The slate has finally been cleared, she tells me. And I am paraphrasing and summarising her here. With the recall of the ambassadors to Libya and the United Kingdom, all envoys appointed by the previous Government have now been shown the door, she continues; adding it is part of her Government’s commitment to bring in career diplomats to the Foreign Service.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zainab Hawa Bangura is reacting to me regarding the furore over the recall of Melvin Chalobah as High Commissioner to the Britain. Depending on who you believe, there have been theories galore as to the reason for what is effectively a dismissal.
In the first place it remains incontrovertible that President Ernest Bai Koroma it is that has the sole prerogative to send and recall ambassadors. Apart from parliamentary ratification in the case of appointments he is answerable to no-one. Even if he has to take the good of the country into consideration when he hires or fires.
But the recall of Melvin Chalobah has caused some rumpus to say the least, among Sierra Leoneans both within and outside the country. But like with most other issues in the country, partisanship has beclouded analysis of the recall. Whether it had anything at all to do with it, it follows a visit to the country’s high commission in London by opposition leader, John Benjamin. Some, mostly opposition supporters, say and believe strongly that the visit had to do with the recall. Those who believe that theory include Mr Benjamin himself.
Not surprisingly, foreign minister Mrs Bangura and pro-government supporters deny this saying Mr Benjamin visited the embassy in the Washington and the ambassador there was not recalled. Additionally, the letter of recall was dated on 16 July while the meeting with the opposition leader happened on the 17th. Mrs Bangura even says that there had been clear signs that Mr Chalobah’s recall was imminent long before the opposition leader’s visit. But that account has been denied outright by someone as close to Mr Chalobah as the lips are to the teeth. The source however expressed surprise that the dismissed envoy stayed in post all this while – almost two years since the APC came to power.
But let us imagine for a moment that it is true his recall was imminent. Why was it so much of a hurried decision that the letter had to be emailed to him? I would have thought that a normal fax or post would have done it had everything been normal and plain.
As to whether it is part of a genuine stride to get career diplomats to the Foreign Service how many of the new postings are really career diplomats. The foreign minister admitted to me that some of the postings have to be close confidants that the president trusts. She is absolutely right. So it happens even in advanced democracies. But what it also means is that the reason for Chalobah’s recall has nothing to do with the stated aim of the minister that it is a way of having career diplomats in the Foreign Service.
And this seems to be one of the things that have incensed the Diaspora community. Calling it within the powers of the president to do, the president of the Sierra Leone Diaspora Network based in London, told me that the recall of ambassador Chalobah was “a grave mistake”. Speaking to me on the line from London, Ade Daramy said that of the last five ambassadors the country had had in the UK, Chalobah had been simply the best.
In the last few days a Facebook page set up on the issue has shown overwhelming support for the sacked diplomat. And the support has come from across party lines. Some of those that have paid glowing tribute to him are hardcore supporters of President Koroma. It obviously follows therefore that he was liked especially by Sierra Leoneans in the UK. Among the things I understand he had started doing was to get his compatriots living in the UK, about 200,000 of them, to register with the embassy for possibility to vote in the 2012 elections.
May be a way of such diplomatic backlash in the future a possible fixed term for postings should be considered and what the foreign minister was talking about should be implemented without fear or favour. Let us have as our ambassadors people who have risen through the ranks I the foreign service. But whether or not Chaloba deserves to be recalled at this time, and I will say he was lucky to have stayed there all this while, his apparent quietness over the whole matter is an exemplary display of statesmanship. And if I had my way I would have suggested to the president to make use of the recalled diplomat in some other capacity.
Before his appointment as ambassador to the UK, Melvin Chaloba had worked for decades as a top official for the United Nations and the African Development Bank. And his sacking is sure to be a topic for discussion for a long time to come. By Umaru Fofana