Ambassador Goes Back to His Roots: Haley's Post in Gambia Is Hailed by All as Significant

Article excerpt

The wheel has come full circle since 1767, when Kinte Kunte left his homeland bound in chains to begin the life of a slave in Britain's American Colonies.

Now his great-great-great-great grandson, George Haley, is going to represent the United States as ambassador to Gambia, the West African country where the saga begins in "Roots," the blockbuster book by Mr. Haley's late brother, Alex.

The appointment by the Clinton administration has been a cause for much rejoicing among black Americans and the African diplomatic community in recent days. Last Saturday, Mr. Haley was sworn in by Vice President Al Gore at a special ceremony attended by more than 1,000 dignitaries and other guests at Howard University's Cramden Auditorium. Festivities continued on Monday when Gambian Ambassador Crispin Grey-Johnson hosted Mr. Haley at a more intimate reception that was every bit as meaningful.

"He is an illustrious son of America, of our own blood, and the symbol of a new era in relations between the United States and Africa," Mr. Grey-Johnson told the crowd of about 60 guests gathering for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at the Madison Hotel. Calling himself Mr. Haley's "friend - and cousin about six times removed," the ambassador wasted little time voicing earnest hopes that Mr. Haley's appointment will be a harbinger of increased U.S. assistance to "fight poverty, disease and deprivation" in his country.

"We are confident you can help us!" he said as smiling embassy officials, many clad in colorful native robes, nodded their heads and applauded.

"I say this humbly, but I think this is a good thing for the country," Mr. Haley replied, adding that his mission also would include helping to stimulate Gambia's exports (major products are fish and peanuts) and persuading more American tourists to discover the country's "beautiful white sandy beaches."

Mr. Haley also thinks he may "be in a position to have a tremendous impact" on other African nations, an observation that his friend, Rep. Earl F. Hilliard, was quick to underscore.

"He is going to do for Africa what the Israelis do for Israel!" the three-term Alabama Democrat predicted. …