The Liberian people, represented by the government and civil society, have long had rosy relations with foreign embassies representing countries and institutions of all shade and color. But it seems a diplomat from the European Union is on a campaign to derail the amiable relations for reasons fit for his own figment. Without a dint of provocation, the EU Ambassador, Laurent Helahousse, at a public function recently rained indiscriminate volleys of censures on the Liberian media, something many say is unbefitting of his status. Though the larger civil society community is still mute on the attacks, ordinary Liberians are not taking them lying down, as The Analyst finds out in roving interviews.
A number of Liberians are bitter and furious over recent verbal missiles unleashed at Liberian journalists by the Ambassador of the European Union, Laurent Helahousse, during a public function in Monrovia.
In a roving interview conducted by a team of reporters, Liberians say Ambassador Helahousse’s attack was out of place and unrepresentative of his status of a Western Diplomat.
The Helahousse Diatribes
It all started at the Freedom of Information Roundtable held the Corina Hotel on Monrovia Monday where scores of journalists, civil actors, diplomats, government officials and students gathered to exchange ideas on how to better the Liberian media.
It would be expected that each participant, mainly speakers, would have their own perspectives on issues with Liberian journalism, and as an important occasion the presentations would be based on facts, specifics and devoid of innuendoes.
But that was not the case with Laurent Helahousse. The least expected was that a western diplomatic or a high ranking official of the EU would take the podium to make unsubstantiated claims particularly against Liberian journalists.
“I see personal attacks against my good friend the minister of foreign Affairs which are contrary for instance,” he fired, as journalists looked at each other perhaps asking, ‘but what provoked that comment’.
“I see articles in the media that are obviously being bought,” he continued and reflected on his earlier insults of student journalists whom, he said, he told were “crazy”.
The unsubstantiated attacks on the media by the EU official may be connected to a story reported in one of the local newspapers that Minister Kemayah had reportedly lashed out at the EU Ambassador for asking him (Kemayah) whether he was taking them to see the President while having a meeting with some diplomats recently at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The paper furthered that Minister Kemayah told the Ambassador, “You are with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and you are talking about seeing the President?” a statement that reportedly infuriated the ambassador. However, it was never proven that the Minister ever made the statement as the newspaper only quoted “an insider” that was not identified.
Collateral Public Reactions
Liberians have been reacting to the EU ambassador’s rather derogatory comments on various talk shows and in a roving interview with The Analyst’s reporters.
A student who claimed to have attended the Media Roundtable said he was perplexed and flabbergasted when he heard the Ambassador “unremorsefully rained insults at Liberian journalists on behalf of their own foreign minister.”
“What hurt me in all that the EU ambassador said was that he did not name a particularly media organ or a particularly Liberian journalist,” Abraham E. Mentee, Jr. said. “It was like he had harbored malice against Liberian journalists for a long time because from what I heard from him, he was indiscriminate for the purpose of hiding behind generality and also because no one provoked him.”
Like Mentee, a local shop owner, Kerkulah Zetoe Mason who said he monitored the program at which ambassador Laurent Helahousse made the remarks, said: “I don’t think the EU Ambassador is a schooled diplomat. Firstly, diplomats are refined in their expressions. They don’t just spew out words, and more so diplomats speak with exactitude. What’s most mindboggling is that the Ambassador vented sweeping outrage against Liberian journalists, without mentioning a single name.
“And even assuming that one or two journalists were in errors, does it require that nasty generalization? It is totally unfortunate.”
While James Zeelee also sounded pissed as he was reacting to Laurent Helahousse’s comments, he took aim directly at Government for keeping loose ends with diplomats and who, he said, are ‘racketeering all over the place.
“I don’t blame the likes of Laurent Helahousse,” said Zeelee. “If our government was robust in engaging their bosses and masters, meaning their leaders back home, they would know we cannot be taken for granted. The likes of Laurent Helahousse come here with their ultra-racist attitudes towards Africa and see nothing good in us. Even our journalists they don’t regard. Not our civil society. Not our leaders. They think they are superior, and certainly they are nothing except that our government is not holding them in the rightful places. When we are in close contact with the bosses of these fly-by-night ambassadors, they would know our value and don’t demonize just everyone in this country.”
For Wellington Kiadii, Laurent Helahousse’s utterances against the Liberia media don’t represent a language of diplomat.
He said “diplomat takes government to task not the media. It is the press that will report. If you as a diplomat is attacking the press this way, then who will report what you will be saying”.
“It is totally irresponsible of Laurent Helahousse. He does not mean well for Liberia and for his assignment and for his profession as a diplomat. If he meant well, he would cite examples, specific examples, of bad journalism and unethical journalists. He would name the journalists that wrote unfairly about Liberia’s Foreign Minister. The pure fact is, he does not have any proof and any basis for his outburst. He must be made to apologize to the Liberian media or the Liberian media must impose a blackout on EU activities until he shows proof or until he apologizes.”