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One-on-one with Ambassador Sumah

February 4, 2015 By Alhassan Spear Kamara

Former Concord Times ace reporter, Alhassan Spear Kamara, spoke to Sierra Leone’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Guinea on a wide-range of issues, including his work as a diplomat and his contribution towards the fight against the deadly Ebola virus in the country and in his resident country, among others. His Excellency Adikalie Foday Sumah is also the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Guinea, and following are excerpts of the interview…

His Excellency Sir, what has it been like since you were appointed by President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to serve as Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea in relation to your terms of reference?

Ambassador Sumah: It is about six years now since I received the nod from His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, to serve him and the country as his Principal Representative to the Republic of Guinea. In diplomatic phraseology, the 2nd March, 2015 will aggregate to six years serving as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the Republic of Guinea; with accreditations to the Republics of Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.

However, in a re-alignment of Diplomatic Missions abroad, the Republic of Niger was re-aligned to the Mission in Guinea, while Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde were re- aligned to the Missions in the Republics of The Gambia and Senegal respectively. Since then, the job has, in a nutshell, proved and continues to prove interesting, enlightening, collaborative and representational. I have learnt a lot and gained practical experience in representational and collaborative diplomacy both at bilateral and multilateral spheres.

And I am still learning and will continue to simplify my life in the cause of rolling out effective representation for the President, government and people of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

You may have, I believe, come up with certain initiatives to strengthen the bi-lateral ties between Sierra Leone and Guinea. Can you share some of those initiatives?

Ambassador Sumah: The primary assignment of a diplomat is to serve and promote the national interest of his sovereign nation-state as prescribed under the Constitution. And as Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the Republic of Guinea, I ensure that primary assignment is served. Being a team player with a bird’s eye-view in drawing strength from the past, in the first place I tried to build up from the sound records of my predecessors who had served our country in Guinea at various times in the country’s political history; how it relates to, in particular, our bilateral relations with Guinea and those countries under my accreditation as well as the furtherance of our multilateral relations pursuant to the Mano River Union (MRU).

Given our political experiences stemming from the aftermath of the 1967 General Elections and the civil/rebel war between 1991 and 2002, I tried to prioritise the following: highest level collaborations between the two sovereign states in the promotion and maintenance of the security of the two states; consolidation of peace and security; cross-border economic activity by promoting free movement of goods, services, capital and people through overland and sea transportation networks; respect for each other’s territorial integrity; and collaboration in the areas of democracy, good governance, food security, health and sanitation, organized crime bordering on narcotics and human trafficking for the purposes of child labour and sex marauders.

3. What moves have your office made so far in trying to make the Mano River Union more formidable in its endeavours to overcome the various common challenges faced by the Member States of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire?

Ambassador Sumah: The inception of the Mano River Union (MRU) in 1973 by its founding fathers of William Tolbert – erstwhile President of the Republic of Liberia, and Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens – erstwhile President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, was motivated by common aspirations for customs harmonization leading to a piecemeal economic integration; facilitating inter-state trade in locally produced commodities, increase in agricultural food productivity, fostering of primary industries with a view to job creation and poverty reduction among the Member States and the furtherance of peace and security.

For all intents and purposes, the MRU started off admirably and for that, among other reasons, Guinea – under El-Hadj Ahmed Sekou Touré, erstwhile President of the Republic of Guinea, joined the Union. However, the political instability which gradually ensued degenerated into widespread civil wars; occasioning serious devastating effects on Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire. The rapid change of political events in these Member States clearly instigated the emergence of multifaceted common challenges principally security; armed insurrections and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; widespread human rights violations in the sub-region, misted up with concomitant economic and social repercussions. As a Diplomatic Mission, we engendered a holistic approach to dealing with the security challenges which, in my informed perception, is the pivot around which all the other challenges move. Among others, we ensure that: the Military Liaison Officer of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces to the Republic of Guinea Armed Forces is provided with office accommodation in the Embassy and issued him with a diplomatic vehicle registration number plate to facilitate movement of border patrols.

These administrative arrangements were initiated and implemented by the current management of the Embassy under my superintendence. By this strategy, we give effect to the aspirations couched under the Common Border Patrol Protocol. Moreover, in our bid to promote the activities of the MUR in the international community and development partners, we spearheaded the hosting of the first ever forum of development partners in Conakry, where the MRU Secretariat made a detailed presentation of its activities including a portfolio of various development projects already accomplished as well as the ongoing projects.

We, the MRU Member States Ambassadors resident in Conakry meet, collaborate and exchange information on issues impacting the multilateral institution. Complementing the work of the Resident Liaison Office of the MRU in Conakry, we ensure that our Embassies are utilized as one-stop-bureau for accessing information on the MRU. Visitors to my office are greeted with the four flags of the MRU Member States. This strategic approach is adopted to give effect to the briefs of His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, bordering on his views of accentuating the purpose and activities of the MRU to the international community and development partners.

Both countries are now facing emergency situations with the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. What inputs have you made so far in trying to fight the virus in order to completely eliminate it from the sub-region?

Ambassador Sumah: Let me start off by saying that the Ebola Virus Disease was hitherto a wholly unfamiliar virus disease in the MRU sub-region. As a result, its outbreak in the sub-region in the closing chapter of 2013 and mid 2014 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone respectively, affecting three of the four Member States of the Mano River Union at a time when the economies of these most affected Member States were recording steady growth, is rather debilitating. As post-conflict economies, the health infrastructures of Sierra Leone and Liberia were largely ill equipped to deal with the menacing virus when it struck. As an Embassy resident in the first epicenter of the disease, our first input was to seek for as much information as we could on the virus in relation to its causes, its permeating capacity; how to prevent infection and containment from spreading.

As the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in the Republic of Guinea, I ensured that the Diplomatic Missions and representatives of international organisations in Guinea were briefed on a regular basis with regard to its effect on the human population, and technical assistance available to tackle the virus, etc. On receiving the pertinent information, we then embarked on sensitising our Sierra Leone Community in Guinea through the Sierra Leone Nationals Union, on how to stir clear from contracting the deadly viral ailment. We produced posters and hand bills which were displayed at strategic points where our communities live around Conakry including the Embassy. We also joined the Government of Sierra Leone’s Ebola Response Appeal in raising the needed resource to fight against the EVD. We therefore engaged both our bilateral and multilateral partners for financial, technical and logistical assistance. That appeal yielded and, is still yielding positive response in the concerted efforts to repel and finally eradicate the ravaging virus disease from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

As an Embassy, we donated the sum of $2,000 towards the National Ebola Response Appeal Fund coupled with other donations by individual members of the diplomatic staff of the Embassy at their local district levels.

We also adopted ancillary temporary measures in line with those promulgated under the Public State of Emergency introduced by President Koroma across the country, in response to the Ebola outbreak. In particular, we enforced the ban on non-Ebola related public gatherings at the Embassy as well as among our communities in Conakry and in the regions; prohibited touching such as handshake and cuddling etc; curtailed the Embassy working hours to control the inflow of members of the public in and out of the Chancery; we introduced mandatory taking of temperatures of staff and our service users with thermo-flash; washing of hands with soapy and chlorinated water by installing tap-fitted synthetic buckets at the main gate of the Embassy – my residence, the Deputy Ambassador’s, the Head of Chancery’s as well as the Second Secretary’s.

These measures, coupled with those introduced by the Guinean authorities, help us to ensure that none of my compatriots in the Republic of Guinea including the Embassy officials and staff has so far contracted the lethal disease.

In order to mitigate for the downturn economic impact of the Ebola, we engaged our Guinean counterparts to ensure that they emulate the policy initiative of Sierra Leone by allowing the borders between us as well as Liberia to remain open, while health related protocols were put in place at the border-crossing points, such as Gbalamuya for instance, with a view to limiting the exportation and importation of the virus across the borders. In our stakeholders’ meetings, seminars and working-lunch discussions, I made it a point of duty to raise the case for the engagement of the MRU by empowering its Secretariat to implement certain of the interventions strategized by the specialised international community agencies including the WHO, CDC, MSF as well as the Ministries of Health of the epicenter countries at the border-crossing points. As the sub-regional multilateral institution, the MRU Secretariat is, in my self-effacing opinion, better placed to administer health and clinical facilities along the major border-crossing points as pre-emptive and containment mechanisms.

Many people would like to know about the current status of Yenga. What is it like at the moment?

Ambassador Sumah: The territorial altercation between the Republic of Guinea and the Republic of Sierra Leone over Yenga is being resolved between the two Heads of State.

Pursuant to the [Freetown] Joint Declaration on the Border Issue of Yenga of the 27th July 2012, Guinea’s occupation of Yenga came to an end. In particular, the two Heads of State and their respective governments declared the demilitarisation of the Yenga area as provided for under paragraph 1 of the declaration. Pursuant to paragraph 2, it was declared that, consequent to the objective and spirit couched under the declaration, the two Heads of State of the Republics of Guinea and Sierra Leone will instruct the high authorities of their respective armed forces to implement the declaration; while paragraph 3 enjoined the Joint Guinea-Sierra Leone Technical Committee on Yenga to resume its work leading to a final and peaceful resolution of the Yenga border issue.

From the above, it is crystal clear that Yenga has been demilitarised, thereby putting an end to the Guinean occupation of that part of the territory of the Sovereign State of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The Joint Technical Committee’s work is primarily to finally fix the boundary on the left bank of the Moa-Makona River which was to be finalised after; the Anglo-Liberian boundary was settled under the 1912 Protocol. It follows that, since the settlement of the Anglo-Liberian border on the Moa-Makona River a little over 102 years ago, Guinea and Sierra Leone are now taking steps to finalise the demarcation of their border along the said bank of the relevant river.

The undisputed fact in the conundrum is that: the Republic of Guinea has never laid claim over Yenga as her territory. Guinea has invariably recognised Yenga to be a territory of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In fact, before the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease, on the instructions of President Koroma, the Joint Guinea-Sierra Leone Technical Committee had already commenced its preparatory meetings leading to the holding of the substantive meeting in April, 2014 when the Ebola struck Guinea. Both the Guinean and Sierra Leone competent authorities are aware where Yenga stands today. And that is: Yenga Village is free and, it is effectively under the sovereignty of the Republic of Sierra Leone, administered by the competent authorities of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

As the resident Ambassador in Conakry, I undertook a field trip to Yenga in January 2014 for the purpose of familiarising myself with the area. I was accompanied by the Military Liaison Officer, Lt. Col. Mohamed Sidiq Fofanah. We received a very warm welcome from the indigenes of Yenga. In fact, to ascertain the above fact, I paid my local tax as well as for the local indigenes that were eligible to pay the tax. And, at a brief traditional ceremony, my compatriots in Yenga conferred on me the Honourary Title of ‘Tamba Nyuma of Yenga Village’.

There have been reported cases of alleged harassment of Sierra Leoneans in Guinea, especially business persons. Are you aware of such incidences?

Ambassador Sumah: The issue of harassing Sierra Leoneans in Guinea was more pronounced during the last civilian regime and that of the military which came immediately following the demise of the former. However, since the installation of the current civilian dispensation, there has been no recurrence of such incidents of harassments being perpetrated by the Guinean security forces against my compatriots.

However, overland road business commuters between Freetown and Conakry do experience menacing demands for money from security personnel at the check-points. This has been the subject of discussions and conclusions under a number of joint declarations between the governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The most recent one was that which was concluded on the 12 June, 2012 on the occasion of the Joint Commissioning of the Rogbere Junction-Pamelap highway by their Excellencies President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and President Prof. Alpha Conde.

In her maiden speech at the ceremony, the current Secretary General of the MRU, Ambassador Hadja Saran Daraba Kaba, in no mincing of words mood, condemned the harassment of business commuters of the said route by the security personnel on both sides of the border. She pointed out that the unsavoury practice is counter to the MRU Protocol on the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. Therefore, the act of harassing the business commuters appears to be systemic where both sides are crying foul. However, my intelligence on the issue is to the effect that, the Sierra Leone side of the border may appear not to be as menacing as the other side. That said, it must be known that while the competent State authorities are vehemently opposed to the menacing practice, commuters from both sides of the border should complement the efforts of the two governments by saying no to this unfortunate extortionist culture!

Since being in office what are some of your major challenges you have been facing in trying to achieve your mandate or objectives?

Ambassador Sumah: Simply, it is resources. However, given our economic circumstances as a post-conflict economy, I am not oblivious of the realistic hiccups in the flow of resources to fully realize my Annual Work Plan. Being the showroom of Sierra Leone abroad, the realization of set goals in diplomacy is hinged on the financial capacity of the Embassy to engage in and roll out public diplomacy. For instance, the hosting of presentation sessions, seminars and workshops etc, in a bid to promoting the country’s economic national interests with regard to attracting Foreign Direct Investment potentials and commercial business opportunities in the sending State, it would require funds.

As a cross-border mission, we are invariably faced with problems emanating from our Sierra Leonean community in the Guinea Diaspora with regard to their self-conceived expectations of the Embassy to provide financial assistance towards medical bills, funeral rites, house rents, food, school fees – the list is inexhaustible. As a result of the war situation then in Sierra Leone, occasioning the flee of thousands of my compatriots seeking asylum in Guinea, most of them still entertain the belief that the Embassy has a duty to provide them with the kind of welfare assistance which they used to receive during the unfortunate war situation. This situation is compounded with widespread unemployment among the community particularly in Conakry.

However, I must hasten to point out that there is a significant proportion of Sierra Leoneans who are educated and skilled; they have little or nothing so pressing to even visit the Embassy. I believe, with time and improved circumstances, the perceptions would change about what or what not is the duty of the Embassy with regard to welfare provisions towards our citizens in Guinea.

What are your futuristic plans, precisely for 2015, to strengthen the bond between the two countries and promote development in various national sectors?

Ambassador Sumah: The diplomatic hot potato for any Sierra Leonean Mission abroad for 2015 is the issue of post-Ebola development strategies. You see, we all know where Sierra Leone was and where it was heading to pre-Ebola outbreak. Therefore, I will prioritise strategies which will turn things round within a reasonable period of time to place us back on track with our Agenda for Prosperity. More cross-border trade and investment opportunities will be exploited in the areas of manufacturing; trade in local agricultural produce and agricultural goods such as fertilizers, seeds and pesticides; the promotion of commercial farming – an area where, in my view, Guinea seems to surpass Sierra Leone.

With affluent Guinean farmers investing in large scale commercial farming across the border, investing in primary industries concerned with the production of building materials and the stocking of finished goods in Sierra Leone for redistribution within the sub-region, it will, in no mean measure strengthen the existing bond of cordiality, fraternity and good neighbourliness between the two sister countries. This, in turn, will foster sub-regional peace, security and political stability necessary for the realisation of holistic national development.

Finally sir, are you comfortable with your job?

Ambassador Sumah: As a former President of the MMTC Students Union as well as the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUS), and as Teacher, Politician and a Lawyer, I find my job as an Ambassador comfortable in that my experiences in these domains are pretty much alike in terms of providing advice, assistance and representation on the one hand; negotiation, mediation and conciliation on the other. My job is also comfortable due to the tremendous support, co-operation and collaboration I enjoy from my Deputy Ambassador, the Hon. Alhajie Foday Lahai Koroma; my Head of Chancery/Counsel, Mr. Bai Mansamuntha Thuray; my Second Secretary, Mrs. Halima Bangura, and the entire staff of the Embassy. I would like to acknowledge every one’s effort and contributions towards the successes we have been able to achieve since my assumption of duty at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Conakry, Guinea.

Moreover, I cannot be so obliged enough to His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone for giving me the opportunity to serve him in his governance of the State. Considering the fact that out of nearly six million Sierra Leoneans, I am given the chance to be part of a government that is set to achieve visible accolades within extreme circumstance as a post-conflict Nation-State on the African continent, is a laudable gesture. My profound thanks and appreciations are also due to my Sierra Leonean compatriots in Guinea who, in various ways and degrees, support the Embassy in the furtherance of its activities in the receiving State of the Republic of Guinea.