June 4, 2021
By: Winstanley.R Bankole. Johnson
That for the past two decades Sierra Leone has suffered from a dearth of quality diplomatic staffers is a given. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Internal Co-operations has expressed repeated reservations on that. That did not happen overnight. It has been sadly systemic, but accelerated in the last fifteen years by a propensity of the “nouveaux politiciens” who have come to believe that in the metamorphosis of life, running precedes creeping. And by the time they realize that the reverse is the natural order of social mobility, the damage had long been done to country and flag.
In one of her many exit interviews, former US Ambassador Maria Brewer enlightened us that recruitment into the US Foreign Service strictly follows the 80/20 Pareto Rule. That is to say 80% of US diplomatic staff are drawn from a pool of seasoned and quality resources within their Foreign Services Bureau (irrespective of origins, political persuasions and “tribe” if you prefer that) whilst the balance 20% could be drawn from and be made up of an incumbent President’s “Boys” and “Girls”. I suppose the same holds good for many civilized democracies (including some in Africa), that prioritizes a consistent safeguarding and strengthening of bilateral and multi-lateral ties with sister countries through Trade and Commerce, Education, Security, Tourism and Industrial Growth and expansion etc. without detriment to their territorial integrity and national security.
Sadly in Sierra Leone the eligibility bar for recruitment (or do I rather say “admission”) into the Diplomatic Corps continues to be so consistently lowered, that it is no more a surprise that anyone can be miraculously transformed from relative unemployable obscurity into the diplomatic limelight overnight. And that includes being assigned to some of the biggest postings imaginable simply for having consistently orchestrated several “successful” broad daylight “Mammy-Cuss” demonstrations overseas against his/her country’s former Head of State during their Party’s opposition days. Ignore the fact that their past misdemeanours are archived in the country of assignment. Their postings are in compensation for demonstrable political party loyalty and zealotry not to country and not all diplomats are expected to add value back home.
In my view it is looking now like Parliamentary scrutiny of our envoys-designate is a mere rite of passage, wherein the appearance of nominees would seem to count more than their knowledge and preparedness to address existential or potential geo-political or socio-economic issues (real or imagined) affecting or attendant upon existing diplomatic relationships. After their Parliamentary appearances the next steps of our emissaries-designate are almost predictable: a crash course at the Foreign Affairs and International Co-operations Ministry on “Diplomatic Etiquettes” and the “Bidding of Farewell” to or “Taking Leave” of the President at State House, to blandly assure him that “…..the confidence reposed in him will never be misplaced…..”, which nowadays make headline news. And that’s that!!
The next we will be occasionally hearing from or about them after presentations of their letters of accreditations is in their roles of “Exalted Cultural Attachés”, instead of the “Diplomat” they were appointed to be such as-:
- Exchanging Courtesy Calls with colleague Ambassadors; attending Independence Anniversary celebrations of sister countries and hosting elaborate ones for Sierra Leone at which only their Party faithful take center stages
- Attending christenings/outdoorings (at which the children are named after them) and Cook-Outs exquisitely attired and relishing their names being repeatedly prefixed with the title of “Your Excellency”.
- By the third year of their assignments they are already steeped in revelry and still traversing the length and breadth of their host countries visiting party loyalists and family members sampling home cuisines and assuring them that their Party will remain in government forever
- Conducting Party diaspora elections to manipulate future delegates lists for their next Party conventions
- Fidgeting with student bursaries lists to exclude non-party faithful
- Diverting government subsidies away from Chancery upkeep either to sustain unemployed diaspora party loyalists or to covertly splash out on PR Firms to launder the badly battered image of the government as has recently been inferred by the Africanist Press.
All above activities would be copiously reported on by Press Attachés as espousing the “vision” of the Head of State and at end of their tenures would invariably return to base with absolutely no Trade and Commerce, Education, Security, Tourism and Industrial Growth or expansion to their legacy.
Now let us contrast all you have read above with specifically the recruitment processes followed for the present US Ambassador to Sierra Leone David Reimer. His grilling was done by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – a specialized committee that is not only well-versed in international Diplomacy but also well-grounded in the global political dynamics of continents, sub-regions and specific countries. Incidentally the United States has separate Senate Committees for basically each sector of governance, unlike in our country where responsibility for vetting all Presidential appointments is vested in only the “Parliamentary Committee on Appointments”. Period!!
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee remains regularly seised by Secretaries and Under-Secretaries of States covering various geographical areas, with those Secretaries and Under-Secretaries being nourished with real time updates from each geographical area. It was on the basis of such a rich and varied expertise and information updates that Ambassador Reimer must have been briefed and specifically tasked to remind the Sierra Leone government on arrival that-:
- The SL Mining Agreement that was ratified by their own Parliament in December 2017 and which carries their US government interests was unilaterally abrogated, and that even one of their citizens was unjustifiably detained temporarily. And unless operations of the SL Mining are restituted in whatever form and under whatever name or arrangements the government wishes to calls it (“Win-Win” or “Ma Winnie-Ma Lossie”), they will advertise the country globally as an unfriendly investment destination and that might portend serious economic consequences for Sierra Leone.
- The country lacks a commitment to the rule of law, particularly in areas of foreign investment and that must change
- Draw down of the MCC Compact is not automatic and might take several years before the first tranche can be accessed (Ref. Bob Menendez (Democrat –New Jersey) who chairs the Committee which has oversight of the MCC)
- America reserves the right to repatriate over 100 of those demented or incarcerated illegal immigrants of questionable origins but are holding Sierra Leone Passports because they now very well know those who orchestrated that scheme
Upon being challenged by then Committee Chairman James Hirsch (Republican-Idaho) on how he intends to handle the SL Mining matter Ambassador Reimer “…..committed himself to engaging on the case directly with the government while also working to make the country (Sierra Leone) a more attractive location for American Investment”. Ambassador Reimer’s tenure was therefore deemed to presents an excellent opportunity for both countries (SL/US) to address all concerns about corruption and an urgent resolution of the SL Mining and to build the bilateral relationship. “We remain deeply committed to Sierra Leone’s success as a democratic nation and to the well-being of its peoples”, Riemer is quoted to have said during a ceremony at State House where President Bio celebrated the successes of the USD44million MCC Threshold Programme which began in 2015 under APC.
From all above you can deduce that every US Ambassador designate is either tasked with specific responsibilities upon appointment or is expected to initiate and follow through some tangible technical co-operation that will add value to the bi-lateral relationship between his assigned country and home country, but with the interest of latter prioritized. No US President requires assurances from his appointees that “….the confidence reposed in him/her will not be misplaced….”. So within three weeks of his boots on the ground, Ambassador David Reimer was able to achieve the greatest of his objectives and SL Mining operations will resume this month.
That is the kind of stuff Ambassadors should be made of. And from that experience I am left wondering why our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation might not just wish to borrow a few leaves from the book of the US Foreign Services not only to help re-design our understanding and commitment to international diplomacy, but also to help our emissaries-designate prioritize leaving tangible evidences of technical co-operation in Trade and Commerce, Education, Security, Tourism and Industrial Growth etc. as national legacies at the end of their tenures, instead of returning home empty.