The Muswell Hill diplomat who rebuilt the British embassy in Somalia
A coastal city in Somalia might be an unusual destination for any traveller, but for one Muswell Hill diplomat, it was a career-defining two years.
Serena Stone was part of the team who rebuilt the British embassy in Somalia in April 2013 - the first since 1991.
After two decades of conflict and clan-based fiefdoms, the Federal Government of Somalia was established and Britain was the first embassy to re-open in response.
“It was great to be part of the first wave of people arriving there,” the 32-year-old said.
Staying in the Port of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, she felt safe and looked-after by the Somali government.
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“It’s a really beautiful city, even though it suffered from years and years of war,” she said.
“It’s quite sprawling. There were the fish markets, the art on the shop fronts, the stunning old Italian architecture.”
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“The people were very welcoming and amazingly resilient - really committed to a re-start.”
The British embassy was built in a shipping container, where Ms Stone lived for the next two years.
The 32-year-old helped the new Somali government to establish stable civil and legal institutions in the country - which had been ravaged by warlords and militiamen.
“It’s a city that’s had its problems and it’s important to be vigilant,” she said. “But a lot of businesses are coming back into Somalia; it’s stabilising, starting to recover.”
In the New Year’s Honours list, Ms Stone received an MBE for her excellent work in Somalia.
And in spite of the potential dangers, she said that she was not particularly daunted when she arrived.
In her short but illustrious six-year career, Ms Stone was previously in a counter-narcotics team in Afghanistan.
She entered the foreign office on the prestigious fast-track civil service scheme, after working in post-conflict reconstruction with NGOs.
Now working in London, Ms Stone is looking forward to her next post abroad.
“It’s very exciting; very varied,” she said.