IMF Survey : In Memoriam: A Tribute to Wabel Abdallah, 1953-2014

January 22, 2014

Wabel Abdallah, the IMF’s Resident Representative in Afghanistan, was killed on Friday, January 17. Wabel, 60 years old, died in an attack at a restaurant in Kabul—the first time that the Fund has lost a staff member in this way.

Wabel Abdallah, the IMF’s Resident Representative in Afghanistan, was killed in an attack in Kabul on January 17 (photo: IMF)

Wabel Abdallah, the IMF’s Resident Representative in Afghanistan, was killed in an attack in Kabul on January 17 (photo: IMF)

In memory of Wabel Abdallah

A national of Lebanon, the late IMF staffer spent over 20 years at the Fund, and had been the Resident Representative in Afghanistan for the past five years.

The IMF community mourns Wabel. “This is tragic news, and we at the Fund are all devastated,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, adding that “Wabel embodied the true spirit of international public service, he devoted his life to helping others, and he was especially committed to helping the people of Afghanistan to rebuild their country.”

Paul Ross, the IMF's mission chief for Afghanistan, remembered Wabel as a "wonderful, kind man who was always there for his family, his colleagues, and the populations of the countries he was working on."

20 other people also lost their lives in the tragic incident.

Versatile career

Wabel’s career at the IMF began in 1993. Like most economists at the Fund, he worked in several departments, including the Middle East and Central Asia Department, the Statistics Department, and the Human Resources Department. He was appointed as the Fund’s Resident Representative in Afghanistan in June 2008.

Before coming to the IMF, Wabel had rich and varied experiences, first serving as a senior lecturer at Columbia University, an economic advisor to Lebanon’s mission to the United Nations, and as an economic advisor to the Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon.

Wabel studied economics, receiving his first degree from the University of Paris I in 1978 and a Masters degree from London School of Economics in 1981. He went on to complete a Masters of Philosophy in Economics from Columbia University in 1985, before becoming a Ph.D. candidate at the same university in 1993.

Life in Afghanistan

As the IMF’s Resident Representative in Afghanistan, Wabel engaged closely and productively with country officials, offering economic policy advice and coordinating technical assistance. In his capacity, he also interacted with other donors as well as representatives of civil society and media. He had a firm grasp of the economic situation and the perspectives, concerns, and political economy considerations of the authorities and donors. Thus, he was the go-to person in Kabul for both locals and internationals interested in the economy.

“Wabel was greatly dedicated to the work of the Fund on Afghanistan. His ability to build trust with the government was remarkable,” said Adnan Mazarei, Deputy Director of the IMF’s Middle East Department.

“He wasn't only a highly competent IMF Resident Representative in Afghanistan who made outstanding contributions to the IMF-Afghanistan relationship but was also a very good friend of mine,” said Noorullah Delawari, Governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan.

Ross noted that warmth and generosity were at Wabel’s core. “It made him credible and persuasive and his sense of humor allowed him to make points subtly and elegantly.” He complemented this with strong linguistic abilities, being fluent in English, French, and Arabic. “This all translated into a remarkable ability to build trust with everyone he met,” said Ross.

The person and colleague

News of Wabel’s death brought an outpouring of condolences and tributes from IMF staff and others.

“My first encounter with Wabel was when he ran my panel interview for an IMF position,” said Brett House, a former IMF staffer, who now works at Columbia and McGill universities. “The discussion was tough and unyielding, with absolutely no hint from the panelists on how it had gone. As Wabel escorted me out of the room and ran through administrative next steps, he turned his back to the panelists and flashed me a big thumbs-up and grin. It was hugely reassuring and sweetly conspiratorial. It endeared him to me forever,” House added.

“Even the smallest amount of time with Wabel was a concentrated injection of delightful humor and tender camaraderie,” said Carina Hreib, Assistant in the IMF’s Middle East Department.

“Wabel hired me to the IMF. Without him I would not be where I am today. My life changed because of him," said Catriona Purfield, an advisor in the IMF’s European Department.

Though Wabel made his career in economics, he displayed unexpected talents, and even became a step-aerobics instructor. He taught to packed classes at many places, including the IMF’s fitness center, and kept up the energy in Kabul. He also loved cooking and music, enjoyed eating with friends, and was devoted to his family.

“Wabel had a pop-song reference to every headache on mission, often saying “don’t worry, be happy now,” or quoting Duran Duran in the late hours of the night, entertaining his mission team members with his collection of pop music,” said Nisreen Farhan, Deputy Division Chief in the IMF’s Communications Department.

In a tribute, Axel Schimmelpfennig, the IMF’s Senior Resident Representative in South Africa, remembered Wabel and his aerobics classes well. “Dear Wabel, I will miss your step-aerobics class in Kabul, even if you thought I had no rhythm. I will miss your dedication to your friends and our counterparts. And I will miss your love of being together with friends and colleagues over good food. May you rest in peace. We will never forget you.”

Wabel is survived by his mother, wife, daughter, and brother.

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