences – on a human level, our languages and cultures and climates are all different; on a national level, our scales of economic development are very different.
However, differences should be seen as points of interest rather than things that keep us apart. We can and should share experiences and perspectives and learn from one another. In that way we can work out how best to work together to form lasting and productive partnerships – and, hopefully, friendships.
STP Digital – What are your thoughts about the challenge of releasing Sao Tome and Príncipe from the international aid dependency?
Ambassador Jessica Hand: This is a significant task that takes time and a lot of work. A key element is the development of clear governance structures and having a clear and consistent set of priorities to work towards. This makes it both easier and more reliable for external partners and investors to identify how and where to engage. Another important factor is communication – reaching out to make people aware of what the country has to offer, what it is interested in, and how to begin a dialogue about future collaboration. In effect, Sao Tome and Príncipe needs to introduce itself to the world and be strategic about the sort of partnerships and investments it wants to create a good quality of life for its people.
STP Digital – How can UK–STP business and cultural ties be strengthened?
Ambassador Jessica Hand: It is too early for me to give a detailed answer on that. Part of the answer has to be more human interaction and better mutual understanding. I would like to see more leaders from Sao Tome and Principe studying in the UK through our Chevening Scholarship Programme. In the past 5 years 4 have studied in the UK, I hope we can increase that number.
STP Digital – Lately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had “irrefutable proof” that the alleged chemical attack in Syria was a staging “and accuses the United Kingdom. Are we living another cold war?
Ambassador Jessica Hand: The Assad regime has a track record of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way. A significant amount of information indicates that the Syrian Regime was responsible, for example open source accounts allege that a barrel bomb was used to deliver the chemicals. Multiple open source reports claim that a Regime helicopter was observed above the city of Douma on the evening of 7th April. The Opposition does not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.
And reliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials co-ordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine in Douma on 7th April. No other group could have carried out this attack. Indeed, Daesh for example does not even have a presence in Douma.
These grotesque and absurd accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no attack ever happened. This simply shows the desperation to pin the blame on anyone but their client – the Assad Regime.
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