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Charged to represent a nation
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Charged to represent a nation

Two high-ranking female diplomats handle nation’s affairs in Geneva and Washington, DC

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2015
January 21, 2015
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

Theirs are not the typical nine- to-five jobs. Rhoda Jackson and Paulette Zonicle have crucial roles representing their nation on the international stage, not only protecting Bahamian nationals, but also advancing the interests of the country.

Rhoda Jackson
Rhoda Jackson spent a quarter of a century as a foreign service officer before being appointed in 2013 to serve as The Bahamas’ first resident ambassador to the United Nations Office in Geneva. “This posting has forced me to draw on past experiences from other overseas missions,” she says. “I am grateful for the opportunity, and trust that the work I do now will be built upon in the future, by those who are to follow.”

A former French and religious knowledge teacher, Jackson joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1988, armed with a bachelor of arts degree in French with a minor in economics from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. She received her first posting abroad in 1993, as a foreign service officer to the Bahamas High Commission in London. There, she had responsibility for economic and trade matters, and relations with the European Union office in Brussels.

Later, she was transferred to The Bahamas Embassy in Washington, DC, for three years. In 2000, Jackson joined the Permanent Mission of The Bahamas to the United Nations in New York. She served as part of The Bahamas’ negotiating team for several UN conferences. Jackson returned to The Bahamas in 2004 where she worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before being reassigned as charge d’affaires to the Embassy of The Bahamas in Washington February 2007. In January 2011, she was appointed consul general at the Bahamas Consulate General in Miami, Florida.

In announcing her appointment to her most recent position in Switzerland, Prime Minister Perry Christie said she was “specifically chosen because of her extensive knowledge of the foreign service rules and procedures, and so will be key to establishing a new mission.”

He added: “Her exposure to the intersection of social and economic matters … has acquainted her well to represent all facets of our country to the specialized agencies of the United Nations, and position us strategically to identify and request the assistance we need for national development.”

Jackson’s diplomatic training and experience representing The Bahamas at international meetings, conferences and seminars are vital to her role in Geneva, where she is tasked with advancing the national interest on global matters discussed before various specialized bodies. This includes negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO), with which The Bahamas is in the midst of its accession process for membership. Part of Jackson’s mandate is monitoring these discussions, particularly those involving trade facilitation and trade in services.

“The work undertaken in Geneva serves to advance the interests of The Bahamas,” says Jackson. “With a presence in Geneva, matters of importance to The Bahamas are brought to the attention of the appropriate global body.” This includes informing the global community of the efforts being made by The Bahamas on vital issues such as trafficking in persons and drugs and environment protection.

“You have an opportunity to bring to the world’s stage an appreciation for the challenges we face in The Bahamas,” she says. “Being present on the ground in Geneva gives you first- hand insight into the discussions, [you can] identify the proponents of an initiative or those who oppose it. We serve as the eyes and the ears of the government, so that constructive advice and guidance can be given to the policy makers in The Bahamas.”

Paulette Zonicle
The first female consul general to be appointed to Washington, Paulette Zonicle, also plays a crucial role in the nation’s presence overseas, protecting and assisting Bahamian nationals residing across the US and the District of Columbia.

For 40 years, Bahamas consular services were offered through The Embassy of The Bahamas in Washington, but the creation of the Consular Annex extended the support available for expatriates. “Bahamians were starving for an office like the one we have now that focuses on consular matters and Bahamian issues,” says Zonicle, a former radio and television broadcaster and senator in the ruling Progressive Liberal Party government.

Zonicle admits that dividing the roles between the embassy and the consulate general office created some initial “teething issues,” which were later resolved. “This is the first time you have a consul general and an ambassador in the same state, so we have had to work together so that our roles do not conflict,” she says. “We work together for the good of our country.”

With more than 3,000 Bahamians in the District of Columbia alone, Zonicle believes many Bahamian expatriates were “falling through the cracks.” In her first year, the office of the Consulate General issued 500 Bahamian passports. “The embassy’s focus is the diplomatic issues that our country would face on a daily basis. The focus could not have been on the diaspora. It was overwhelming,” she explains. “Now we have an opportunity to focus on the issues Bahamian nationals experience on a daily basis. Whatever they are, we address them immediately.”

The office provides an array of services. It issues Bahamian visas; renews and issues passports and emergency travel documents for Bahamians; processes Bahamian deportees and renders assistance to Bahamian nationals in distress abroad and to foreign nationals in distress while in The Bahamas. The consulate general also authenticates public documents issued in The Bahamas, helps to coordinate repatriation exercises and aids in the shipment of human remains to and from The Bahamas.

An important channel between the Bahamian government and other governments, the Consular Annex interacts with vital port and trade centres from the US to Beijing. “As the government of The Bahamas continues its pursuit of foreign investments, the Consular Annex in Washington, DC plays a vital role in assisting in attracting and facilitating business for the country,” says Zonicle. “The Consular Annex seeks out potential investors in our jurisdiction and facilitates them acquiring pertinent information. We also address other ventures that the investor may be interested in. This we do in conjunction with the Bahamas Investment Authority, the agency responsible for investments in The Bahamas.”

According to Zonicle, her office is presently working on several major investment projects. “I can’t reveal them yet, but once they come on stream, it’s really going to boost the economy of The Bahamas to the level that we never dreamt of,” she says.

With a calendar chock full of college visits, greeting visiting Bahamians, public speaking engagements and other networking events, Zonicle says her days are full. “Washington is where issues of the world happen. For us not to have a presence here as it relates to issues that affect our diaspora, was a disservice to our country. We are here on the ground working every single day to make a difference.”

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