Kari Alanko with Iina Soiri, Director of the Nordic Africa Institute

“Next time I’ll be back for two days”

Kari Alanko, Finland’s new Ambassador to South Africa, is no greenhorn when it comes to Africa. With more than eleven years on different embassy postings in Africa, he has a lot of experience of the continent. But still, after a day at the Nordic Africa Institute, he feels that his orientation on African politics and economy has been lifted to a new level.

On September 1st, Kari Alanko will take up his new position as Finland’s Ambassador to South Africa. He will also be accredited to Botswana, Lesotho and Mauritius. With some months left before his new assignment, he decided to go to Uppsala for the Nordic Africa Institute’s Ambassador coaching program.

“It’s such a luxury to spend a full day just listening and talking to experts. In my everyday work, there’s unfortunately too little time for such pauses of insight and orientation”, Kari says.

One of Kari Alanko’s previous diplomatic postings in Africa was in Namibia, 1995 to 1998, at the Finnish embassy in Windhoek. There he got to know Henning Melber, who was at that time the leader of a think-tank, the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit. Today Henning is a senior advisor at NAI, and their paths crossed again after almost two decades.

“It was a pleasure meeting Henning again. He updated me not only on the political situation in Namibia, but on the whole region, and on South Africa in particular. He also put me in touch with some valuable contacts in his extensive network, people whom I will surely contact once I’ve settled in South Africa”, he says.

After serving in Namibia, Kari Alanko had ambassadorial postings in Vietnam (2002-2007) and Mozambique (2007-2011). Since his return from Maputo in 2011, he has been working for five years the Department for Africa and the Middle East at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has been Deputy Director-General of the department since July 2013.

“Now the time has come for me to go back to Africa again, I hope to stay for four or five years. But, I’m also hoping to find some time during this period to come back to NAI. And I will most definitely recommend to my colleges at the Africa Department to utilize the expertise and services of NAI”, Kari says.

After a long and busy day, starting with an early morning visit at Dag Hammarskjöld’s grave in Uppala Old Cemetery, followed by individual meetings with six researchers, a guided tour to the NAI Library and a one-hour research seminar, Kari Alanko sits down with a cup of coffee in one of the sofa chairs in the Library’s reading room.

“The last hour before I head back for my evening flight to Helsinki, I’ll sit here and just browse through some of the books I got today. I wish I had more time to stay and make myself acquainted with all the library’s resources. Next time, I’ll be back for two days.”

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