Learning the History and Practice of Diplomacy from a Pro
Last in a Three Part Series—
Ambassador Steven Browning was appointed to his first ambassadorship in 2003 — the Republic of Malawi. Considered amongst the top 10 of the least-developed countries, Malawi had its challenges. It was predominantly agrarian and depended upon outside aid to meet its needs. Browning worked diligently to break the cycle of its dependency upon other countries.
It was during his time in Malawi (March 2004) that Browning received an unexpected phone call thanking him for accepting the position as minister counselor for management in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. The new “opportunity” would mean relinquishing his position as ambassador, but his management skills and his ability to build in harsh environments were desperately needed in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. He did not refuse.
His task was to bring order to what the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Multi-National Force — Iraq had created in place of the previous U.S. embassy located outside of what was considered the “safe” zone. The “new” embassy was positioned within the “green” zone and provided some semblance of structure to the nearly 5,000 American civilian employees that were living in Iraq after the fall of the Hussein regime; it was a far cry from the 20 civilians that Browning had overseen in Malawi.
The Coalition and the United Nations had agreed that the CPA, which had acted as proconsul, would transfer governance of the country back to the Iraqis by June 2004. Browning arrived in June with a two-week overlap with his CPA counterpart before the CPA went away completely and the American embassy was established — in name only.
Basic services had been provided by the CPA but with little oversight, which made for the massive task of determining what the embassy actually possessed and in whose keeping.
“We transitioned activities that were of an embassy nature from Defense to State as we were able, and transitioned activities that were of an Iraqi governmental nature from Defense and State to the Interim Iraq Government as they were able to assume responsibility for them.”
His time in Iraq measured but a year but during that time he was able to see to it that the embassy was up and running. After nine months for transition, Browning returned to Africa as the ambassador to the Republic of Uganda, sworn in by then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on March 20, 2006. During the time of his ambassadorship (April 2006–July 2009), Uganda had one of the highest rates of HIV and was still dealing with the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group led by Joseph Kony.
For 30 years Uganda had been fighting Kony without outside assistance as he raided villages and kidnapped children, turning them into soldiers or sex slaves. Under Browning’s watch, the State and Defense departments were able to assist with communication and transportation. It also helped Uganda to join with the U.N. to rebuild northern Uganda. The CDC helped build public health infrastructure and provided training for tracking and managing diseases and epidemics.
Browning returned to the U.S. to serve as the principal deputy assistant secretary of the State’s Bureau of Human Resources, making him responsible for the hiring, developing and assigning of all 68,000 employees in the State Department. He was also responsible for securing the funds for positions, as well as discipline and overseeing the assignments process.
After his position in HR, Browning relocated to Berkeley to serve as diplomat in residence from 2012–2014. On October of 2014, two months prior to his mandatory retirement at the age of 65, Browning received another call thanking him for volunteering to be the State Department’s special coordinator for Ebola Response. His experience with working with the CDC in Uganda was an asset in facing the epidemic that was gaining worldwide attention.
Browning retired from the Senior Foreign Service in December 2014, holdingthe rank of career minister. He contracted with the State Department in January to finish the work with Ebola in April of 2015.
Not long in to his retirement, Browning, himself a lifelong learner, began taking courses through Sierra College’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a continuation program for those 50+. Through the program, Browning came upon a flyer looking for instructors for new courses. He began teaching at the NC campus fall of 2017/winter of 2018 and in Roseville spring of 2018. He has taught a course on the History and Practice of Diplomacy and another course entitled Inside the U.S. Embassy. He has had a lot of positive response to the courses and appreciates how such a large portion of Nevada County is committed to lifelong learning and to learning more about diplomacy and foreign affairs.
Lake Wildwood will be hosting Ambassador Steven Browning’s lecture series “Current Issues in Foreign Policy” every Tuesday night of February from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. — Destiny Bradt, Special to TWI
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