Liberia’s Foreign Service Quagmire: Maybe It’s Time to Cut Back on Missions to Save Cost & Lives

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EACH AND EVERY YEAR, The Gabriel L. Dennis Foreign Service Institute,  established since the 1950s, to offer broad based program of professional training for the young entrants to the Foreign Service of Liberia, has been offering training and research to scores of Liberians looking for entry into the foreign service.

THE INSTITUTE pays homage to Gabriel Lafayette Dennis (1896 – 1954), a politician who together with Louise Arthur Grimes were Liberia’s primary delegates to the League of Nations’ 15th assembly in 1932. In 1944, as World War II was ending, Dennis became Secretary of State under the late President William V.S. Tubman. He served in that position until 1953.

THE INSTITUTE’S HONOR of Dennis was a testament to his outstanding service as a diplomat who was present when the League of Nations made its transition to the United Nations, to both of whose founding Liberia was a signatory.

STUDENTS AT THE INSTITUTE are trained free of charge in basic computer literacy and Internet program and simply taught the basics about diplomacy.

THE APPEAL to the foreign service has been enormous for many looking to work outside Liberia and gain knowledge in Human Rights, Good governance, Security, Conflict Resolution, Reconciliation and the dynamics of International Negotiation.

THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS for anyone yearning for a way out of Liberia and a window into the foreign service. But for every good dream, there is always a nightmare.

SPEAK TO ANY Liberian working in the foreign service today and you will hear the stories of pain, anguish, disappointment and suffering.

A LOT OF THEM WORK for months without pay – or even food to feed their families.

SOME STATIONED in western countries endured painful winters in which they struggle to even afford to keep the heater on to stay warm. In the summer, most cannot even afford the bills to cool their homes.

NEVERTHELESS, THE PUT on a smile whenever a president visit – all in the name of being a diplomat for their homeland.

THIS WEEK’S death of Madam Mary-Ann Fossung, Ambassador to Senegal amplifies the urgency needed for authorities to take a closer look at the welfare of those serving overseas.

AMBASSADOR FOSSUNG has been ailing for quite some time and despite several requests made to the Government of Liberia to settle her salary arrears and benefits to enable her to seek medical attention, nothing really materialized.

IRONICALLY, the Foreign Service Manual, which all students at the Foreign Service Institute are required to study, stipulates that the government is responsible for the health and welfare of diplomats.

NEVERTHELESS, her cries and wailings fell on deaf ears as she fell prey to the cold hands of death at 2:00 am in Tunis, Tunisia where she had gone to seek medical attention. 

REV. EMMANUEL BOWIER, a former diplomat, told FrontPageAfrica that when he was active in the service, the government at the time took responsibility for housing and medical bills. According to him, it was enshrined in the foreign service manual. However, he said, he could not speak of present-day reality as he is not aware where changes have been made.

AS USUAL, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in announcing her death, trumpeted how Ambassador Fossung was a dedicated public servant who served her country and people with distinction in several capacities including, First Secretary, Liberian Embassy near Dakar, Senegal; Charge d’ Affairs, Liberian Embassy, Senegal; and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Liberia, to the Republic of Senegal, with Concurrent accreditations to the Gambia, the Republic of Cape Verde/ Cabo Verde and the Republic of Mauritania. 

If we must honor the likes of Gabriel Dennis and Louise Arthur Grimes, we must honor them the right way. No diplomat or them should watch their friends and loved ones endure so much pain and suffering because its government cannot afford to assist – or simply decides to ignore their plight.

THE OLD ADAGE says give a person their flowers while they are still alive.

SADLY, THE ONLY one to come to Ambassador Fossung’s aid was Senegalese President Macky Sall, who reportedly doled out US$26,000 to fund her trip to Tunisia for medical treatment. “She wrote several requests to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressing her medical urgency and the need for her salaries and additional support from the gov. All was ignored,” Foreign Ministry and family sources confided to FrontPageAfrica this week.

TODAY, HUNDREDS of Liberians are going through similar struggles in various parts of the world. This is why it is important for Liberian authorities to begin exploring ways to cut back on the number of embassies abroad.

ONE WAY COULD be to look at regionalizing ambassadors into West, East Central and North Africa and doing the same for missions in the Western world.

IN THIS WAY, government will not be constrained to continuously overburdening itself with the headaches of trying to find money to cater to the needs of its diplomats overseas.

IT IS BETTER TO save face now, then to continue doing nothing while standing by and watching diplomats return home in body bags.

IF WE MUST HONOR the likes of Gabriel Dennis and Louise Arthur Grimes, we must honor them the right way. No diplomat or them should watch their friends and loved ones endure so much pain and suffering because its government cannot afford to assist – or simply decides to ignore their plight.

WE HOPE THAT Ambassador Fossung’s death will lead to changes in the way Liberia deals with its diplomats overseas.

THE FOREIGN MINISTRY and the government would want you to believe that all is rosy, that diplomats are taking pay on time and getting the best of medical and healthcare. Pick up the phone and hear their stories. Better still, try to walk in the shoes of those serving at missions around the world.

THE QUAGMIRE must end; and so too, must the nightmare.

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