When one is named a diplomat to take an assignment to another country, the perception grows that he/she is taking on a prestigious position that sets life well for him/her.
While this might be true about assignments to some of the brighter regions of the world, that situation no longer obtains when it comes to diplomatic assignment to just anywhere.
Just ask President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who happens to know what is going on with challenges facing Liberian diplomats and other staffers abroad.
In her annual message to the National Legislature on January 27, President Sirleaf emphasized that most of Liberia’s embassies in the West African sub-region and other parts of Africa are in dilapidated conditions and staffers there live as though they are not diplomats.
According to the President, Liberia’s properties that are in Washington D.C, Abuja and Paris are in a relative good shape; but the rest are in serious disrepair and have suffered from neglect over the last quarter of the century as a result of the civil crisis.
In addition to the woes, President Sirleaf said, “There is no provision in the budget for education allowance or medical insurance coverage for staff and, in many instances, Government is in breach of laws of the host countries regarding benefits for local employees.”
Moreover, she noted, “most embassies are understaffed. Staff accommodation is less than desirable, and because of inadequate rental allowances, many of the officers are forced to live in areas that are not representative of their status as diplomats of the Republic.”
Citing some references, the President noted that in the Mano River Union Countries including Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, prime properties for Chanceries in Abidjan, Conakry, and Freetown are in urgent need of repair and renovation.
She added that in Accra, Ghana, Liberia’s embassy and Chancery are in the same neighborhood of the Vice President in the heart of Accra; but if immediate action is not taken to erect decent structures in those locations, Government could lose them.
Furthermore, President Sirleaf indicated that Liberia—being one of the first to acquire property in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—Liberia’s Embassy is within a stone’s throw of the new multi-million dollar AU Commission Headquarters.
She said unless government takes action to improve the facility to conform to infrastructures in that vicinity, Liberia may lose it also.
She proposed that at least US$20 million is needed to bring all Liberia’s properties to a minimum standard so that they can stand among glittering buildings around the world.
Meanwhile, there are 38 facilities housing Liberia Chanceries and residences of diplomatic staff around the world.
According to President Sirleaf, 15 of these properties are owned by Government while the rest are under rent.
The last time a reporter was in Conakry in 2004, the Liberian residence facing the Cliff Costal Beach of the Atlantic was in a deplorable condition with no good sanitary system.
The main embassy situated near the Senegalese Embassy and former President Lasana Conteh’s residence in Donka, was also in a dilapidated condition with only the Ambassador’s office at least furnished well.
In Freetown, Sierra Leone in 2012, the embassy there was undergoing minor renovations, but Ambassador Thomas N. Brima at the time underscored the need for financial support from government to complete.
The fact that President Sirleaf emphasized these prevailing situations for Liberian diplomats in foreign economies tells of difficulties staffers are undergoing—something that contradicts the long-held belief that prosperity is automatically associated with assignment on a diplomatic mission.