Ambassador (Retired) William M. Bellamy stepped down as the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies effective September 1, 2012, to accept an academic leadership position in Boston. Bellamy led the Africa Center for the previous four years. In this interview with ACSS communications specialist Serge Yondou shortly before his departure, Bellamy recalled some of the key accomplishments of his tenure at the helm of the Africa Center.
Q: After four years of travelling and meeting African leaders of the security sector, what would you say has been the most exciting part of the job?
A: It is hard to say what has been the most exciting part of my job, because so much of the job has been exciting and rewarding. I suppose that the most gratifying part of the job was the connections that we — at the Africa Center — were able to make with our African participants. What is most rewarding, I think, is when we can take our academic programs and generate some real enthusiasm in the course of those programs and then carry those over to longer term relationships with our alumni — as we call them, our community members. Being able to build those longer term relationships with our alumni, and go back to them, revisit them, is probably the most rewarding part of this job.
Q: Is there anything specific that you are proud of?
A: From the stand point of being director of the Africa Center, what I will look back on with maybe most satisfaction is some of the changes we have made here; the initiatives we took, the reforms we have implemented. I am very happy with the work that was done on the website. It was done really in house, at the initiative of some of our younger staffers. It is a very creative, a very successful product, including our daily media review, which is one the best products of its kind anywhere. I am also very happy with the take off of our small Research unit, and the really excellent quality of work we have been able to produce with a small staff and a very small budget. We have also streamlined and updated our academic programs; we have enlarged the number of our community chapters across Africa, increasing our outreach. I think we have become a little bit more creative in the way we use these chapters and engage with our alumni. Those are all legacies you can look back on with a sense of satisfaction. We have done all of this in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. Maybe one of the things I am most pleased with is the fact that we have been able to realize some fairly serious economies in the way we operate to accommodate budget restrictions. But we have done so without sacrificing our core mission, without compromising the important work we are doing.
Q: A word about the team you have come to lead since 2008?
A: One of the great pleasures of being here at the Africa Center is this remarkable group of people. A remarkable group that I discovered and met when I first arrived and which has evolved over time. We are first of all a very diverse group. We have a lot of cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity in our organization, and I think that is really one of our strengths. It is one of the things that has given us an ability to work effectively in Africa. We have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in this center, people who are passionate about their work and passionate about Africa and the challenges that we are working on with our African partners. Nowhere is that more obvious, more evident than when we stage one of our programs here in Washington, D.C. or in Africa. Our people put in long hours. They work under tight datelines. Often time they work under trying circumstances-sometimes without electricity or running water, sometimes it is the airlines schedules that fail us. But they do so with such good humor and such enthusiasm that it has really been one of the highlights of my career, working with my colleagues here at the Africa Center.
Q: What is your next step? What is next for you?
A: I had determined some time ago that I wasn’t going to stay forever at the Africa Center. I thought four year would be the right tenure for me in the director’s position. I have also — for some time — been interested in spending time in academia, so I can do some research, teach, work with and learn from students all at the same time, and stay involved in the policy issues, primarily the African issues that have been a big part of my career until now. An opportunity arose at Simmons College, a liberal arts College in Boston, Massachusetts, and I am very happy to accept it. I will be going there this fall as the Warburg Professor of International Relations. I won’t be that far away. In fact I intend to be in Washington D.C. a fair amount of time, and I look forward to staying in touch with my friends and colleagues at the Africa Center.