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Ambassador Yama Yari with Vice-Chancellor Debra Humphris

Graduate who went from refugee to ambassador returns to Brighton

University of Brighton alumnus Yama Yari returned to his old campus to share his journey to major leadership roles in both Afghanistan and Europe.

Yama cites his time at Brighton studying for a degree in Civil Engineering BEng(Hons) as a key step on a path that saw him become an influential figure in Afghanistan’s democratic government during the 2010s, before being appointed as his country’s Ambassador to Germany in 2020.

On his visit on 19 May, Yama visited University of Brighton’s Falmer campus where he studied, before touring the striking new campus buildings at Moulsecoomb that have opened in the past year as part of the university’s ambitious Big Build project. As part of his visit, he also met with two former lecturers, Dr Bahawodin Baha and Dr Enrique Martinez-Rueda, as well as Professor Mohammed Arif, Dean of the School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering.

Speaking about his time at University of Brighton, Ambassador Yari said: “My education in the UK changed my life, and continues to propel me towards my goals and aspirations to this day. More importantly, it enabled me to think independently and critically, supported by state-of-the-art laboratories.

“The cosmopolitan nature of UK academia is almost unique, where not only the best minds are able to collaborate on cutting-edge scientific projects, but the free and tolerant atmosphere and culture makes it a much more enjoyable and worthwhile experience.”

Dr Martinez-Rueda said: “It was fantastic to reconnect with Yama, who was one of the top students I have had the pleasure to teach and supervise along the years. His successful career after graduating from University of Brighton provides a great motivation for others.”

Yama’s Brighton visit sprang from his winning the 2021 Professional Achievement Award at the British Council Alumni Awards. The award highlighted his courageous and highly effective anti-corruption work in Afghanistan, followed by transformative government roles as the country’s Minister of Public Works and then Minister of Transport, before his ambassadorial appointment.

Yama’s story is one of triumph over adversity and commitment to grasp opportunity, as he explains. “Twenty-three years ago, on 21 April 1999, as a weary teenage Afghan boy, having travelled for months through many foreign lands, I reached the United Kingdom. In my broken English I sought asylum in one of the world’s oldest democracies.

“Having fled the persecution and brutality of a closed Taliban regime, I endeavoured to learn, experience and cherish democratic values such as tolerance, freedom of mind and choice.

“Despite the hardship of exile, the contrast between closed and open governments made me determined to strive for future change in my homeland. Within a few years, I graduated with a First-Class degree in Civil Engineering from University of Brighton.”

During his time in the Afghan government, Yama faced death threats from powerful criminal networks, as well as strong resistance from corrupt civil servants who had helped siphon away hundreds of millions of dollars of public money meant to improve the country’s physical and social infrastructure.

A career dedicated to public service

After graduating in 2006 with a First-Class BEng Hons Civil Engineering degree from the University of Brighton, Yama went on to postgraduate study at Imperial College London, graduating there in 2010 in Environmental Engineering and Business Management.

During his anti-corruption work in Afghanistan, Yama’s team helped save an estimated $500m in public funds and blacklisted more than 100 fraudulent or corrupt companies. He was awarded Afghan’s State Medal of Honour by President Ghani in 2016 in recognition of his services.

In 2017, Yama was appointed as the Minister of Public Works, and in his first year put almost its entire annual budget to use on projects on the ground – for the first time in 17 years of mismanagement and misuse of funds.

At the end of 2018, Yama was appointed as Minister of Transport, and implemented the biggest institutional reform in Afghan transport history by merging five disjointed transport entities for roads, rail, aviation, land transport and traffic under one umbrella. In October 2020, he was appointed as Ambassador to Germany, based in Berlin. 

Catherine Johnson • June 6, 2022

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