Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 May 2021:
“Although several successes were chronicled during my tenure, those successes were not by any means achieved with ease. There were many challenges that affected work processes and as a result undermined the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the Ministry. Although these challenges, especially those deliberately orchestrated, rarely stood in the way of performance, they nonetheless served as a distraction and slowed down progress. I sincerely hope you will not be subjected to such but if you are, I believe you will stay focused. Some of these challenges include the following:
“Blurred lines regarding where the functions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ends and where the functions of other state institutions begin; insubordination on the part of some Ambassadors/High Commissioners; managing and Dealing with Conflicts in Missions; inadequate allocation of funds to the Ministry and its overseas missions.”
Those were the chilling words of the sacked foreign minister of Sierra Leone – Mrs Nabeela Tunis, written in her ‘Handing-over Notes’ to her successor – Professor David Francis, suggesting that the Bio-led government is at best dysfunctional, and chaotic at worse. Her handover note seeks to dispel rumours alleging that she was sacked because of her incompetence. So, why was she sacked by the president?
This is what she said to Professor Francis:
“I congratulate you on your appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. These notes are summary of activities I undertook during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. As my successor I hope you find these notes useful as you begin a new chapter in the history of the Ministry.
In May 2019, it pleased His Excellency the President, Dr Julius Maada Bio, to reassign me to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as Minister in charge. At the time, I had developed some understanding of the enormity of leading the country’s diplomacy in a changing hegemonic world order in which Sierra Leone is a small and less powerful player. I therefore acknowledged that my new role required strategic and renewed thinking, extensive consultations, team work but more importantly extreme patience and tact.
Mr. Minister, as you’re aware His Excellency Dr Julius Maada Bio in the Party Manifesto as well as in his maiden speech to Parliament demonstrated a clear vision on the foreign policy direction for Sierra Leone. This foreign policy approach was aptly termed the Economic Diplomacy.
As Minister of Planning and Economic Development, I consolidated all aspects of this foreign policy and recorded it in the Medium-Term National Development Plan 2019-2023. This document presented the roadmap to ensure that international diplomacy, especially bilateral and multilateral engagements, underpin the socioeconomic development of the country.
It was abundantly clear that the broad vision of His Excellency the President is to use trade and investment as critical drivers to accelerate sustainable growth and development in several sectors such as education, health, energy and infrastructure development to name but a few. To this end, my team and I quickly figured out that rebranding the image of the country from a war torn, disease stricken and backward state into a peaceful, beautiful, resource filled and determined nation, with smart people at the centre, was going to be a critical point of departure for attracting valuable and credible Foreign Direct Investment as well as cementing the position of the country as a genuine partner in the international system.
Mr Minister, I strongly believe that both you and your Deputy will continue to work in line with the vision as espoused by His Excellency the President.
Institutional Reform and Strengthening
After a brief assessment of the structure and capacity of the Ministry, and drawing from my previous experience, my staff and I concluded that there was a strong need for institutional and systems reset to reflect the global dynamics and ultimate objective of HE the President. In essence, the structural reconfiguration of the Ministry at the time of my appointment clearly needed modifications to ensure that targeted results are not only attained swiftly, but are impactful.
Accordingly, the Ministry successfully completed the Management and Functional Review exercise which started in December 2018 (under the leadership of my predecessor Dr Alie Kabbah) to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry as well as improve on the effectiveness and efficiency of work processes.
Since securing the approval of the Human Resource Management Office and other relevant committees in 2020, we consistently implemented recommendations with varying levels of success. We created additional structures including a fully equipped situation room attached to the resource and documentation division, diaspora division, C10 secretariat and; clearly defined the mandate of each division/section/desk, to name but a few.
The outcome and impact of some of the reforms have been evident in the timely and quality reporting from our Missions abroad; the constant flow of communication between the Ministry and our missions abroad; the swifter responses to correspondences from partners, friends, and other Government Agencies; the improved coordination of Sierra Leone’s participation in international conferences; better reception provided to visiting high profile delegations; the induction trainings for Ambassadors and staff posted to our missions; the introduction of performance management assessment for Ambassadors and; regular virtual meetings with Mission staff amongst others.
Furthermore, to ensure that Sierra Leone’s diplomatic missions abroad function effectively in 2019 I worked collaboratively with the Ministry of Finance to assess the financial needs of the 22 Missions at the time, to find a sustainable solution to some of the challenges that inhibit the excellent performance of theseMissions. After a week of workshops, meetings and closed-door consultations in Freetown, several financial and managerial challenges facing our overseas missions were unearthed.
Solutions to those problems and critical next steps to be taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance were carefully chronicled in a comprehensive document dubbed, the Golden Tulip Consensus. Since 2020, the two Ministries have been implementing the recommendations of the Golden Tulip Consensus.
I also pioneered an upgrade of our office premises. Apart from structural adjustments and regular refurbishment, we recently conducted an assessment and installed additional security features on the fourth and fifth floors. Work is in progress to upgrade, as well as install video conferencing facilities in certain service rooms in the Ministry.
Minister Francis, I am pleased to report that, in less than two years in office, almost all staff members of the Ministry benefited from one form of capacity building training or the other. From in person diplomatic trainings in China, to language skills development and interactive sessions in which senior Directors of the Ministry mentor junior staff members in the art of economic, political and public diplomacy and many more.
I recall several Fridays in this room where we dropped titles/positions and held exhaustive and sometimes heated debates on matters that have a bearing on Sierra Leone. This enabled staff to break down barriers and take significant steps towards being competitive at the international stage.
I believe it would be beneficial to continue to encourage and initiate further support and collaboration between and among all staff, in order to enhance and improve individual and collective performance.
In the midst of all of this, were our former Ambassadors and former senior staff of the Ministry who expertly imparted knowledge and experience whenever called upon. Mr Minister, realising that this valuable crop of people is still needed in our system, I secured funds to enhance a much more structured and consistent relationship with them. I do hope that you would also find this useful.
The ultimate goal for these capacity support to Foreign Service staff is to ensure that their subsequent competence and professionalism will ultimately culminate into Career Foreign Service staff, nominated to serve as Ambassadors in our Missions abroad. As you may be aware, Mr Minister, His Excellency the President has already started appointing high performing Foreign Service staff to serve in leadership positions within our Missions abroad.
In December 2020, His Excellency the President launched the physical construction of the Foreign Service Academy. That launch was a product of several negotiations and exercising back channels to ensure that one of Sierra Leone’s major bilateral partners, the Chinese Government, expedited processes for the work to begin. Currently, the earth work is in progress and the China Railway Group, the company undertaking the construction, has started installing the pillars of the proposed Academy.
To rebrand, the state must look the part. Sadly, at the time I was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry did not have a diplomatic fleet befitting of a country that was clamouring for international attention in terms of excellent facilities for socio-economic and political cooperation for development. Within 100 days in office, I engaged a few of our bilateral partners to assist us with VVIP SUVs vehicles, VIP Luxury Busses, Ambulance and Escort Bikes.
Over 40 automobiles were made available to the Ministry and our Missions as a result of this bold intervention. This has contributed greatly in ensuring that each time the country has high-profile guests, such guests are accorded hospitality of international standard. I am sure, the Director General and Ambassador at-Large who I put in charge of developing a policy for the use and maintenance, will furnish you with the details.
In the same vein, after observing that standards at the VIP and Presidential Lounges at Lungi had fallen considerably, I solicited financial support from a bilateral partner to refurbish both Lounges at the Lungi International Airport. The facilities in these two lounges have been fully upgraded.
Again, Minister Francis, under my leadership, the Ministry secured external funding, started and completed the construction of a staff quarter in Lungi. The rationale for such a venture is to provide Protocol Officers of the Ministry with the needed support to be effective in their duties of assisting traveling dignitaries at the Freetown International Airport.
Hon. Minister, His Excellency our President was under no illusion when he emphasized that national development must be viewed from within the context of global strategic partnership. This is because, evidence abound reveals that interdependence among nations has become the logical route to accelerated growth and development. The more meaningful friends a country has the more realistic and meaningful its development prospect. As a result, the Medium Term National Development Plan 2019-2023 explicitly stated as a key target, the expansion of our diplomatic mission abroad.
Therefore, for the past two years I constantly urged my team to search and rationalize the need for new friends around the globe that could be strategic in helping Sierra Leone realize its development aspirations. In that regard, new missions have been established in Turkey and the Kingdom of Morocco. Discussions are at an advanced stage to re-open Sierra Leone’s Embassy in France.
Additionally, I superintended the establishment of consulates in several economically viable and strategic cities around the world. These consulates promise positive socio-economic returns for Sierra Leone as we strive to transform our economy and generate sustainable growth for all. It may interest you to know that in pursuit of cooperation on eco-tourism for development, the Ministry has reached out to countries as far as in the Caribbean.
I also introduced clear deliverables and reporting systems for all consuls which they abide by. I am optimistic that these will be further expanded and consolidated under your leadership. Fundamentally also, several countries have equally shown a keen interest in opening their diplomatic posts in Sierra Leone whilst others like India have already established a fully-functioning High commission in Freetown for the first time.
Bilateral Agreements and Joint Commission for Cooperation
In less than two years as Minister of Foreign Affairs, my team and I succeeded in transforming the diplomatic landscape of the country from obscurity to international prominence. During my stint as Foreign Minister, I met and signed multiple Joint Commissions for Cooperation with dozens of leaders in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa.
These cooperation agreements among other things have contributed immensely to development activities in the health, education, agriculture and defence sectors, to name but a few of them. Several Visa exemption agreements which I facilitated have also ensured that diplomats and professionals in Sierra Leone can now travel to several countries around the world without visa requirements. The Legal Department of the Ministry will furnish you with the full list of Agreements and JCCs signed during my leadership.
Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs and international Cooperation, as you may be aware, about six months ago a visa ban was placed on Sierra Leone by the United States, after the latter accused Sierra Leone of being uncooperative in repatriating alleged Sierra Leoneans release from US Correctional facilities. After several engagements with the US Department for Home Land Security, we successfully overturned the United States Visa ban on Sierra Leone.
Elaboration of the Country’s Foreign Policy
Hon. Minister, I am pleased to indicate in this handing over notes that under my leadership and personal supervision, the Ministry has successfully completed the preparation of the Sierra Leone Foreign Policy Guidelines which seeks to provide the people and Government of Sierra Leone with a reference point for all bilateral and multilateral interactions.
The Foreign Policy Guidelines which is due for launch, determines Sierra Leone’s posture in the international system, what it stands for, its approach to global issues as well its intention on how to harness international diplomacy for attaining sustainable growth and development at the national level. This is also a fundamental policy action in the Medium-term National Development Plan which the Ministry has successfully completed. You already have a copy of this policy which was presented to cabinet this March.
The Foreign Service Bill
From the day I was appointed as Minister, I spent considerable time studying and analysing the landscape and the general operations of the Foreign Service. Less than six months in office, I came to the conclusion that the Foreign Service is unique in its own right, and therefore without specific legislation to guide the day-to-day functioning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, it would be difficult to successfully inculcate into the fabric of the institution important performance elements such as professionalism, order and predictability.
In view of the above, I proposed the Concept to Cabinet twice in 2020 to seek approval to work with the Attorney General’s Office to draft the Bill. Unfortunately, though its relevance was underscored, I was encouraged to hold additional in-depth consultations with certain interlocutors before taking it back. This was already in process and I was waiting for a date to do so.
Mr Minister, it may interest you to know that consultations I had with some high-ranking members of the Sierra Leone Parliament, including the Speaker of the House, indicated that such a bill will receive overwhelming Parliamentary support.
Minister Francis, I have a first-hand knowledge of the President’s passion for transforming Sierra Leone into a vortex for Foreign Direct Investment as I was part of the conception of and also served as a member on the Sierra Leone Investment Board for the past couple of years.
The core objective of the Investment Board is to encourage inflow of valued and credible investors to help transform the current state of Sierra Leone economy in one that is not only strong, but also resilient shocks. To support the inflow of investors, I have developed a concept on awarding Sierra Leonean citizenship to high-valued and credible investors. I conceived of the scheme as an incentive to existing investors as well as would be investors. If you are interested in taking this scheme further, Hon. Minister, it will be my pleasure to oblige you with a copy of the Concept Note.
Sierra Leoneans living abroad
Migration remains a critical challenge not only for Sierra Leone but the entire globe. Young Sierra Leoneans in search of greener pastures continue to surreptitiously leave the shores of the country, sometimes with the help of organized criminal cartels.
We have had several cases reported wherein Sierra Leoneans find themselves stranded in foreign countries needing immediate repatriation. Over the past several months, under my leadership and through effective collaboration with other state and non-state actors, we successfully repatriated hundreds of Sierra Leoneans from Lebanon, Kuwait, Niger, the United States, etc. However, it was not helpful to remain reactive. Therefore, I proposed the creation of an interagency platform not only to aid successful repatriation of verified nationals back to Sierra Leone, but also to minimise migration.
Mr. Minister I strongly recommend that you continue to provide the leadership and play the coordinating role for which these other state and non-state actors on this platform had always looked up to me for, during my tenure as Minister.
Early this year, I was a member of the Presidential envoy to the Republic of Guinea to help negotiate a peaceful solution to a seeming border and security tension between Sierra Leone and Guinea, that threatened the peace and economic stability of both countries. Although the envoy was led by the Speaker of the Sierra Leone Parliament, I as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation provided the technical leadership and helped coordinate the work of the technical working groups.
The Ministry’s excellent performance which culminated into the visit of His Excellency Dr Julius Maada Bio’s visit to the Republic of Guinea greatly contributed towards the reopening of the Sierra Leone-Guinea border crossing point in Pamalap, as well as led to resolution of the border skirmishes in Yenga.
Although there is currently calm and peaceful coexistence between the two countries, I strongly recommend that you keep a close eye on the situation at all times, whilst keeping in hindsight, the historical, economic and cultural ties that bind and continue to bind both Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Securing the election of Sierra Leoneans to prestigious positions in multilateral institutions
In fulfilment of a critical target in the Medium-Term National Development Plan, which is to increase Sierra Leone’s representation in multilateral institutions, the Ministry successfully pioneered Sierra Leone’s bid for top representation in the United Nations, the African Union, and the International Criminal Court. This saw Sierra Leone’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr Alie Kabbah, the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption of Sierra Leone Francis Ben Kelfala, and Justice Miatta Samba, all hoisting the flag of Sierra Leone high in the United Nations, the African Union and the International Criminal Court, respectively. I am sure with your leadership Sierra Leone will continue to increase its representation in these multilateral institutions.
Campaign to secure the election of Sierra Leone to the Non-Permanent Category of United Nations Security Council
Minister Francis, as you may be also aware, decades have passed since the last time Sierra Leone was a member of the Non-Permanent category of the Security Council. In 2020, I started consultations both within Sierra Leone as well in the international system, gaging the international mood and state of play at the Security Council with the singular objective of rating Sierra Leone’s chances to clinch the seat come 2024.
After several bilateral meetings and internal deliberations, my team and I concluded that Sierra Leone stands a very good chance to win the seat when it becomes vacant. Accordingly, we have formally announced our candidature at the ECOWAS, African Union and the United Nations levels. We were in the advanced stage of developing a robust international campaign strategy when it pleased His Excellency the President to replace me.
A cabinet paper was already prepared and signed by me and it provides all the information you will need to secure the approval to take this forward. I believe Mr Minister, that you will take this journey of national pride from where I left it to the national goal of winning the election and make us all proud as Sierra Leoneans.
May I note here that raising the profile of our country by attracting and hosting conferences and seminars was another key focus during my administration. I am pleased to reference just a few of the high-profile guests such as the African Union Commission Chairperson Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat; The Special Envoy of President Xi Jingpin Mr Yang Jiechi, The Indian Vice President- M V Naidu, the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and more recently, providing the actual leadership and coordination for the protocol services extended to our guests of honour-the four Heads of State, Vice President and Prime Minister for the 60th anniversary celebrations. In addition, we also worked collaboratively with Parliament to successfully host the first in person Extraordinary Session in Freetown.
Committee of Ten on the Reform of the United Nations
Minister Francis, His Excellency Dr Julius Maada Bio is the Chairman of the African Union Committee of Ten on the Reform of the United Nations. As such, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is responsible for coordinating the activities of the Committee. Before I was appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs, the work of the Committee was challenged with staunch opposition to Sierra Leone’s leadership expressed by some members of the committee as well as from non-member States.
Sierra Leone was accused of being lethargic insofar as organizing the activities of the C-10, engaging various interest groups, and canvassing the P-5 countries were concerned. As a result, there were subtle boycotts of C-10 meetings prior to my appointment.
After my appointment, I carefully studied the politics and dynamics of the situation through extensive consultations across the continent and among my colleagues. I realized that the only way to move forward was to get each and every member of the Committee to renew its commitment to the common goal of propagating the Common African Position as espoused in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration.
Several bilateral meetings culminated into a highly acclaimed C-10 Ministerial Meeting in Dakar Senegal in January 2020 which I Co-Chaired with my then Colleague Amadou Ba. The outcome document of that meeting was unanimously adopted by the Authority of Heads of State of the African Union in February that same year and has formed the basis for engagements at the Inter-Governmental Negotiations in New York since.
Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Committee could not meet in-person in Uganda in January 2021 as was agreed in the Dakar Ministerial Summit. However, I chaired a Virtual Ministerial Meeting in January 2021 during which Sierra Leone as the Coordinating country provided an update on IGN process in New York, and on the outcome of the virtual engagements with all P-5 countries during the lockdown.
It is important to highlight that prior to that Virtual Ministerial Meeting, I held bilateral meetings with the Foreign Ministries of all the P-5 countries and more, in fulfilment of the task assigned to me during the Dakar in-person Ministerial Meeting. The Multilateral Division of the Ministry will furnish you with reports of all the aforementioned meetings.
The Ministry’s Response to the Coronavirus and appeal for Vaccine
When the pandemic started ravaging lives and economies of rich countries, we quickly realized at the Ministry with some levels of certainty that the economic damage that Coronavirus would eventually inflict on a poor country like Sierra Leone when the disease finally strikes, would be devastating.
Therefore, even before the index case was identified in Mach 2020, the Ministry had already begun rallying development partners and close friends of Sierra Leone to provide medical and financial support to the country to prepare and ramp up the country’s response capabilities to fight the pandemic. As a result of that proactive intervention by the Ministry, the country received diverse international support in the form of cash donations, medical equipment and supplies as well medical personnel mainly from Cuba.
In addition, I appealed to the staff of the Ministry to donate small amounts from their salaries to the COVID-19 national basket fund. The staff agreed and we eventually raised the sum of Le 140,000,000 which was donated to the national emergency fund. For me this was more than money to help the needy, it demonstrated, beyond doubt, that I was working with people who definitely have a strong human element to their personality. These are the kind of staff members I was blessed with and now that blessing is yours Mr Minister to behold and cherish.
Hon. Minister, I am pleased to recall that in February 2021, the plethora of gains recorded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and international Cooperation during these two years of my leadership was recognized by the Office of the Chief Minister under your leadership, Professor David Francis when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ranked second in the Government Performance Index for 2020.
Allow me to emphasize that I am particularly pleased that the hard work that we embarked upon in this Ministry did not go unnoticed, not even by you and your previous office Hon. Minister. As you will be subjected to the same process in your new capacity, I can safely infer that this exemplary performance will be useful.
Challenges during my tenure
Although several successes were chronicled during my tenure, those successes were not by any means achieved with ease. There were many challenges that affected work processes and as a result undermined the overall effectiveness and efficiency the Ministry.
Although these challenges, especially those deliberately orchestrated, rarely stood in the way of performance, they nonetheless served as a distraction and slowed down progress. I sincerely hope you will not be subjected to such but if you are, I believe you will stay focused. Some of these challenges include the following:
• Blurred lines regarding where the functions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ends and where the functions of other state institutions begin;
• Insubordination on the part of some Ambassadors/High Commissioners
• Managing and Dealing with Conflicts in Missions
• Inadequate allocation of funds to the Ministry and its overseas missions;
As indicated in the preamble, these notes are a summary of the activities in which I was engaged during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs and international Cooperation.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you require detailed elaboration of some of the issues highlighted. There are several other sensitive and complex matters which I would be happy to share in a private discussion when you have the time. The Director General and Ambassador-at-Large is aware of most of the issues highlighted in these notes. I am sure she will provide you with additional information.
As I conclude may I take this opportunity to thank my former Deputy Mr Solomon Jamiru, the former Director General Mr Alhassan Kondeh, the current Director General Ambassador Florence Bangalie, Directors, Ambassadors/High Commissioners and staff of the entire Ministry for their commitment during my tenure.
I deeply appreciate the exceptional support extended by our esteemed former Ambassadors and retired staff. The Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Foreign Affairs was also a pillar of support. I also thank all our resident and non-resident Ambassadors/High Commissioners as well as our Consuls for their cooperation and support. It was an absolute pleasure working with all of you.
I have done my bit and left my mark. An indelible mark that cannot be erased. I wish you well.”
The question still remains, why was Nabeela Tunis sacked after such splendid performance, despite difficult challenges caused by poor leadership at the top of the presidency?