Thinking of Eloho – One Year On

Commentary
12.8.2023

One year ago, family, friends, acquaintances and former work colleagues got together in New York to honour, commemorate and celebrate the life of a loving husband, father, friend, wonderful former colleague and extraordinary human being. At the same time, the funeral marked the acute sense of pain and loss.

Eloho Otobo passed away unexpectedly on 22 June 2022 and the news reached us only much later - too late to attend the funeral. The shock about his death still sits deep with all of us at the Global Governance Institute and our deep and warmest thoughts are with his wife, children and close family.

I first met Eloho in 2012 in his office in New York. I was working as a UN Volunteer in the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations and at the same time was carrying out work for our newly founded Global Governance Institute (GGI) on the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission. Eloho was on top of our “must interview” list, not only because he was at the time the Director and Deputy Head, Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) with unparalleled knowledge of the subject matter and institution, but also because many colleagues at the UN recommended to talk to him. So when I entered his office rather anxiously and somewhat timidly, I was immediately taken aback my his warm, gentle and jovial manner. He had a wonderful way of making me feel at ease immediately and his way of interspersing each of his sentences with hearty laughter was infectious. We had a long and fascinating conversation about the intricacies, difficulties, but also opportunities of the PBSO and Peacebuilding Commission as well as the potentials of working with a stronger focus on supporting some of the most war-torn countries. Despite the, what felt to me, overwhelming challenges, Eloho always retained a sense of optimism, purpose and idealistic dedication. He was shrewd enough to understand the difficulties and inadequacies of large bureaucracies, but he never let this taint his strong belief in multilateral cooperation and the need for effective global governance.

We stayed in touch after this first encounter, going back and forth on many policy issues and more philosophical questions related to peace, security and development. He generously shared his time and expertise with both my students and the wider policy-making community in Brussels. In March 2012, Eloho was one of the main keynote speakers at a large policy expert workshop on “UN-EU Cooperation in Peacebuilding” , co-organized by the Global Governance Institute. Long after the event was over and the “senior members” of the audience had left, he still stayed behind discussing with many interested students core issues related to the future of peacebuilding. He had this wonderful way with students, speaking bluntly about the challenges the international community was facing, but also offering concrete solutions and a sense of hope.

In March 2013, he published one of the first detailed accounts of the evolution of the UN Peacebuilding Commission as seen from a practitioner who had been intimately involved in the build-up of the institution. The GGI publication “Leading the UN Peacebuilding Commission: An Institutional History in the Making” quickly became on of the most widely read publications of the Institute, offering a deeper glimpse into the evolution of this new institutional innovation in the UN peace and security architecture.

When Eloho retired from his long-standing service at the UN and national civil service, I was absolutely delighted that he agreed to join the Global Governance Institute as a Non-Residential Senior Expert. It soon became clear that his vast interests, knowledge and networks not only spanned issues of peace and security, but also development and global economic issues. He thus became GGI’s first (and to date only) Senior Expert working in both the Peace and Security and the Global Economy sections.

His generosity in terms of sharing his expertise and mentoring younger colleagues was unparalleled. Eloho organised a wide range of roundtables, workshops and senior policy briefings in order to shape debates in New York and Brussels on the importance of innovative approaches to peacebuilding. He also remained highly active in relation to African issues and his native Nigeria, where he started out his diplomatic career. He prolifically commented in national newspaper columns and through a series of briefing papers.

In 2015 he published a major monograph on the UN Peacebuilding Commission, titled “Consolidating Peace in Africa: The Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission”. And in 2017, he turned his mind to Africa and published his insightful monograph “Africa In Transition: A Way of Looking at Progress in the Region”

Up to his death he remained an incredibly committed and active member of the Global Governance Institute, interested in particular in training the next generation of scholars and policy-makers. He was a regular keynote speaker at our annual Summer School in Global, Peace and Security Studies (GPSSS) where his nuanced insights from both a global and regional African perspective captivated students and a wide range of early career diplomats.

One year on, I still cannot fully grasp that this wonderful thinker has left us. He has left an unbridgeable gap in our Institute and our lives. Yet, I find some comfort in the fact that many of his ideas, his passion for global governance, and his hearty laughter lives on in many of us who had the fortune and extraordinary honour to get to know him and learn from him. May you continue to rest in peace, my dearest Eloho, we will not forget you.

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