By Abdulai Bayraytay* in Toronto, Canada.
During the past couple of months, there has been a huge outcry sparked by Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks releasing of a quarter-million US State Department cables that has given rise to heated debates, bloodthirsty bedlam and media frenzy on how the United States has been handling its international relations with the rest of the world.
These debates themselves are not unwarranted, as the Wikileaks provoke more questions than answers, among which was why would US diplomats “snitch” on governments and their officials and distort some of the information to fit a political paradigm in so far as it serves their interests? In doing so, no continent, state, whether sovereign, democratic or pariah was (is) spared.
In the West African state of Sierra Leone, for instance, President Koroma had to summon the newly posted US Ambassador to that country, Michael Owen over leaked US embassy cables in which the then US Charge D’Affaires, Glenn Fedzer reported that President Koroma “directly ordered” the police in July 2008 not to arrest, detain or charge his then Minister of Transport and Aviation, Kemoh Sesay over the cocaine incident.
The cables also stated, without any proof, that the convicted Mohamed Sesay, serving a 5-year jail term for his involvement in the landing at the Freetown airport of a light aircraft loaded with 700 kg of cocaine, was a key financier of the APC party during the 2007 elections that brought Ernest Koroma to power. When contacted all the US embassy would say was that it “would not comment" on the summons, which comes as a Note Verbale from the Foreign Affairs ministry, denying the content of the leaked cables.
The next government official targeted by the US in the WikiLeaks reports was the current Minister of DefenCe. In an article published in the UK-based “The Daily Telegraph” it was reported that, “In August, 2009, a secret cable from the US embassy in Freetown reported “deep corruption” within Sierra Leone’s defence ministry, “primarily through pocketing of enlisted members’ salaries”. The source, June Carter Perry, the then US ambassador, wrote that: “The British envoy revealed that the GoSL (Government of Sierra Leone) demanded a $4 million (Ł2.46million) contribution from the UK for the Ministry of Defence to support peacekeeping. “Upon examination, the British discovered that half of the funds were for the personal use of the minister (Palo Conteh) and top brass. Items such as 36 plasma TVs and hunting rifles for the minister’s own use were included.” Again, this report proved a figment of June Carter Perry’s imagination as it was brilliantly debunked by Minister Conteh to the highest degree.
It was therefore not a surprise when as recent as last week I stumbled on yet another interesting wiki leaks report published in one of the local tabloids in Freetown, this time on former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and current Minister of Health and Sanitation, Mrs. Zainab H. Bangura. According to the dubious duo, Glen Fedzer and June Carter Perry at the US embassy in Freetown, they surreptiously reported that the minister ha been having a field day destroying the reputations of upstanding Sierra Leoneans through ill-motivated gossip reports (kongosah) about them to her handlers like Glenn Fedzer at the U.S. Embassy…."
When I read the WikiLeaks report itself, the public would have immensely benefitted from the politics of the US embassy in Freetown in its blatant attempt to cast integrity doubts on certain fine personalities had the tabloid not taken the US leaked cables hook line and sinker.
In two wiki leaks that are yet to reach the Freetown market, erstwhile US ambassador June Carter Perry again alleged that Zainab Bangura had accosted her to transit all support the US government is giving to NGO’s through the government of Sierra Leone. This was completely out of context as all Mrs. Bangura stated then was that there should be collaboration between NGOs and the government of Sierra Leone towards meeting the country’s developmental needs. The striking contradiction in June Carter Perry’s take on Zainab Bangura was that she had in a previous meeting just the previous week lavished praises on Zainab Bangura, particularly drawing attention to her expert role with the World Bank in Sierra Leone and as former head of the UN Civil Affairs Component in neighboring Liberia.
In that same report, June Carter Perry was quoted to have indicted Zainab Bangura for referring to President Ernest B. Koroma as “stubborn” and that Zainab Bangura complained to her about the President’s refusal to “take necessary action against corrupt or incompetent officials within his Government”. This cannot by no measure be true, because Zainab Bangura was privy to a November 24, 2009 video titled, “U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone June Carter Perry discusses U.S. foreign policy and Sierra Leone at the State Department” (published by the United States of America State Department on You Tube) in which the Ambassador spoke highly of the transformational leadership of president Koroma’s Government.
In her opening remarks, she said, “I am happy to say that, Sierra Leone has moved forward in a very positive manner since that era of blood diamonds. And certainly, president Koroma has made great steps in establishing an Anti Corruption Commission and in taking a very, very strong role in counter narcotics. I think that this puts Sierra Leone on the path forward. We hope that certainly this would benefit women children and youth, particularly of Sierra Leone”. Except June Perry and her protégé, Glenn Fedzer would want Sierra Leoneans to believe that the views she and her protégé then Glen Fedzer had were not honest.
If anything, June Perry’s complaint against Zainab Bangura that she “… had just returned to Sierra Leone on February 13 following a prolonged trip outside the country, and had requested the meeting with the Ambassador; the Minister also simultaneously canceled the Ambassador’s previously scheduled meeting with the President (later rescheduled for February 27)...” From the above posting, one can clearly deduce that June Carter Perry’s frustration was more about personal vendetta against Zainab Bangura rather than one intended to further strengthening the bilateral relations between the US and Sierra Leone. Perry’s anger against Zainab Bangura became clear when she allegedly reported, “her current bitterness, frequent attacks on her by the media for ineffectiveness, and her prolonged and poorly explained absences, hint that her position in the administration may be precarious…”
June Carter Perry’s assertion above did not come as a surprise because it was one of those meetings that the erstwhile ambassador presented to be really very tired that Zainab Bangura could not hold it but said to her staff after the meeting that “this woman is becoming more weird, please try to keep her away from me. All requests for appointments must be referred to the Deputy Minister or Director General. My patience is running out in dealing with her and I do not want her relationship with me to affect my relationship and perception of the US. I think what she is saying is completely contrary to present US Foreign Policy. She is too weird for my comfort." Since then, Ambassador Perry’s access to the President became conspicuously limited and started complaining to her colleague-diplomats.
This decisive action that the now Health and Sanitation Minister took undoubtedly did not go down well with Perry as her next clandestine step was to manufacture what is now being described at diplomatic circles as the infamous wiki leaks US diplomatic cables.
What this writer can however ascertain was that Ambassador Perry had always complained to Zainab Bangura about Sierra Leone’s relationship with China, Iran and particularly about President Koroma’s widely publicized visit to Libya.
As Ambassador Perry’s incessant complaints became unbearable, Zainab mustered courage and told the ambassador, after her barrage of “concerns” about Sierra Leone’s bilateral relations with countries like China, Libya and Venezuela, and simply but politely told the ambassador “can we please discuss how best to strengthen the bilateral relations between the US and my country as it would take my whole day to discuss Iran, Libya, and China?"
The obvious flip-flop in the Freetown originated US cables was that whilst the dubious Glenn Fedzer described Zainab Bangura as a friend of the US and that her “departure would remove a friend of the Embassy from Cabinet”, Perry on the other hand was having a field day berating government officials to her handlers in Washington.
The Former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, June Carter Perry served the United States in Sierra Leone for a three-year term from August 27, 2007 to August 28, 2009. By March 2009, she had become so visibly involved in the politics of Sierra Leone that Washington had to recall her before her tenure ended in order to save face from her political interference in the internal politics of the country. Unconfirmed reports from the US state she had to go through some mental rehabilitation process from what diplomatic sources described as “fatigue” upon her return from Sierra Leone.
A word for Salone journalists in love with WikiLeaks: The canons of journalism that serve as the guiding codes of ethics for responsible journalism relative to objectivity, fairness, accuracy, truthfulness, and accountability to the public must always be upheld.
This is particularly against the backdrop that some US diplomatic cables published by Wiki leaks, including the puerile allegation against the Nigerian first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, that the sum of $13.5 million was recovered from her after her arrest at a Lagos airport in 2006 to allegations that President Koroma interfered with the cocaine saga, and the yet to hit the market cables on Minister of Health and Sanitation Zainab Bangura “snitched” on her boss were not only unfounded and baseless, but influenced to a large part by local rumour-mongering and sometimes influenced by malice, gossip and personality vendetta etc.
This therefore explains to a large extent why decisions sometimes taken by Washington are sometimes so wrong and against the interest of Washington that they ended up making Washington so unpopular between and among the countries the US interacts with in the international system.
It should however be pointed out that the release of the wiki leaks should serve Washington right since it would seize on the novel opportunity to reflect on the blunders of some of their diplomats like June Carter Perry and Glenn Fedzer on how they had persistently misled the US through concocted information thereby creating unnecessary “enemies” around the world.
The decisive stance Minister Zainab Bangura took then against June Carter Perry was nothing personal rather than a response to her diplomatic knowledge of the new shift of the US’ foreign policy, especially with President Obama trying to build better relationships and cultivate stronger ties with the rest of the world. But, as expected, there would always be moles like the June Carter Perrys who did not only come from the old school of diplomacy, but would still portray Washington as the Uncle Tom with the big stick that would dictate to countries.
Therefore, even though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted to have confirmed that "the leaked cables were personal views of U.S ambassadors, not official opinions”, unless and until the US put in place mechanisms first to screen who should represent them in the diplomatic world and guard against leakages; if not, the lingering questions on American leadership would always be whether the United States can still lead the international system, whether the rising actors in the international system like China, Brazil, Venezuela, and South Africa, among others, which are robustly responding to new realities in the global arena by cultivating the friendship of “other” countries in the international system will continue to acquiesce to U.S. leadership and cooperate with it.
Former Foreign Minister and current Health Minister Zainab Bangura.
Former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone June Carter-Perry.
*The author, Abdulai Bayraytay, pictured at the top, served as personal Assistant to erstwhile Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura (current Minister of Health and Sanitation) and spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry from May 2008 to May 2010. He holds a Master’s degree in political science from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Toronto both in Canada.