Orientation in Diplomacy Proposed for Cabinet -As Foreign Service Lecturer Says Proactive Diplomacy Yields Development

By Stephen G. Fellajuah

A guest lecturer at the Gabriel L. Dennis Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has proposed basic diplomacy orientation for Cabinet officials. Mr. Ahmed Sirleaf, a Liberian internationalist and development diplomat, has urged the Government of Liberia to take deliberate steps in educating its Cabinet( and other senior government officials) key basic diplomatic skills because, he said government officials are diplomats, whether they know it or not. Mr. Sirleaf said Liberian officials need to be proactive and know how to influence what diplomats and international organizations accredited to Liberia do or report on the country.

He said though government officials may have training and education in their specific areas or disciplines, understanding basic diplomacy will help them be effective advocates for the people of Liberia. “Knowing the basic tenets or specifics of diplomacy will produce the intended results that will foster development in the country.”  “Diplomacy has a way of walking, speaking, dressing, and behaving.” He warned.

Sirleaf made the statement in an interview on Friday, June 4, 2021 in Congo Town, following two guest appearances at the FSI where he spoke on two topics respectively: First he addressed diplomatic students on “Current Trends and Realities in Diplomacy: Covid-19 and Diplomacy and “Foreign Aid and Diplomacy: has aid hurt or helped Liberia.”

In a post lecture interview with reporters, he stressed the need that top officials to learn how to speak diplomatic language so that they can be effective in their roles especially during the novel Corina Virus pandemic crisis.

“Diplomats such as ambassadors, heads of missions or heads of delegations are the official envoys of the sending state,” In addition to promoting friendly relations, their primary responsibilities are to promote and protect the national strategic interests of their own countries”, Mr. Sirleaf stressed.

“If our officials know how or what to ask for, they can influence diplomacy to the benefit of Liberia,” he said. He called a compulsory diplomacy orientation for the Cabinet or senior government officials. Mr. Sirleaf beliefs diplomacy does not happen just overseas or at Foreign Missions or multilateral hubs of New York or Geneva, diplomacy is happening right here, at home. He said the Corona Virus pandemic has changed standard diplomatic practices as stipulated in the 1961 Vienna Convention on the practices of diplomatic relations between nation-states. “Everything has changed.” “Therefore, our officials ought to upgrade their knowledge and skills of diplomacy as to be effective for the country”, Sirleaf said.

The experienced Liberian public speaker, writer and educator pointed out that diplomats are people who should be very skilled in many different areas to be able to effectively represent their countries well because, he noted, they are responsible for engaging in dialogues, consultations aimed at promoting friendly relations especially in a time where countries are engaging into complex negotiations and advancing their goals under difficult circumstances occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that as representatives of the people into another country, or sending state to receiving state, representing your country has lot of implications. These diplomats we see around here, here to promote and protect the national interests of their respective countries (sending states) in another country (in this case, Liberia as a receiving state).

“They collect information through their interactions with governments or ordinary people, doing so sometimes in low key fashion yet other times high key or high stakes information such as during crisis. As part of their functions as diplomats, these diplomats are required to collect information on our country and report back to their capitals, Sirleaf warned. They must do so, however, in the confines of international law. For example, they collect on economic issues, violation of rule of law and human rights or extra judiciary killings.”

He indicated, “Because if you sit and just react to State Department annual reports on Liberia when that report is not friendly to Liberia that means you were not proactive, you didn’t engage with your counterparts in way that will influence what they say about your country.”

“You don’t have to be an experienced diplomat; you can learn it from the job as you are practicing and engaging for your country. It pays for yourself to have requisite skills that will help you do your job better.” he expounded.

Ahmed Sirleaf, who is also a capacity development coach, emphasized that Liberian diplomacy ought to to start with identifying what Liberia’s strategic national interests are. As such, he said, domestic policy is foreign policy. Foreign Policy of the country should benefit the domestic side of governing—that is how you craft a piece of foreign policy, knowing what they people at home want before representing them abroad or through interaction with diplomats in the country.

According to Mr. Sirleaf, based on what the country has come to agree that these are our strategic interest, develop a policy that will protect the national interest including national security strategy, economic growth strategy, social policy, and social protection, encourage foreign direct investments and capital-intensive initiatives to come to Liberia that will advance export earnings and through jobs for our people.

The Liberian educator accentuated that officials of government who don’t see themselves necessarily as diplomats because they may not work at Foreign Affairs or working in foreign missions, they ought to come to the realization that they are diplomats, saying, if they do not see themselves as such, it is very easy to miss out on what or how to ask for that which the country so as to advance the country’s interest at home and abroad.

Mr. Sirleaf, who is the Principal Executive Officer of a new international development consulting firm, The BP-Medina Group Liberia, Inc., and a law and policy fellow at the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice at University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, encouraged the Foreign Service Institute to design a course, which the Presidency could designate as a mandatory orientation or training for government officials.

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