By RON FANFAIR
Back at the University of Alberta after three years on secondment as director of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Institute of International Relations (IIR) and the Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean, Dr. Andy Knight can reflect with pride on his achievements.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the IIR – located at the UWI St. Augustine campus in Trinidad – is the region’s main interdisciplinary centre for the analysis and advancement of international relations.
His main goal was to see the institute live up to its original mandate as a conduit for building capacity for leadership throughout the English-speaking Caribbean in the areas of diplomacy, foreign affairs, national/regional security and intelligence in addition to connecting it to the rest of the world by plugging into established global research bodies, multilateral and international donor organizations, global non-governmental organizations and academic institutions from outside the region.
Establishing an academy to train diplomats was also at the top of his agenda.
Barbadian-born Knight has delivered almost everything he promised, including getting the academy off the ground two years ago.
“Before coming to UWI, I was working on a plan to develop a diplomatic training centre in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kenya,” the 2010 Harry Jerome Trailblazer Award recipient revealed. “I had always lamented the fact that individuals in the foreign service of Caribbean countries had to go to places like Australia, Malta, Argentina, the Netherlands and some other places to receive diplomacy training.”
Knight credits Congress of the People (COP) party founder and former T & T foreign affairs minister Winston Dookeran, who graduated from the University of Manitoba, for his role in helping to launch the academy.
“When I took the helm of the institute in January 2013, I paid one of my first courtesy calls to Dookeran,” said Knight. “We discussed a number of goals I had for the IIR, one of which was the establishment of an academy to train regional diplomats. He agreed with me that there ought to be an indigenous training facility within the CARICOM region for that kind of training and he also alerted me to the fact that Trinidad had developed plans under the previous People’s National Movement (PNM) government to establish a diplomatic school. Those plans, however, fell flat when the government was defeated and the UNC (United National Congress) government took over.
“One of the challenges for many Caribbean states is that when a government changes, the incoming government tends to throw out the baby and the bath water. So very good ideas that were conceived by the previous government are sometimes discarded by the incoming regime. So I applaud Dookeran for taking up the suggestion that the Caribbean needed an indigenous training facility for its diplomats even though this idea had been percolating before he came into office.”
Aware that diplomacy is undergoing significant changes, Knight said trainees from small states like those in the Caribbean need to be trained differently from the way traditional diplomatic schools trained Foreign Service officers in the past.
“Traditional diplomatic training tends to be limited to Ministries of Foreign Affairs,” he said. “I suggested to the foreign minister that the contemporary training facility for diplomacy should recognize that diplomacy is being practiced today in many different ministries. I also made the argument that diplomacy is being practiced today outside of government. So many non-governmental organizations are engaged in diplomacy some form or the other. Celebrities like Bono, Angelina Jolie, Bob Geldof, Rhianna and Pele are also contributing to the diplomatic process. So I felt that if Trinidad & Tobago was interested in creating a school to train diplomats, it should be a modern diplomatic academy that brings together government and non-government officials and members of civil society, including high-profile celebrities.
While the academy’s main role is to prepare Caribbean diplomats of all stripes, Knight envisages it also being a forum for training individuals from all over the world who want to know more about the Caribbean region and the islands’ curious nuances.
“I also see this academy as a bridge to traditional academies all over the globe and as a bridge between the diplomacy practiced in the region and in Latin America,” he added. “After all, we need to improve our relationship with our Central and South American neighbours.”
Knight, an armed conflict expert and former director of the University of Alberta’s peace and post-conflict studies certificate program, feels CARICOM should throw its full support behind the academy.
“While Trinidad & Tobago took the lead in providing the seed money to get it off the ground, this institution, like the IIR, is conceived of as a regional institution. All CARICOM states should be supporting it and contributing to its success because the stronger it becomes, the better Caribbean states will be able to punch above their weight with multilateral bodies.”
Under Knight’s leadership, an academic journal – the Caribbean Journal of International Relations & Diplomacy – was created, the “diplomatic dialogues” forum was revitalised, senior visiting fellows and a diplomats-in-residence program was set up, research funding was attracted and the IIR secured the bid for the Caribbean Child Rights Observatory Network hub to be located within the institute.
“We all know that children form the most vulnerable group in our society,” said Knight who was the first executive director of the New York-based United Nations Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “Yet, they are the most valuable resource of the nation because they represent each country’s future. We ought to be nurturing and protecting our children so that they can grow into productive members of the community. I certainly believe everyone should have an interest in promoting and protecting children’s rights and in ensuring that governments are living up to their obligations to do the same.”
During his tenure, Knight signed Memorandums of Understanding with Wuhan University in China, the Rio Branco School of International Relations in Brazil, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Indian and Argentinian foreign ministries and the University of Havana.
If the IIR is to be truly considered an international institute, it should have strong ties with other major international institutes across the globe,” he said.
While honoured to be the IIR director, Knight said the role is challenging.
“One has to be able to understand how to walk a fine line between supporting the government in power while at the same time understanding that the opposition party could one day become the government,” he said. “So I would advise my successor to engage opposition parties and groups that are critical of the government while supporting government initiatives that strengthen the normative goals of the institute.
“It’s also important to remember that while the IIR is located on the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad, the institute has a responsibility for training young academics and practitioners from all across the Caribbean region. The IIR is a regional body and the vice-chancellor is the chair of the board of the institute. It has a responsibility to contribute to regional development and integration of the Caribbean.”
Launched through an agreement between the T & T and Swiss governments, the institution’s programs were a collaborative effort between the UWI and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva for six years until 1972.
Guyanese-born Dr. Mark Kirton is the IIR’s acting director.