President Kennedy once said, “Great crises produce great men and great acts of courage.” Ambassador Prudence Bushnell has proven that they produce great women too. She has seen up close the kind of horrific events that few of us could ever imagine. As the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya when the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, and having spent time in Rwanda as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs just before the genocide began, Bushnell has been on the frontlines of U.S. international policy throughout her 23 years in the federal government. And no matter what the challenge, she responded to each crisis with remarkable courage, resolve and dexterity.
Some would say Prudence Bushnell has been serving her country for all her life. The daughter of an American diplomat, she grew up in Germany, France, Pakistan and Iran. Circumstances took her around the world. It was a life that clearly made a favorable impression on her, as she eventually chose a career with the Foreign Service.
That career decision carried Bushnell across the Atlantic. As the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Bushnell was responsible for monitoring the unrest in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. She traveled to Rwanda in March of that year—just before the genocide began—and met with decision-makers, opposition leaders and human rights officers there. Having seen firsthand the weakening security in Rwanda and meeting Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, who was later assassinated, Bushnell brought those realities to her negotiations back in Washington. In fact, as one of the loudest and most compelling voices in Washington speaking out against the genocide, Bushnell’s commitment and personal integrity is lauded by colleagues and others. More than one of her colleagues revealed Bushnell’s habit of calling Hutu organizers in the wee hours of the morning—to literally decry the massacring of the Tutsis.
Not long after her experience in Rwanda, Bushnell became the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya. In 1998—two years into her tenure there—the embassy in Nairobi was one of two East African embassies that were attacked by Al Qaeda operatives. In a post-9/11 world, it can be difficult to remember the dramatic impact of such an attack on an American post, but the Kenyan and Tanzanian bombings were major blows. Led by Ambassador Bushnell, the embassy’s staff stayed on after the bombing to cope with the aftermath. Embassy work had to continue and did so as soon as the next day, while the staff rebuilt the embassy, took care of its injured and mourned the deaths of friends. A model of strength and stability, Bushnell’s skill for leading her distressed staff did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Today, Bushnell serves as the dean of the Leadership and Management School at the Foreign Service Institute, Department of State. Her endless innovations and commitment to strong leadership make the post a perfect fit, as she continues to find ways to improve a government she loves and in which she wholeheartedly believes.