Personality Politics & Policy

Gambari: Profile of a Scholar, policy wonk and Diplomat

Ambassador Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, a professor of international relations and a diplomat of no mean caliber, resumed duties today 13 May 2020 as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff (CoS). He comes to the job of managing President Muhammadu Buhari’s personal staff and steering implementation of policy with a bag filled with rich experiences in public policy making and international diplomacy.

The new CoS was a one-time and pioneer Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Africa (1999-2005). In that capacity, he worked closely with heads of government, key policymakers as well as institutions in the continent to develop the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). During the same period, he was concurrently the Resident Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission to Angola (2002-2003).

A hard-boiled public servant, he has been a delegate to the Assembly of the African Union as a national delegate (1984-1985) and as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s delegation (2000-2012).

Before this appointment, Amb. Gambari, had retired from the United Nations system to found and chair Savannah Centre Abuja, a think-tank for research, training and public policy debate on the nexus between diplomacy (conflict resolution), democracy and development in Africa. His last assignment at the United Nations was as the Joint Special Representative of the Secretary General and Chairperson of the African Union Commission/Head of the UN and AU Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) from January 2010 to July 2012.

During Ambassador Gambari’s tenure, UNAMID was the world’s largest international peacekeeping mission.

Ambassador Gambari has held several leadership positions at the national, regional and international levels and has built extensive contacts with governments as well as public and private institutions, especially in Africa. He was the Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid (1990-1994) during which he worked closely with African governments to coordinate UN policy to eradicate apartheid, thereby building trust and confidence with governments and policymakers in member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

At the global level, Ambassador Gambari was Under-Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (2005-2007). In that period, he also operated as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar. On 22 May 2007, the Secretary-General entrusted him with the Good Offices Mandate on Myanmar. He was also appointed in 2007 by the Secretary-General as Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Iraq Compact and Other Issues, positions he held until 2009.

Before joining the United Nations, he served his country as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations (1990-1999). He was also Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria (1984-1985) and worked closely with regional leaders, institutions and governments, particularly within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the economic and political development of the sub-region.

Prior to his appointment as Minister, he was the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Lagos.

Prof. Gambari was educated at Kings College Lagos and the London School of Economics and Political Science where he earned a first degree in Economics, with specialization in international political economy. He thereafter travelled to America to school in Ivy leagues colleges like Columbia University, New York, where he earned both an MA and a PhD.
He would stay back in New York to begin a teaching career in 1969 as a Lecturer at the Queen’s College, City University of New York (1969-1974), followed by an Assistant Professorship at the State University of New York (1974-1977)

Prof. Gambari returned to Nigeria to teach at Ahmadu Bello University where he rose to become an Associate Professor (1980-1983) and to earn a full full Professorship at the same University (1983 – present – currently on leave of absence). Ambassador Gambari was a visiting Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University and Howard University in Washington, D.C. from 1986 to 1989. He also served as a Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., as well as a Resident Scholar with the Rockefeller Foundation Centre in Bellagio, Italy.

As a scholar, Ambassador Gambari is the author of several books and scholarly articles.

A recipient of the third highest national honour, Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR), Ambassador Gambari has also been awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) form the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut (2002) and Farleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey (2006).

Other honours include: Honorary Doctor of Public Service, Chatham University (May 2008) and Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), University of Ibadan, Nigeria (November 2011). He has also received the Special Recognition for International Development and Diplomacy Award conferred by the Africa-America Institute (September 2007), the Distinguished (Foreign) Service Award by the Federal Government of Nigeria (April 2008), the International House Harry Edmonds Award for Lifetime Achievement, New York (May 2009) and the Campaign Against Genocide Medal by the Republic of Rwanda (July 2010).

Ambassador Gambari received South Africa’s highest national honour conferred on non-citizens, the Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo, which was conferred to him personally by President Jacob Zuma on 26 October 2012. He was elected to the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars in 2002 and has since 2005 served as a member of the International Advisory Board of the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance at Africa University, Zimbabwe.

In his home state of Kwara State, he also served as first pro-Chancellor of the Kwara State University.