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Amara Essy
"The task is very heavy... it is a very difficult job"
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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Profile: Amara Essy
Amara Essy giving a speech at the UN in a photo from his website
Mr Essy has had an illustrious diplomatic career
Amara Essy appears well prepared for the difficult task ahead of him as he takes on the job of Africa's top diplomat, as secretary-general of the newly formed African Union.

The union is to replace the Organisation of African Unity, and it will be the job of the 57-year-old accomplished diplomat to steer the new body through its crucial transition into an EU-style union.

The main task I think is clear, because the mandate of the new secretary general is to transform the OAU into the African Union

Amara Essy
Mr Essy, who is fluent in half a dozen languages, served as the Ivory Coast foreign minister for 10 years until last year.

In 1990 he presided over the UN Security Council, after a long and illustrious career as ambassador and envoy to various countries and institutions.

He was elected to lead the African Union despite the fact that, as a special envoy of the late Ivory Coast's President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, he advocated trade with South Africa, while most OAU member states imposed sanctions on the apartheid regime.

But Mr Essy also played a key role in encouraging negotiations in Lome, Togo between Sierra Leone rebels and the Freetown government, which led to a UN-brokered peace agreement in 1999.

Ivory Coast coup

But in December 1999, political tension in the Ivory Coast led to a coup against the government of President Henri Konan Bedie.

A junta led by retired general Robert Guei, with the support of the armed forces, paratroopers and presidential guards, arrested top ministers, including Mr Essy.

Within a few days of the putsch, Mr Essy, a moderate among the government's hawks, became one of the first ministers released from military detention, while the junta kept several hard-liners in custody.

Pele look-alike

The popular politician, whose is a big fan of Brazilian music and is said to own about 6,000 salsa records, began his career in 1971 in Brazil, as a first councillor at the Ivory Coast embassy.

BBC's West Africa Correspondent, Mark Doyle, who is based in Abidjan and has met Mr Essy on several occasions, says there is a striking resemblance between him and the famous Brazilian footballer, Pele.

"One time, I walked into a reception and the whole room got up and started to cheer. I then understood they had taken me for Pele," Mr Essy was quoted by AFP as saying.

On another occasion, while on a visit to a Brazilian town on the edge of the Amazon, his hotel was reportedly surrounded by thousands of young soccer fans.

Mr Essy comes from the central Ivorian city of Bouake. He is a practising Muslim married to a Catholic and has six children.

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10 Jul 01 | Africa
Ivorian gets top Africa job
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