Last updated on August 14th, 2022 at 09:34 am
Mary Beth Leonard has been serving as the United States ambassador to Nigeria since June 14, 2019, when she was appointed to the position by President Donald J. Trump.
Leonard’s approach to U.S.- Nigeria relations centers around her belief that Nigeria’s security threats and economic problems are fundamentally intertwined.
Nigeria has pervasive security problems stemming from ongoing conflict between armed insurgent groups and federal forces. Throughout Nigeria, thousands of lives are lost in connection with terrorism every year.
Nigeria also faces economic challenges. However, Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard asserts that there is a very close connection between Nigeria’s national security crisis and its economic inequality. She has explained that when it comes to Nigeria’s violence and instability, “one common thread is lack of economic opportunity.”
Leonard currently serves as the United States Representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). During her career of foreign service, she has also served as Representative of the United States to the African Union, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Mali, and Director for West African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard has also consistently outlined the importance of supporting Nigeria on its path toward democracy in the face of authoritarianism. “The world is at an inflection point between those who tolerate autocracy and those who know democracy can deliver for the people,” she said in March 2022.
Leonard has a bachelor of arts in economics from Boston University. She also has a Master’s degree in international relations with an emphasis on African studies as well as a Master’s degree of Security and Strategic studies.
During her term as U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Leonard was awarded the State Department’s Diplomacy for Human Rights Award. The award recognizes U.S. Chiefs of Mission that demonstrate a strong commitment to the defense of human rights and democratic principles.
Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard has emphasized that the United States is proud to be one of Nigeria’s largest foreign investors. She also believes that business between the U.S. and Nigeria has the potential to benefit both nations as partners. Investment ought to create opportunities for sustained economic growth.
Leonard’s diplomatic priorities in Nigeria are national security, economic opportunities, and the defense of democracy. “The United States supports strong, accountable, and democratic institutions sustained by a deep commitment to the rule of law and human rights,” she said in December 2020.
While advancements in medicine have enabled progress to be made in Nigeria’s health sector such as the nation’s recently obtained polio-free status, the coronavirus pandemic presented a new host of problems that impacted the nation in many ways and exacerbated existing challenges. “Here in Nigeria, I’m proud that our team rose to these challenges, made health and family a priority, and produced remarkable results,” Ambassador Leonard said in reflection of the unique issues presented by the pandemic.
Leonard has reiterated on multiple occasions the United States’ commitment to covid-19 vaccine access in Nigeria, where the majority of citizens are unvaccinated. Through USAID and other institutions, the United States has donated millions of coronavirus vaccine doses to nigeria.
The United States has had a diplomatic relationship with Nigeria for over 60 years now, since Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960.