Inspired by the book, The Ugly American, Rob Jackson decided in the 8th grade that, as Americans, “We can do better.” After 28 years with the US State Department, Rob talked at length with TravelTalkRADIO host, Sandy Dhuyvetter, about US relations with Morocco. As Chief of Mission for the US Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, Rob has some great insight on Africa, on why Morocco is considered “Africa’s California,” and why a career in the Foreign Service may be one of the most interesting, positive and enjoyable professions available today.
Sandy Dhuyvetter: Welcome back to TravelTalkRADIO. My name is Sandy Dhuyvetter- a little Gawa Infusion – that is a Moroccan band that we met many years ago when we were in Morocco and we’ve continued to follow them on and we always use them when we bring in something fabulous about Morocco, and we are going exactly that now. We are going to have a conversation with Robert Jackson and if he was from any other country – he is from the United States – we would call him “His Excellency,” but we don’t do that in the US and we’ll have to ask him why. But he’s actually the Chief of Mission at the US embassy in Rabat and he has been that since September of 2007. He is now the Chargé d’Affaires. He is the ad interim ambassador there until we do get our ambassador, which we hope – and we’ll talk to him about that, too – we hope to have the ambassador in place by October. Let’s bring him in now, Robert Jackson from Rabat, Morocco. Rob, thank you so much for joining us today.
Robert Jackson: It’s a pleasure to be with you and your listeners, Sandy.
Sandy: Well, great to have you, too, I had the opportunity to visit you in your beautiful office. It has such a wonderful feeling, the air – I know it’s about 5 o’clock there now – but it had such a beautiful air to it. It was a wonderful representation of being in Morocco.
Jackson: Well, thank you. We love Morocco, and it’s a lot like Southern California. So, there are many similarities and some significant differences as well.
Sandy: Yes, absolutely. You know, if you don’t mind, I want to just touch on the embassy. How big of an area is the embassy there in Rabat?
Jackson: Well, the embassy occupies about three acres here in Rabat in the downtown area, and it’s a home to about 250 employees, approximately 100 Americans and about 150 Moroccans work here.
Sandy: Interesting. You know, when I was in your office, too, we got to relax a few minutes and just enjoy our conversation, and you had told me a little bit about your background, and I find it so fascinating, I’d like to just talk a little bit about it. And also, really, from the fact of young people and parents out there helping to guide their children, I think the Foreign Service is certainly something to consider. But, you had said that you had spent most of your years in Foreign Service in Africa by design. You want to talk a little bit about Africa and why you choose, and continue to work in Africa?
Jackson: I’d be very happy to. I should say to start with that I decided to join the Foreign Service when I was in the eighth grade and read a book called The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer and it really influenced my thinking about the world. And their premise, for those of your readers who don’t know the book, is that America made a lot of mistakes in its foreign policy in the 1950s. And I really took that to heart and I said “I think we can do better,” and I pursued the idea of a career in the Foreign Service with great determination until I finished the university and then I had the opportunity to live overseas for a few years. And, almost 28 years ago, I joined the Foreign Service, and since then I’ve served in Canada, Portugal, been in 4 African countries in sub-Saharan Africa, now here in Morocco, my 5th country. But from the first time I went to Africa in 1985, I just fell in love with the people and the continent. There is so much diversity, there’s great music, there’s great art. But everywhere I’ve been, we’ve found really warm and welcoming people who are very proud of their culture and anxious to share it with Americans. And so, there’s a Swahili proverb, actually from East Africa, that says “Once you drink the waters of Africa, you will come back.” And for me, that’s been the case. I keep coming back because I find the work that I’ve been able to do in our embassy is absolutely fascinating. I’ve met some really interesting people in East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, and now Northern Africa. And I’ve had the opportunity to work on issues from health care and drought assistance to democratization and feel that our embassies in Africa have such impact on the daily lives of people; it’s really been extremely satisfying.
Sandy: You know, just listening to your story reminds me also of our journey, too, I mean we’ve been able to go around this beautiful world of ours and just enjoy and report back to our audiences, but something about Africa has even taken my heart and with my eighth trip to Africa in Morocco just a few weeks ago to visit you, I fell again totally back in love with Morocco. You know, lets talk a little bit about the education that you pursued before you actually entered the Foreign Service. Were you a language major?
Jackson: No, actually I did study French when I was in high school and college, but I majored in political science. I went to a small liberal arts college in Maine, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and because of the knowledge of French, I had the opportunity to go and teach in France for a year. I taught English for a year, and then took another teaching job prior to joining the State Department. But that experience living overseas made me interested in pursuing a career that would allow me to travel and that would allow me to meet people from other cultures.
Sandy: You know, being in Africa the 28 years – well, not that you’ve been in Africa, but since you joined the Foreign Service 28 years ago – and being in Africa a large part of that time, you’ve probably seen this love affair, I mean, just kind of gather momentum for Africa from around the world. I know that living in the US, we see Africa as a very hot tourism spot, certainly like never before. Have you felt it there?
Jackson: Absolutely, and we see more and more Americans coming to Morocco. We understand that about 110,000 Americans are coming to Morocco annually now, and that number is up significantly in the past few years. And I think that Americans would love to come here because there are beaches, mountains, incredible history with cities that have celebrated 1,200 years of existence, Roman ruins that go back much farther, obviously, even Phoenician ruins. And the country is a visual delight as you’ve seen, with great contrasts, spectacular architecture, and wonderful food which is a feast to the eye.
Sandy: Absolutely. Do you live fairly close to the embassy there?
Jackson: I live about 10 minutes away form the embassy.
Sandy: Oh, nice. Nice, nice. And talking a little bit about the embassy, too, when Americans – I’d like to get this understood because I really don’t understand this part – as an American visits Morocco, should they sign up or should they come to the embassy and say, “We’re here?” Is that a natural progression or something that’s advised?
Jackson: They should sign up and they should sign up at www.state.gov, go to the travel section, and then you can register that you are going to any country in the world. And if anything happens while you are traveling, the State Department or your family has the means to contact you.
Sandy: Well, that’s wonderful. That wasn’t one thing I understood and I’m glad you clarified that. Were going to take a quick break, we have a great conversation going on with Rob Jackson. He is the – and I want to make sure – it’s the Chargé d’Affaires, but also you are the Chief of Mission aren’t you, the Deputy Chief of Mission?
Jackson: Correct. Deputy Chief of Mission or Chief of Mission right now, since we have no ambassador.
Sandy: Right and we’ll talk a little bit more about that coming up. My name is Sandy Dhuyvetter and thank you all for joining us.
Sandy Dhuyvetter: Alright, isn’t that a wonderful song and, of course, it makes you think of Casablanca. We were just there, of course, and I visited Rick’s Café, and, in fact, if your interested in Rick’s Café, we did an interview last week with the owner, the founder, and she was actually a former Foreign Service employee, and you know her don’t you, Rob?
Jackson: I know her very well, and she fell in love with Morocco just as I have, decided to move here and set up a business here, creating the café that everyone thinks has always been in Casablanca.
Sandy: (Laughs.) Yes, exactly, exactly. You know, for those of you who are just joining us, I’m talking to Rob Jackson. I’ve called him our Interim Ambassador to Morocco, but his actual real title is Deputy Chief of Mission, Chargé d’Affaires. And you are going to be acting as ambassador until what, October? Is that what I heard or is that kind of rumor?
Jackson: Well, we are not exactly sure. The proposed ambassador had a Senate hearing yesterday, and we’re hopeful that the Senate will confirm him soon, but until he gets confirmed by the Senate, he can’t come out here.
Sandy: So does that widen your responsibilities a little bit?
Jackson: It does. Right now, I’m doing all the things that an ambassador would normally do and have been doing those things since the change of the administration in January. But when the new ambassador comes, I will return to focusing more on the daily management of the embassy and the ambassador will become the public face of the embassy. That’s pretty much how every embassy divides the work. We have a Chief Executive Officer, the ambassador, and then a Chief Operating Officer who’s the Deputy Chief of Mission.
Sandy: I see, I see how that works. Is there a good career path, I mean, is there a lot of opportunity for young people to join the Foreign Service right now?
Jackson: Right now we are hiring approximately 1,200 people over the next 12 months for the Foreign Service and I think it’s a great career. I have loved every minute that I have spent in the Foreign Service and I have had some interesting experiences and some difficult experiences but its all been very positive, professionally and personally.
Sandy: Well, I can attest that you are passionate about what you’re doing, just spending the small amount of time I did with you and then, of course, watching and listening to your presentation in Casablanca at the Association of Moroccan Professionals in America. They had their annual meeting there, and you were wonderful enough to give some of the keynote speaking presentations there at the beginning of the conference. It was very enlightening. I know you had to leave but that whole day was just great. We learned a lot and what is happening in Morocco is just amazing from all industry perspectives, isn’t it?
Jackson: It really is the economy here is doing very well because it’s not suffered greatly from the world financial crisis. Exports from Morocco are down and yet the economy here will grow 5% this year and the United States should do so well. But the Moroccan economy is not only doing well, the whole relationship between Morocco and the United states is prospering and we have a variety of initiatives with Morocco from free trade agreements to investments through the Millennium Challenge Corporation in agriculture and fishing. And we also have a very robust export promotion program from the United States to Morocco, so we are very active here.
Sandy: Yes and, you know, that goes back so far. We have mentioned it before, but in 1777 it was the very first country that acknowledged the US as its own sovereign nation. So, we go back with a very, very robust, as you said, relationship with Morocco. Just good stuff .You know, I want to go back to one thing that we talked about last segment, and we talked a little bit about Americans when they travel abroad, and actually registering in the US State Department, and you can do this at a website you said before you actually leave for any country.
Jackson: Right. Its travel.state.gov and it gives you useful information about traveling in any country, if there are particular health issues, political issues, or crime issues to be aware of, tells you whether you need a visa or not. But we encourage people to register on that site so that they can be contacted by embassies or their families through the State Department should there be an emergency or a need to get a message through quickly.
Sandy: Yeah. You know we love risk management and it’s all about taking preventative care, and when you do something like that, it just adds that other layer of security onto making a very memorable trip. So it’s very, very important to do that. If you had to go on from Morocco to somewhere else, would you have somewhere in mind?
Jackson: Oh, that’s a really hard question. There are so many places that I haven’t lived yet. The next area that I would love to explore with my family is Asia. I have not spent very much time there and there are so many places that are possible postings, but we’re thinking about Asia as our next assignment. We haven’t narrowed down where, because I’ve only been one Asian country to date and the rest is unexplored territory.
Sandy: Oh, that is very exciting for your family. Now, have you raised children in Morocco and around the world?
Jackson: My wife is a speech therapist and so she works with children everywhere we go and we happen to meet…
Sandy: Those are your children!
Jackson: …local children and those are our children.
Sandy: How wonderful, wonderful. You know, as we have gone to Morocco and come back from Morocco, we’re watching – and many, many people are finding that we’re covering a lot of Morocco – but what we found is you’ve got a Facebook page. And I want to remind everybody that if you go to Facebook and you put in US Embassy Rabat, you’re going to get a lot of information about what’s going on, and I believe too you have some opportunities that you are looking for as we did talk a little bit about opportunities for careers there, too.
Jackson: Yes, and there’s also a lot of information about State Department careers at www.state.gov and I really encourage anyone who’s interested in a career with the Foreign Services or with the State Department in Washington because they are interested in international affairs, to take a look at the information on the website. It’s really developed, it talks about our recruiting, it talks about career options, and it really gives a feeling of what it’s like to work for the State Department both overseas and in Washington.
Sandy: Well, beautiful. Rob Jackson thank you so much for joining us today, and if you were in, like I said, any other country, I would be calling you “Your Excellency.” That’s really the title you should have, you’ve done just a beautiful, beautiful job and thank you again for joining us.
Jackson: Thank you so much Sandy
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