PREPARING LIBERIA’S DIPLOMATS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY AND BEYOND

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The Gabriel L. Dennis Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was founded in 1951, during the administration of President Tubman pursuant to an Act of the Legislature, ref (31), for the purpose of providing a professional training center for young men and women who wish to become diplomats in the Foreign Service of the Republic of Liberia.

Following the creation of the FSI, the Government appointed Ambassador George A. Padmore as its first Director. During the period December 1989- May 2002, the Institute was closed due to the first civil war, which started in December 1989, and lasted for eight years. In 2002, the Institute was reactivated under the leadership of Foreign Minister H.E. Monie R. Captan. The framing idea of the Institute was to help enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by strengthening the capacity of Foreign Service Officers, who are the “foot soldiers” of Liberia’s foreign policy. Honorable G. Varney Freeman, a career Foreign Service Officer, became the Acting Director- General of the Institute. He was succeeded by Ambassador Solomon Sawyer.

In 2008, the institute was reconstituted under the administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with the new policy thrust on development diplomacy, which was devised by the then Foreign Minister H.E. Olubanke King-Akerele. Honorable Augustine Konneh, former Chairman and Professor of the Department of History at Morehouse College, was recruited through the TOKTEN program to restructure the curriculum, administer, manage, and help to transform the Institute to meet the new thrust of Liberia’s foreign policy objectives. Subsequently, he was appointed the Director-General of the Institute.

Against that background my presentation will focus on the topic “Preparing Liberia’s Diplomats for the 21st century and Beyond.” The thrust of the presentation will be as followS: First, the presentation will map out the progress that has been made in the Liberian Foreign Service Institute. Second, it will tease out the ways in which the progress made can be consolidated and sustained.

Finally, it will suggest some ways in which transformation can take place in the Liberian Foreign Service, in the continuing quest to prepare Liberian diplomats to meet the challenges, and capitalize on the opportunities of the 21st century and beyond.

THE PROGRESS
The Selection of Foreign Service Officers
Applicants seeking admission to the FSI are required to satisfy the following requirements:
1. Qualifications:
A. Bachelor’s degree, preferably in a social science discipline.
B. A cumulative GPA of 2.7
2. Submit a formal Application Form of the FSI to the office of the Director- General the following documents:

A. A copy of university or college diploma, as evidence of the degree earned.
B. Current Police Clearance
C. Current Health Certificate
D. Current and comprehensive resume/curriculum vitae
E. A statement of career interest
G. Three letters of recommendation
H. A transcript of academic record
The screened applicants are then required to take a series of exams, after which the most qualified are interviewed for admission.

THE TRAINING OF Foreign Service Officers

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the agency of the Liberian Government that is responsible for assisting the President with the formulation and implementation of Liberia’s foreign policy. In addition, it is the window of Liberia to the outside world. In this respect, the FSI, as a major component of the Ministry, trains our diplomats for an effective delivery of the nation’s foreign policy and programs.

The training philosophy is different from that of the university in that it emphasizes the acquisition of in situ practical training. And this is done by experienced diplomats. The practical dimension of the curriculum finds expression in the three months practicum, which is one third of the total training program of nine months.

Nonetheless, the theoretical aspect of the training program is also given importance, because the vicissitudes of a rapidly globalized world currently shaping international relations, demand well-rounded and vigilant career diplomats. For this reason, the curriculum of the FSI meets international standards, as modeled on the best training practices in other developing countries, including Nigeria, Ghana and India.

Diplomatic ropes are no longer the same, despite the adherence to diplomatic practice in the Vienna and related conventions. Countries like Liberia, which are coming out of prolonged conflicts, need proactive “development diplomats;” meaning that we are training “development diplomats,” because of the centrality of development to post-conflict peacebuilding. Given the development
challenges such as extreme poverty, youth unemployment, and access to clean drinking water, there is the urgent need to address them; and attracting foreign investment is one major approach. Hence, the right agents trained to speak the language of diplomacy, and who know the diplomatic ropes to attract foreign direct investment are imperative to promoting our country to investors.

The FSI has, and continues to be quite effective in training diplomats to be sharp, skillful and adroit in the essentials of international relations, diplomatic theories and practices, diplomatic communication and development diplomacy. Specifically, the training includes diplomatic communication and skills in rules of diplomatic protocols, language, writing and composition, buttressed by modern information, communication and technology. In addition, some of the academic courses include Protocol, Etiquette and Ceremony, Public Diplomacy, Economic and Development Diplomacy, Introduction to Diplomacy and Diplomatic Practices, Peace, Justice and International Law, Embassy Financial Management and Reporting, International and Regional Organizations, International Relations, Foreign Languages: French, Spanish, Mandarin, and English for Diplomats, and Leadership Development.

In view of Liberia’s foreign policy thrust on development and economic diplomacy, the Institute emphasizes the training of diplomats in the field of economic development. The training includes investment strategies and opportunities, financial management, negotiation in trade and economic cooperation and assistance, as well as effective delivery at conferences for the ostensible purpose of helping to attract foreign direct investment. In short, the emphasis is on the ways in which development shapes foreign policy, and the application of such knowledge and practices to helping attract and expand foreign direct investments, and the resulting economic growth and development, within the contexts of the Agenda for Transformation (AfT) and Vision 2030 of the Government of Liberia

After graduation, candidates are fielded at various Liberian Diplomatic Missions as “Development Diplomats,” for 3 to 6 months, before their commissioning as full-fledged diplomats. This final stage depends on their performance in the critical area of development diplomacy, based on the evaluation and recommendation of the supervising Ambassador, their cultural adaptability, level of refinement for representation, and the availability of posts at the various Missions. Candidates who are not posted are absorbed in available positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, if they so desire. Others may choose to pursue other careers. Since my incumbency as the Director-General of the Institute, the FSI has trained 150 diplomats. Many of them have been deployed at our various embassies and consulates in 23 countries on four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas

CONSOLIDATING AND SUSTAINING THE PROGRESS

To consolidate and sustain the progress that has been made, there is need for more financial resources, professional staffing/personnel, a conducive space and equipment, and technology.

More financial resources are needed to, among other things, maintain quality instructors and trainers, by offering them competitive remunerations. Also, with more financial resources, we will be able digitize the institute’s operations by having the requisite technology that allows students in the training program the exposure to continental and global academic spaces. For example, instructors will be able to link with their colleagues at other institutes both on the African Continent and elsewhere, for the purpose of exchanging views on “best practices.”

Further, increased financial resources will enable the institute to purchase training materials, and occasionally provide the best students to intern at sister institutes on the African Continent.

Another major need is that increased professional staffing will assist in expanding various programs, such as the Language lab with resident linguists that will benefit both the institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, the Institute needs at least two researchers, with expertise in international relations, who will contribute to shaping Liberia’s foreign policy. Similarly, the Institute needs a trained secretary and administrative assistant, who will assist with the growing administrative functions.

Moreover, conducive office sand related space and equipment are needed to assist with the proper operation of the Institute. For example, there is a need for space for faculty, a student–faculty and student lounge, as well as for guest lecturers, classrooms, and conferencing.

Overall, all of these improvements will allow for the implementation of the Memoranda of Understanding that have been signed between the Gabriel L. Dennis Foreign Service Institute and other Institutes. This is because the Institute must have the requisite resources that would help position it to interact with sister institutions.

TRANSFORMATION OF THE FOREIGN SERVICE

With the progress that has been made, if the resources that are requested are provided, then the Foreign Service I-institute will be well-positioned to plays its role in the transformation of the Liberian Foreign Service. In other words, it would be quite difficult for the Institute to help transform our country’s foreign service absent the requisite resources. This is because the ideas for transformation can only be practicalized, if the requisite resource base is available.

At the heart of the transformation of the Liberian Foreign Service is the preparation of diplomats, who have both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills in diplomacy. For example, the number of courses that is currently been offered can be expanded, so that Liberian diplomats can have an expansive knowledge base that would place them in an advantageous position to articulate
Liberia’s Foreign Policy in an informed manner. In terms of practical training, they also can develop the skills set that will enable them to effectively and efficiently negotiate both bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Finally, it is thus anticipated that ultimately the FSI would be effective in training development diplomats to master the essentials of international relations, diplomatic theories and practice, diplomatic communication, and be able to demonstrate their acquired proficiencies in national and international for a for the expressed purpose of helping to attract foreign direct investment opportunities for Liberia.

HAPPY JULY 26!

Authors

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