Linowitz Professor teaches UN and small states

by Sierraeye

Professor Minah possesses extensive diplomatic experience from his time working as Permanent Representative for the Government of Sierra Leone at the United Nations. Photo courtesy of Eskinder Debebe/The United Nations.

The Sol Linowitz Professorship chair was conceived as a way to “bring outstanding instructors and lecturers to Hamilton who are experienced in international relations,” as stated by the Hamilton College website. The seminar was founded in honor of Sol Linowitz ’35, a world-renowned American diplomat and lawyer who notably served as Ambassador to the Organization of American States and was a pivotal co-negotiator for the Panama Canal treaties. Seasoned experts in the field of international relations appointed to the Linowitz Professorship are employed by Hamilton College on a semester basis, and teach a three-hour seminar classes geared towards discussion and collaboration. Bernard Kalb, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Samuel Lewis, U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Sir Brian Urquhart, Undersecretary General to the United Nations, have occupied the prestigious position in previous years.

This semester, Professor Vandi Chidi Minah, who has served as Special Advisor to the United Nations and Permanent Representative for the Government of Sierra Leone at the United Nations, among other professional experiences, is teaching the Linowitz seminar. His course is titled “Small States, Big Ambitions, and the United Nations,” and students meet on Fridays from 9:00 a.m. — 12:00 p.m.

Prior to working with the United Nations, Minah’s career trajectory began with studies in England, specifically at King’s College. He emphasizes the importance of obtaining a versatile degree as the basis for one’s professional experience. “I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do, my father told me, ‘why not try law,’ so I ended up pursuing a solid law degree. This degree gave me a background to decide what I wanted to do later on.” Following his time in England, Minah moved to New York where he passed the bar exam on his first attempt and subsequently worked at a law firm for three years. Minah then began working for the United Nations dedicated to peacekeeping in Sierra Leone. “The [United Nations] route took me back to Sierra Leone, then I joined the government, became ambassador, minister, came back to New York City and I am a consulting diplomat nowadays.”

Minah’s seminar is meant to shed light on the role smaller state actors can play in the functioning of the United Nations. “My class specifically covers small states at the United Nations, and the impact they have, or lack thereof. People fail to realize that small states make up the majority membership to the UN,” Minah said. “With little power, how do you get to influence the P5 powers, namely the United States, China, Russia, France and Great Britain?” Students are given the freedom to lead class discussions on a broad range of international relations topics, such as multilateralism and negotiation, while leaning on the experience from Minah and other diplomatic experts. “Students would do a presentation on a reading due for class. They have full authority and responsibility to guide the conversation one way or another. I then come in to challenge them, express their opinions and give them my personal insights.”

Throughout his time with the United Nations, Minah underlines several key principles he hopes Hamilton students can take away from his experience. “[As Ambassador], you have to realize that you are representing your country, you’re there to present a general point of view, not your personal opinion. I am speaking for Sierra Leone above all.” Further, having a purpose in your diplomatic career is foundational to one’s professional success. “You always have to think about the fact that people are looking at me, recording me, pictures are going out. In this age of instant communication, falling asleep for 5 minutes could become a meme before you know it. You have to have a sense of what you’re there for,” Minah said. Negotiation and respect of diverging arguments have been instrumental to his success as ambassador; knowing one’s self worth is crucial. “You can’t go back and forth with someone you don’t agree with because you have 50 other issues to take care of. Stay professional and respectful. Perception is everything. If you can’t be thick skinned and have to react to everything, you are doomed.”

In Minah’s eyes, his greatest accomplishment to date is the release of a United Nations civil servant and irrigation specialist captured in Yemen. As a representative of Sierra Leone, Minah was tasked with coordinating diplomatic talks between the UN, Sierra Leone and Yemeni authorities. Minah recounts his responsibilities: “We are counting on your support and help to resolve this situation without telling [Yemen’s government] ‘you have to talk to these terrorists and make it happen now.’ De-escalation is key. The Yemeni authorities don’t want this embarrassing case in the press, so you keep quiet. Ultimately, you just play your role.” In the end, this negotiation success led to the unharmed release of the UN civil servant. The lesson Minah retains from this case is that “at the center of being an ambassador stands communication, networking, diplomacy, convincing and charm.”

By Gregoire Winston ’26, Editor-in-Chief of the The Spectator, Hamilton College’s student-run weekly newspaper. This article was first published in The Spectator.

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