Ambassador to Niger: Who is Bisa Williams?

Saturday, January 08, 2011
President Barack Obama nominated career diplomat Bisa Williams to be U.S. ambassador to the African nation of Niger on November 30, 2009, but she was not confirmed by the Senate until August 6, 2010.
Williams was born in Trenton, New Jersey. Her father, Dr. Paul T. Williams, was a surgeon. Her mother, Eloise Owens Williams, was a professor of Social Work at the College of New Jersey. Williams’ sister, writer Ntozake Shange, is best known for her 1976 Broadway play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Another sister, Ifa Bayeza, is also a playwright. Together, the two sisters wrote the multi-generational novel Some Sing, Some Cry (2010).
Williams earned a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University (1976), a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and a master’s degree from the National War College of the National Defense University in Washington, DC.
Williams joined the Foreign Service in 1984. She began with an overseas posting as general services officer in Conakry, Guinea (1984-1986), and then as a political officer in Panama City, Panama (1986-1988). After a year in Washington, D.C. as country officer for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde, she returned to Panama for two years as political military officer following the U.S. overthrow of dictator Manuel Noriega. She has also served as special assistant to the coordinator of assistance to the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union.
In 1993, she worked as political economic officer for the U.S. mission at the United Nations. From 1997-1998, Williams was special assistant to the secretary of state Madeleine Albright. She followed this with a stint as first secretary for African affairs at the U.S. embassy in Paris, France. In July 2001, Williams took over as deputy chief of mission in Port Louis, Mauritius, a post she held until April 2004.
From 2005 to 2007, she served in the White House as the director for international organizations at the National Security Council.
Williams later was coordinator for Cuba affairs at the State Department, and then acting deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs. In September 2009, she visited Cuba for six days, during which she made headlines for meeting with dissidents opposed to the socialist regime that has controlled the country since the 1960s.
Williams speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese. She has one son.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
Official Biography (State Department)
U.S. Diplomat Met with Cuban Dissidents in Havana (by Paul Haven, Associated Press)


Ann Elston 13 years ago
Best wishes on a challenging posting. With your impressive resume you should do very well. Niger is a special place to us as we have a home in Agadez which we haven't felt safe in returning to in several years. I had considered Niamey safe enough until this morning's news. I have worked with Elhadji Koumama and the Tuareg silversmiths for years. Things will be even more difficult for them now.

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