David Schwake, the former German Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, attended our first Raphael Lemkin Seminar in May 2008. At the time, Ambassador Schwake worked in the Diplomatic Training Department of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Following his participation in the Lemkin Seminar, Schwake served as 2nd Secretary in Germany’s Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, as Political Counselor in Germany’s Washington DC Embassy, and as Deputy Chief of Mission in the German Embassy in Kinshasa, DRC, among other prestigious postings. Schwake obtained a M.A. in European Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and was a Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellow at the U.S. Department of State’s Peacekeeping Office. Mr. Schwake answered our Profile in Prevention questions via email from Juba, South Sudan, where he has served as Ambassador since July 2013.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long-term prevention of atrocity in South Sudan and in the region?
South Sudan consists of more than 60 different ethnic groups. Dealing with diversity is thus the most important long-term challenge the people of South Sudan are facing. Many of the conflicts among the tribes go back to a lack of economic development. When facing an acute crisis and ethnic cleansing, as we did in December of last year, it was crucial to make sure that all sides understood that their actions were being observed and made public. And I have to complement the United Nations for opening their camps for people who were fearing for their lives.
Since becoming German Ambassador to South Sudan, what does a day or week in your life’s work look like?
My day is full of meetings with all kinds of people from government, civil society, churches, etc. That is the beauty of this job—I meet with bishops and diplomats, internally displaced persons and health workers, artists and sportsmen. And if you ask the right question, you always get interesting answers in return. You always learn something new. And I try to include that in my reporting and hope it is interesting for my “clients” in Berlin and in the embassy in the region.
Who or what inspires or motivates you in your work?
My motivation is to have an impact, to change things to the better. I know, that my means are limited, but I want to make sure that I have made good use of them.
For a government official who may be starting his or her career, what advice do you have to give towards impactful and effective work in genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
I have become quite suspicious of people telling me that there is no problem, that diversity is not an issue. It always is—and that is true, in particular, in situations when resources are limited. When atrocities loom, it is imperative not to look away, but to confront them head on.