Walter Carrington

Walter Carrington, former American Ambassador to Nigeria, died 11 August, aged 90

The recent death of the former American Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Walter Carrington, has robbed our country of a friend who stood by us during the darkest days of military rule. Ordinarily, the work of an ambassador is to represent their country and its national interest but Carrington saw himself not only as an American but also an African-American who could not sit idly by while the rights of Nigerians were being trampled upon by a few people. In using the American might to nudge the late General Sani Abacha regime to do the right things, he became a marked man. At the end he was hounded out of Nigeria. But his link with our country, cemented with the marriage to a Nigerian, remained unbroken till the end.

Posted to Nigeria in 1993 by the then United States President Bill Clinton, Carrington spent four momentous years during which time he embedded himself in pro-democracy groups in the country and served as thorn in the flesh of the Abacha military junta. An uncommon diplomat, Carrington openly identified with Nigerians who clamoured for the end to military rule with all its arbitrariness, despite threats to his life. After his tour of duty in Nigeria ended and he returned to the United States, Carrington continued to remain involved, doing his best to enable the country to return to democratic rule.

Carrington had a pedigree that prepared him well for the diplomatic job especially his tour of duty in Nigeria. Upon graduation from Harvard Law school in 1955, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where one of his assignments was as an enlisted man with the Judge Advocate General Corps (Germany, 1955–57). Thereafter, he entered a private law practice in Boston, Massachusetts during which time, he also served as Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the youngest person to serve until that date. He held various positions in the Peace Corps from 1961 to 1971, serving as Country Director in Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Tunisia and then as Regional Director for Africa (1969–71). From 1971 to 1980, he was Executive Vice President of the African-American Institute.

Carrington served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal from 1980 to 1981. In 1981, he was named Director of the Department of International Affairs of Howard University. He published several articles on Africa. On 1 September 2004, Carrington was named the Warburg Professor of International Relations at Simmons College in Boston. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. In 1997, he received an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Humane Letters) from Livingstone College, North Carolina.

In a fitting tribute, President Muhammadu Buhari described Carrington as a “longtime friend of Nigeria and an astute and courageous diplomat.” The president praised the late ambassador whom he said “openly supported the people of this country when they fought for the return of democracy following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections won by the late Moshood Abiola.” He added that the story of Nigerian democracy under the Fourth Republic will not complete without a mention of his heroic roles.

We agree with the president. The tenure of Walter Carrington in Nigeria went beyond the call of normal diplomatic duty. He reached back to his black ancestry to identify with our country at a very difficult moment in our national history. We condole with his Nigerian wife, Arese, and other members of his family. May he rest in peace.