OCA #22 SUMMER 2016 WWW.OCAMAGAZINE.COM
INTERVIEW: ROBIN ORD-SMITH
From the age of just 14, Robin Ord-Smith has known that he wanted to be a diplomat, representing British interests abroad. His love of languages, culture, history and politics combined to serve him well in his ambitions and he joined the Foreign Office in 1989 after studying German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and International Relations at Surrey University. Among a number of postings Ord-Smith has worked in Romania, Algeria, Iraq and Tajikistan as well as in business, on secondment to BAE systems. One of his roles also involved working at Buckingham Palace as Private Secretary to HRH The Duke of York. His career has had an incredible breadth of experiences and challenges and his last posting in Tajikistan, from 2012-2014, has set him up well for his latest role as Ambassador to Kyrgystan, which he took up in 2015. Open Central Asia finds out more.
Open Central Asia: You were previously Ambassador to Tajikistan prior to becoming Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan in June 2015. How has your previous role helped you settle into your new role?
Robin Ord-Smith: It always helps having had experience of a similar job. But I think many aspects of my career have helped prepare for this role: I have worked in most parts of an Embassy during my career, have seen the Foreign Office from the outside while on secondment, have seen how the private sector operates and have been able to learn from all these experiences. With respect to Tajikistan, there are of course some similarities, but there are also many differences. I would say my many previous visits to Kyrgyzstan were more helpful in terms of settling in as I already knew quite a lot about Bishkek and the Kyrgyz Republic when I took up my appointment.
OCA: What are the main differences you see between the British government priorities in Kyrgyzstan compared with Tajikistan?
RO-S: As I am no longer Ambassador to Tajikistan, it is really for my successor Hugh Philpott to comment on current priorities. But I can say I see a lot of similarities from my time in Dushanbe. Here we seek to support the government and people in developing a stable, prosperous and democratic Kyrgyzstan. We admire the very impressive achievements of the past few years, but also believe we have relevant expertise and experience that can help the country develop further and be more prepared to face remaining challenges – our work and key projects are designed to do just that. We also hope to further build trade and investment links between our two countries, work together in international fora to combat today’s global challenges, and also build the people to people contacts through educational, Parliamentary, cultural and sporting links.
OCA: The Kyrgyz political system is perhaps one of the more advanced democratic systems in Central Asia, but it is a fairly new concept in the country. Would you agree and what do you see as being required to improve this further?
R O-S: Kyrgyzstan has made very impressive strides towards a fully functioning parliamentary democracy in recent years. Last year’s Parliamentary Elections, where I and colleagues were observers, was a very significant achievement that clearly established on the day the principle of “one person one vote”. I and the UK government admire the very real commitment towards a robust parliamentary democracy shown by President Atambayev, the government and people. But we should recognise the scale of the task for countries in transition and understand that it can be a painstaking and lengthy process. It would be unrealistic to expect this to be achieved overnight.
A continuation of the commitment to democracy is essential to ensure Kyrgyzstan’s further democratic development. The Presidential elections in 2017 represent the next stage of that journey.
Given the UK’s long history of democracy, I have been keen to help foster stronger links between our Parliaments. Already this year two groups of Kyrgyz MPs have visited their counterparts in London, and DfID Minister Desmond Swayne MP and Baronness Stern have been in Kyrgyzstan. I believe that this is an area where the UK has a role to play to help Kyrgyzstan further develop and strengthen its parliamentary democracy.
Such links between our countries can help Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law, respect for human rights and promote transparent and accountable governance for the good of all.
OCA: From your travels through the country, what have been your highlights? What things would you like to see most improve in the next few years?
R O-S: In the short time that I have been here I have already seen enough to appreciate the beauty of the country and to realise the great potential to develop the tourism sector. I was just in Osh province to open a bridge in Kara Kulja – a project supported by the UK that will further the economic development of the region by providing better access to pasture lands. Each time I travel it makes me want to travel and see more of this incredible country. The Kyrgyz Republic remains relatively unknown to the UK, yet combines stunning mountain scenery, fascinating history and a wealth of activities. I would like to see greater understanding of this part of the world and more tourists from the UK and Europe. Further infrastructure development would help increase capacity for visitors and also help to build the economy. I have met many entrepreneurs who, despite the challenging business climate, are building successful businesses. This is an encouraging sign. There are important opportunities in sectors ranging from the extractives sector to agriculture, financial, legal and business services. I would like to see all these areas develop. And for Kyrgyzstan to continue to reform its judicial systems, and further improve the business and investment climate, which will in turn attract e more investors And help to build a strong economy and offer a better future for young Kyrgyz.
More widely I would like to see two things. As Ambassador I of course want to see us further developing the bilateral relationship and working more closely together, including in the international arena such as the UN and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Secondly, I see Kyrgyzstan’s current membership of the Human Right’s Council as a real opportunity for co-operation and for the Kyrgyz Republic to use it as a vehicle to showcase their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.
OCA: Throughout your varied career, what is the best piece of advice someone has given you in regards to working and living abroad?
R O-S: Never forget that however long you have lived and worked somewhere, you are a guest.