Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara’s Challenges

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She served for many years in the United Nations, gaining considerable diplomatic and international experience. Prior to that, she worked closely with Foreign Minister C. Cecil Dennis, Jr., who made a great name for himself, especially in the African diplomatic environment. He was known to be indefatigable, working late into the night and steering the way for Liberia’s hosting of the Summit Conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU, now African Union—AU) during which President William R. Tolbert, Jr. was elected OAU Chair. Marjon was in the middle of all this. Cecil became Chair of the OAU Council of Ministers.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf pulled Marjon pulled away from the UN to serve her country as Permanent Representative of Liberia to the United Nations. Last week President Sirleaf appointed her Foreign Minister, succeeding Augustine Ngafuan, who recently resigned.

Ms. Kamara, the youngest of the Kamara sisters of Newport Street, Monrovia, daughters of Jacob and Edith Kamara, is, like her sisters, a graduate of St. Theresa’s Convent.

As Liberia’s new Foreign Minister, she faces a number of very serious challenges. She is starting from a position of strength, for she meets Liberia reasonably at peace not only with her West African and African neighbors, but with the entire world.

Her challenge is to maintain these cordial and friendly ties, expand upon and make all of them dynamic.

Ms. Kamara is the first Liberian Ambassador in recent memory to immediately become Foreign Minister.

She must fix a problem that our embassies have perennially faced with the Foreign Ministry—too many Ambassadors have complained that communication with their Ministry, even on urgent matters, often goes unattended. Whether or not she herself faced that problem as Ambassador to the UN, she must fix it and make the relationship between the Foreign Ministry and the embassies and consulates more efficient, proactive and robust.

Needless to say, she must ensure that the Foreign Affairs budgetary allotment is constantly available from the Finance Ministry to enable our diplomatic representatives to meet their financial obligations, including salaries, and save them from the embarrassment they constantly face.

Foreign Minister Kamara should also follow up an important initiative which her predecessor, Mr. Ngafuan, began, which is seeking the assistance of a certain friendly government to help finance the rehabilitation of Liberian embassies in many places, and purchase land in more strategic areas to enhance our diplomatic representation.

Coming directly from New York, where she rubbed shoulders with top UN officials and members of the Security Council, Minister Kamara must use these connections as she enters her new office at a time when UNMIL is drawing down.

This is probably one of her most urgent challenges: Can she help the President negotiate a delayed withdrawal in the face of the coming presidential and general elections? Or can Ms. Kamara engage some powerful friendly nations to help Liberia meet the colossal security challenges that UNMIL’s departure will engender?

Her predecessor, Augustine Ngafuan, played well his part, especially during the Ebola crisis, making the case, along with the President, for international assistance to combat the virus. During the seven months she could not travel because of Ebola, he had to represent her at most international fora. He also successfully led the cause, on behalf of all the three affected countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone and
Liberia—against the stigmatization they all suffered from many international quarters.

He worked tirelessly to improve foreign diplomatic representation on the ground in Monrovia, most critically the United Kingdom, which closed its embassy in Monrovia in 1990 at the outbreak of the Liberian civil war. Brazil and Qatar also have ambassadors in Monrovia.

One of Ms. Kamara’s challenges is to bring back some of the other resident ambassadors that were here long before the war.

A more difficult challenge she faces, especially in wake of the Syrian crisis and the rise of Islamist extremism, especially in Europe, is helping Liberian citizens and residents to enjoy the benefits of the Schengen visa. In its absence, we all must spend considerable time and money obtaining visas from neighboring countries to enter Europe.

The new Foreign Minister should also strive to make Liberian diplomacy dynamic. It is not how many embassies we have, but how effective they are in making diplomacy work for Liberia’s highest interests—political, agricultural, economic, educational, health, social, financial and development.

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