Sierra Leone’s diplomats and the challenges of 21st century diplomacy

Mohamed Kutubu Koroma

20 January 2012

Parliament of Sierra Leone

Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone achieved political emancipation from British colonial rule – almost back to back: 6 March 1967; 1 October 1960; and 27 April 1961, respectively.

Ghana and Nigeria wasted no time in establishing their foreign policy institutes that were, and still able to produce first class diplomats who have excelled globally in the international organizations they served and are currently serving.

But what can be said of contemporary Sierra Leone?

A careful examination of the key issues that govern a nation’s foreign policy on global matters, such as national history, geography and economic limitations, may shed light on Sierra Leone’s global performance in twenty-first century diplomacy.

Having said that, the next question that comes to mind almost intuitively is whether Sierra Leone has both the human and financial resources to prosecute a credible foreign policy – sufficient enough to compete on the international stage, especially in this age of the internet.

Without any doubt, the answer must be yes. However, successive administrations from Milton Margai in 1961 to the current leadership, have remarkably failed to pursue an objective foreign policy.

Sierra Leone’s foreign policy approach may at best be described as myopic and muddled, on account of the fundamental lack of foresight to have envisioned the bigger picture in the conduct of global diplomacy, as globalisation and geo-political relationships become more complex.

This complexity requires new and evolving strategic thinking – with all available resources, to be able to resolve international diplomatic challenges, such as the Guinean occupation of Yenga.

Yenga has become a military and diplomatic albatross around the necks of politicians in Sierra Leone, since its occupation in the 1990s.

Since independence in 1961 to date, Sierra Leone’s foreign and diplomatic policy has been driven and shaped by the following citizens: John Karefa Smart, Cyril Rogers-Wright, Maigore Kallon, William Leigh, Luseni Brewa, Cyril Foray, Solomon Pratt, Desmond Like, Abdulai Conteh, Sheka Kanu Abdul Koroma, Ahmed Dumbuya, Mohamed Kamara, Karefa Kargbo, Abass Bundu, Alusine Fofanah, Melvin Chaloba, Almamy Bangura, Sama Banya, Shirley Gbujama, Momodu Koroma, Zainab Bangura, and Joseph Dauda.

Serving as the nation’s face to the outside world in the conduct of global diplomacy, some of those state officials excelled, while others failed miserably – albeit through no fault of their own making.

And one of Sierra Leone’s most prominent ministers of foreign affairs to have managed to put Sierra Leone at par with sister African nations on the world stage is Abdulai Conteh.

Conteh’s success in that realm was due largely to the intellectual capacity and sheer brilliance he brought to the job, through his incredible cognitive strengths and ability to articulate issues at the international level.

He succeeded in utilizing his broad and strategic vision, to broker a peace accord between two warring factions in the Horn of Africa, when he brought them to the table for talks in Freetown.

The respectability and credibility that Conteh brought to the Foreign Ministry was short lived, as it vanished under sinister circumstances, following his abrupt transfer to the Financial Ministry by president Siaka Stevens, before he was finally purged from the administration.

As a result of this politically motivated shift, the Foreign Ministry along with the country’s foreign policy relapsed into passivity thereafter.

Abass Bundu and Mohamed Kamara – both PhD holders from very reputable European institutions in France and the UK, specifically missed major opportunities to leave their marks, in the conduct of the nation’s foreign policy because of the mosaic of mediocrities that became the hallmarks of their leadership in that ministry.

Bundu particularly came to the job with several distinctions to his honor, having served at the Commonwealth Secretariat in the UK. He was one of the architects of the final settlement that reversed Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence in Zimbabwe, without going through the crucibles of the constitutional process.

This led to Zimbabwe becoming legally independent with black majority rule in 1980.

Abass Bundu replaced Momodu Munu as Ecowas Chief, after Munu had been fired by the Conference of Heads of States, for gross personal incompetence.

Yet, Bundu is said to have left Sierra Leone’s Foreign Office with no known record of accomplishments, except for allegations regarding the integrity of the nation’s passports.  He has however, strenuously and repeatedly denied having committed any unlawful conduct in that regard.

Mohamed Kamara also, should not have found it difficult to coast to success in heading and shaping Sierra Leone’s foreign policy, because following his return from France, he was briefly hired as an Executive Officer in the office of the Establishment Secretary.

Following that short appointment, Kamara was dispatched to the Foreign Ministry as Assistant Permanent Secretary, where he worked his way to heading the Ministry.

However, Kamara was relieved of his ministerial responsibilities by the military led NPRC government, which had toppled the APC government of President Joseph Momoh.

Kamara was replaced by military strongman – Karefa Kargbo, who was one of the architects of the putsch against the morally bankrupt and planless leadership of president Momoh’s APC.

Like Bundu, Kamara too, did not bring innovation to the Sierra Leone diplomatic service, and therefore left unaccomplished to work at the Education Ministry.

Part two to follow.

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