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Philip Brown – Yaoundé

My first (of what turned out to be many) SecState visits was that of William P. Rogers, accompanied by Mrs. Rogers, to Yaoundé, Cameroon, in February 1970. This was a big deal across the continent — the first visit by an American secretary of state to Africa, 10 countries in 15 days.

Secretary Rogers on the first visit of an American Secretary of State to Africa. Was he Secrétaire d’état or Ministre des Affaires Étrangerès?

Everyone in our small Embassy, from our newly-arrived Ambassador Lewis Hoffacker on down, was involved in the planning. I worried that Cameroonian officials were referring to Mr. Rogers as the “secrétaire d’état.” In French bureaucracy, “secrétaire d’état” is a sub-cabinet official. I kept thinking we need to call him the Ministre des Affaires Étrangerès and not Secretary of State.

The Secretary’s military plane landed in Douala because the airport in Yaoundé could not handle such a large aircraft. Secretary and Mrs. Rogers reached Yaoundé on a Sunday afternoon and came directly to the embassy swimming pool/volleyball court, where they had hamburgers and hot dogs with the staff.

As CAO, I was very fortunate to be named Mrs. Roger’s control officer — fortunate because her program was much more interesting for me than that of the Secretary. The highlight was a meeting at the Benedictine Monastery on Mt. Febé with a Cameroonian priest, Father Englebert Mveng, to discuss African art. Years later, I ran into Mrs. Rogers at the Safeway in Bethesda and mentioned the visit. I couldn’t get her to stop talking about it!

A tangent: By 1988, I was PAO in Moscow. President Reagan visited. The entire USIS staff was involved. A woman ACAO was designated to work with the White House as Mrs. Reagan’s control officer. She came to me to complain. This was sexism. She wanted to be involved in something with President Reagan. Just because she was a woman, she didn’t want to be assigned as Mrs. Reagan’s control officer.

I said to her, “I know how you feel. We will make it up to you somehow. I don’t have any control over this. But believe me; you will have a much more interesting experience.” She came to me afterwards and said, “I am so happy I was Mrs. Reagan’s control officer. While the rest of you were standing around, I went to the ballet school and to art galleries. We saw icons that the rest of you will never see.” I understood! My Cameroon experience with Mrs. Rogers had served me well many years later.

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (adst.org)

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