"I have a track record on in African affairs and human rights that people won't be able to brush aside - even when it comes from the old colonial seat of power," said Mr Hain, who was born in Nairobi, reared in South Africa, and who referred to himself as a "son of Africa".
Although he comes to the Foreign Office after a solid stint at the Welsh Office, Mr Hain achieved most fame as the Young Liberal radical who led the protests which disrupted the 1969-70 Springbok rugby tour and forced the cancellation of the following summer's Test cricket series with South Africa.
Now, this diplomatic poacher-turned-gamekeeper will be a front-line warrior for the "ethical foreign policy" pursued by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, of whom Mr Hain has been something of a political protege. If his words yesterday were anything to go by, controversy - if not necessarily results - seems guaranteed.
Nothing illustrates the transformation more than Mr Hain's visit to South Africa House in London yesterday. Once, he said, he spent "decades on the pavement outside, in the rain and snow, sun and wet", demonstrating against apartheid.
Yesterday he was back, a member of the British government wearing a red, green and yellow Soweto cricket tie, to meet the South African high commissioner, Cheryl Carolus - who herself had been persecuted as a member of the then banned African National Congress. "I could never have imagined I'd be in this position, there's something miraculous about it all," he said
The Hain appointment reflects Mr Cook's desire to push Africa higher up the political agenda. Quoting the new South African President, Thabo Mbeki, Mr Hain urged "an African renaissance ... to overthrow the legacy of poverty, corruption and tyranny".
Three, perhaps four, countries hold the key to the continent's future: South Africa itself, a Nigeria now returned to civilian rule, Kenya and - if the civil war there could be ended - the potentially hugely rich Angola. But the candidates for human rights improvements are equally obvious: including Kenya itself and Zimbabwe, described by a senior Foreign Office official yesterday as "one of the most tragic cases - where rulers who had led the freedom struggle were now providing a declining economy, corruption and a pretty atrocious human rights record".
However Mr Hain may simply not have the time to make the impact on African policy he would like. His responsibilities also include the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, the Commonwealth, and an overall brief for human rights. The portfolio is similar to, but if anything geographically larger, than that of Derek Fatchett, Mr Cook's former deputy, who died of a heart attack last May.Reuse content