Sierra Leone’s civil servants: The nucleus of the country’s Foreign Service?

President koroma

Mohamed Kutubu Koroma

21 January 2012

President koroma

Unlike Ghana and Nigeria, where the bulk of their Foreign Service personnel are professional diplomats, Sierra Leone on the contrary has what can be described as a ‘cross cultural service’, driven by a political agenda where appointments are made based on nepotism and political connections.

This has resulted in some of the worst cases of abuse of office and poor performance by those leading and working in the service, thus tarnishing the country’s image and reputation overseas.

What Ghana and Nigeria did shortly after independence, was to establish institutions with the sole purpose of training their future diplomats. This investment has paid huge dividends, as they have been able to produce large numbers of highly qualified diplomats, specializing in all aspects of diplomacy.

And it is no accident that both countries are highly represented in the top management hierarchy of various international organizations, such as the African Union, the World Bank and the IMF.

In both Ghana and Nigeria, the Foreign Service is regarded as a ‘cradle to grave’ career pathway to retirement.

In Sierra Leone, it has been the exception rather than the rule, that a few of the country’s civil servants working in the Foreign Service, such as Henry Lyn-Shyllon, Victor Sumner, Eya Mbayo, and possibly Farmer Joka Bangura, were the lucky ones to have been appointed as envoys from amongst the ranks of Foreign Service Officers.

Historically, Sierra Leone’s envoys have been outsiders with political ties to the leadership, and that explains why it is the case today that, there are so many unprofessional and grossly incompetent diplomats serving overseas.

Political appointees, such as Ambassadors Christian Kargbo and Abdul Karim Koroma who were dispatched to Brussels and China respectively by president Koroma, have made headline news for all the wrong reasons, without credit to the nation State.

APC’s diplomatic appointees are second to none, with respect to their poor leadership quality and low professional caliber.

That said however, the nation has seen a few fine men and women serving in the diplomatic service, regardless of the extenuating circumstances they found themselves, who went on to become superb representatives overseas.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning the names of some of those men and women, who despite difficult political circumstances, accredited themselves magnificently, by combining sophistry and intellect in the discharge of their duties overseas:

Henry Lyn-Shyllon, Charles Wyse, Victor Sumner (who sadly passed away yesterday – 20 January 2012), William Bangura, Eya Mbayo, Francis Karemo, Farmer Joka Bangura, Donald George, Dunstanette Macauley, Fred Savage, and John Bankole Jones.

If those officials were members of the Nigerian or Ghanaian diplomatic service, they would have been invested with the prestigious rank of Minister of State – the highest honor bestowed on Foreign Service officials for outstanding performance in carrying out their diplomatic duties.

But what can Sierra Leone do to emulate the Nigerian and Ghanaian diplomatic experience?

President Koroma’s government and certainly those to follow, must seriously ensure that the country’s Foreign Policy is led and driven by professionally trained career diplomats.

As it currently stands, unfortunately, Sierra Leone lacks human resource capacity in its Foreign Service. 

A key recommendation is for the government to establish an Institute for Foreign Policy Management, as Ghana and Nigeria have done, in order to build the capacity and develop the capability of Foreign Service personnel, to enable Sierra Leone respond to the 21st century challenges of global diplomacy.

The government can seek technical help from both Ghana and Nigeria in that regard, since both countries are way ahead of Sierra Leone in terms of the caliber and quality of diplomats they produce – as exemplified by the sheer number of their citizens holding top positions in various international organizations – especially the AU, the UN and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The Foreign Ministry should be treated as the Justice department, where only qualified Lawyers occupy the upper strata of the Judiciary.

Sierra Leone has not been able to develop a strategic and cardinal doctrinal foreign policy, beyond the convoluted theory of “NON ALIGNMENT”.

Because of the complexities and multi-dimensional nature of the challenges and opportunities associated with modern day diplomacy, such as; terrorism, international trade and globalisation, territorial and expansionist ambitions, Sierra Leone cannot afford to continue to sit on the fence and play the role of a spectator.

Passivism in international affairs is an out dated concept that carries with it the burden of dependency on foreign aid.

Seeking alms from nations whose tunes the government has to dance to; playing off one nation against the other for monetary purposes, which this current APC administration is guilty of than any previous administrations, with the former Foreign Minister – Zainab Bangura acting as the foot soldier in that exercise – making outlandish pronouncements at unguarded moments.

The diplomatic voice of the man who followed her into the service – J. B. Dauda, has not yet been heard, in terms of strategic foreign policy pronouncements.

Even though he has attended numerous conferences since taking over as the new vicar of the nation’s Foreign Policy, he is yet to make his mark by resolving the Yenga territorial dispute with neighboring Guinea.

Dauda, of course has held dazzling array of political offices in both the APC and SLPP administrations.

For too long, Sierra Leone has not been able to prosecute a coherent and credible strategic Foreign Policy, because it fundamentally lacks strategic leadership and human resource capacity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Until governments in Sierra Leone begin to see the importance of effective diplomacy, and move towards addressing the inherent gaps and shortcomings in delivering a coherent Foreign Policy, we will continue to see ourselves through the prisms of both Ghana and Nigeria.


  1. I am sure Sierra leone has good diplomats. We should not be cynical about what we dont really understand. Anderson we are poised to do better. A lot of training is going on, but in a low key manner.

    I am sure we will develop good and stronger strategy towards our Foreign Policy.

    It is not true that mediocrity has overtaken professionalism. I am part of that group that has hope in our foreign service

  2. Sierra Leone will take decades to develop, as is normal with any country that has been to war. Quietly but effectively, young diplomats have been graduating in the Malta based DIPLOFOUNDATION, which is currently offering the best Masters in Contemporary Diplomacy in the world. I quite agree that more needs to be done but by way of sponsoring more students to this highly esteemed and prestigious organisation.

    I cannot support home brewed solutions like what the writer has been suggesting, as is actually going on in Ghana and Nigeria. If matters proceed, as I am suggesting,, in the next five years, Sierra Leone will surpass any of these countries and will be able to out stand on the international fora, especially with the theme of diplomacy for small states.

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