The sad news reached us completely unprepared. Markku Vesikko, the Honorary Consul of Finland and Country Representative of Finnish Refugee Council in Liberia had passed away suddenly, on 4 October.
Less than a year ago, we celebrated in Monrovia the appointment of Markku as Honorary Consul of Finland, and the opening of the new Honorary Consulate. Markku, who had already for years done valuable work in Liberia for the Finnish Refugee Council, was full of energy, and looking forward to his new role as Honorary Consul. His family was there by his side, on this happy and important occasion. We were all very pleased that Markku would now be able to promote relations between Finland and Liberia also in this official capacity. He was enthusiastic about fostering trade and civil society relations, and acting as a link for Finns and friends of Finland. We were looking forward to a long and fruitful cooperation.
The local Finnish community, civil society organizations, Acting Foreign Minister of Liberia, as well as our retired past Honorary Consul were all present at the celebrations. Earlier during the same day, when presenting my credentials, Markku and I had also had the honour of meeting H.E. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The atmosphere on that day was happy and relaxed – well in line with Markku's usual style –even if the occasion was official and ceremonies solemn. Preparing for the day together with him, also gave me a taster of how it was to cooperate with him on very practical issues – in good spirit, and with a great sense of humour, while at the same time always with serious results in mind. It gave me a glimpse to the world of his staff - from them I later learned that Markku was much more than a boss for them. He was an invaluable mentor and support, their rock.
A few days ago I returned to Monrovia, to attend Markku's memorial service. For many, it was still hard to comprehend that he was not there anymore. Many people had spoken to him only one day before his passing. Quite clearly, he lived his life to the full until the very end – committing himself to his family, his work, and his friends. Obviously, he loved what he did. The speeches at Monrovia City Hall on 14 October, during the beautiful memorial service, conveyed the importance of Markku's work for countless people. In addition to many local and international civil society organizations, the event was attended by Liberian leadership, diplomats and Finns living in Liberia. Tributes were made to Markku's life achievements in Africa over many decades, as well as his tireless work at the grass root in the villages of Liberia. The speeches conveyed the sorrow and the pain of family, friends, colleagues, and compatriots – praising, at the same time, an extraordinary life.
While the loss is by far the greatest for family and those closest to him, Markku's sudden passing is also a loss to countless others. It is a loss for Finland-Liberia relations. I am saddened that we did not have more time to work together. At the same time, I am also grateful for the privilege of having known Markku, and having been given the opportunity together with him to serve our country.
In Abuja, on 21st October 2016, Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury, Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Liberia