This week I finish my time as UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has been a remarkable privilege to represent my country here. It has been the most challenging, frustrating, enriching and rewarding experience of my professional life.
As a diplomat, you can never draw a clear line between professional and personal life. My wife Martina and I took the decision to come to Sarajevo because we were excited at the chance to live here, and in the hope that we might be able to make some modest contribution to BiH. This has been our family home, and a wonderful one for our two boys. It will be difficult for all of us to leave.
My four years as Ambassador have flown past. It has not always gone to plan – losing the best part of two years to a global pandemic was certainly not foreseen. In everything I have done, and everything that has been thrown at us, I have been proud to be part of a UK Embassy team, most of them BiH nationals, equally committed to making a positive difference.
In this country, it is often easier to focus on the negative and the differences. In my experience the only meaningful distinction is between those who want to succeed and see others around them succeed, and the small elite in entrenched positions who prefer to divide others so the dysfunction can continue. The exodus of many of the most qualified and talented young people is still for me the number one crisis facing BiH today. But in taking an honest, compassionate look at the reasons for their departure, we can tackle those issues and help give them the opportunity to stay. This has become the overarching goal which links the many different areas of the UK’s work here.
This shift in focus was one of the reasons I decided to form a small group of youth advisers, from across BiH, who would help me better understand their perspectives. I thought we might get ten, if we were lucky. We received 300 fantastic applications, full of ideas and energy. After two cohorts of advisers, who all gave generously in monthly video-calls with me, I can only thank them once more for the example they set. They showed me that young people may be frustrated, but not apathetic, and that to find solutions to the problems facing the country we need only to listen and empower them.
I have been asked a number of times recently about my highlights or achievements during our posting. It is hard to choose: seeing elections for the first time in a generation in Mostar, welcoming back brilliant BiH scholars and cadets from UK institutions, supporting domestic violence shelters as they dealt with surging demand, breaking ground on major UK investments, helping female entrepreneurs thrive through the pandemic, or participating in the first ever PRIDE march. What I will take with me most will be the amazing people I met, everywhere I travelled, from Cazin to Trebinje, Livno to Brcko.
At our recent Queen’s Birthday Party, celebrating the Platinum Jubilee, we brought together many of those who we had seen working so hard to improve the country, in their communities and companies. It was our opportunity to thank them for everything they did for this country, and to underline the UK’s continued commitment to this country’s success.
My message to them, and others across the country is this: BiH has friends, such as the UK, that you can count on. The change in UK ambassadors here will not affect that. And from me personally, thank you for your hospitality, generosity and inspiration.