The Schulenburg affair – A disgraceful diplomatic attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of the State of Sierra Leone

Michael von der Schulenburg

The United Nations has resident representatives in most countries across the world, to make sure the organisation’s important work is well coordinated and implemented appropriately to reflect on its ideals and principles. The U.N. policy states clearly that it’s representatives should in no way meddle into the political affairs of the host nation. But sometimes, the over-zealousness of some diplomats accredited to mostly African countries, goes directly in conflict with what the U.N. and its charter stands for. Michael von der Schulenburg, a German National, was appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as his Executive Representative in Sierra Leone. His appointment has not been without controversy since he landed on the shores of this West African State. Contrary to what is expected of him, Schulneburg has worked assiduously to not only tarnish the image of his host country but to portray its government and leadership as undemocratic and somewhat corrupt. Of late, Schulneburg had seen himself as the Judge and Jury in how the state of affairs is run in Sierra Leone. Schulneburg doesn’t seem to have understood that Sierra Leone is a sovereign Nation, with a democratically elected government and president who are mandated to govern by the people. The illusion that the U.N. is in Sierra Leone to check how the system of governance operates, is one Schulneburg carried around him with vindictiveness during his tenure.

Schulneburg became the most unpopular U.N. diplomat ever assigned to an African State. He is reported to have engaged acrimoniously with corrupt opposition elements and holding direct consultations with the main opposition parties in an attempt to undermine the political process leading to the upcoming elections in the country. In the past, African governments are not allowed to manage the affairs of their state without direct or indirect interference from stakeholders. Schulneburg may not be the only one guilty of meddling into the internal affair of the host nation. The recent Wikileaks revelations painted a nasty picture of Western countries dictating the way of life and how we as a people should be governed, sometimes with looming threats of withholding necessary and crucial aid and assistance. Schulneburg administered his role with such propensity and saw himself as the demagogue of Sierra Leonean politics. He was determined to have his way in how things run in Sierra Leone, and was prepared to be indignant to any government resistance  with an uncompromisingly strong cavalier attitude.

Schulneburg’s view that the government of Sierra Leone must abide by his recommendations was intertwined with his belief that he should be the biggest player in how the democratic process should unfold. Schulneburg was determined, if not allowed, to wield his authority and carry out his own style of political drama, even if it means using crude and ruthless methods, like hiring Lans Gberie, a Sierra Leonean academic, who like Sorious Samura, was willing to embarrass his own country in order to gain world-wide recognition and political gratification. Gberie is one of those Sierra Leoneans who has failed to put to use his academic prowess by contributing to national development, and one who prefers to be controversial at the earliest convenience and possibility to provoke consternation and political friction. Education is not by qualification, but by interpretation, and when a well-educated Sierra Leone national like Gberie, allows himself to be used as a conduit to destabilise his country of birth, and foster the reckless political agenda of a U.N. diplomat, it reveals how education alone is not responsible for common sense, something which our learned friend seems very lacking of!  Gberie was appointed as Independent Researcher for the African Union at the United Nations Security Council. Whoever made that appointment may not be aware of how Gberie has used his position to discredit his country and government by engaging the international community and media as a staunch opposition SLPP supporter, spewing negative rhetoric for political advantage. Gberie’s strong alliance with the SLPP renders him unfit for the role he now plays for the African Union, and seriously compromises the very ideals this all important African Organisation stands for.

The AU should review its current appointment of Gberie and relieve him of his duties to prevent further conflict of interests, as it is unacceptable to have someone of Gberie’s radical political make-up, especially how he has so vehemently expressed his support for and loyalty to the opposition party in Sierra Leone, to continue to conduct research that may prove to be biased and distorted and not in the true interest of our country. Gberie himself claimed in an article he wrote, that he was tasked by Schulenberg to  conduct a study and submit a report that would determine the scope for a conflict-mitigation strategy before the upcoming elections scheduled to take place in November this year. This exposes the dirty hands of Schulneburg in the politics of Sierra Leone. Lans Gberie has been a smooth operator, disguising his true political credentials by pretending as if he is calling the APC government to account when in realty he is pushing the SLPP’s nasty political agenda down the throats of unsuspecting U.N.  and Western officials whose decisions may ultimately define the path our country takes to economic prosperity. Sabotage is something that has recently become a speciality of Gberie, whose determination to bring down the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma can only be matched by his lack of temerity as to the damage his unscrupulous political machinations are having on our country’s image abroad.

An inadvertent exposure of Gberie’s association with Schulneburg and how the U.N. Executive Representative went at length to interfere in the politics of our nation was revealed when Ggerie wrote: “ I told him (Schulneburg) at the time that Koroma was a politician and that since he was running for re-election, his motives and actions are likely to be as base as any politician desperate for power. In fact, in my research, I came to a conclusion that actually stunned me at the time. Almost all the political violence since 2007 was initiated by people or groups linked to the ruling APC. I also found that the parties had very tenuous infrastructure outside of Freetown and the major cities, and so the initiative for any organised political activity or fission had to have come from the top leadership, mainly in Freetown.”  The fact that Schulneburg hired-hand was a strong member of the opposition is by no means a coincidence. The U.N.diplomat has rubbed shoulders with members of the SLPP hierarchy, who he very well knew were corrupt politicians who are on record for vandalising our country’s coffers and who presided over the worst economic period our country ever saw. Schulneburg also knew why he was in Sierra Leone: a peace-building mission to promote the consolidation of peace in this once war-torn region. But alas, he quickly swayed away from his intended mission and became a force for destabilising the hard-earned peace that the U.N. and others worked so hard to achieve.

Allegations of sexual indiscretions made its way to the front pages of most Sierra Leonean tabloids revealing Schulneburg was engaging in much more than diplomatic ‘Functions’. Whether true or not, Schulneburg’s presence in Sierra Leone may have had a dark side to it. Schulneburg must have enjoyed his stay in Sierra Leone and was not ready to leave just yet as reflected in his outburst at President Koroma in a letter written to U.N. headquarters, where he said “There can be little doubt, that the decision by the President to force my early departure will be seen – rightly or wrongly – by virtually every Sierra Leonean as an effort to remove a potential obstacle to his re-election and as opening the door to manipulating the election outcome in his favor,” How can Schulneburg refer to himself as a potential obstacle to President Koroma’s re-election when he was simply the potential obstacle to a peaceful and democratic election? What Schulneburg failed to tell U.N. officials was how he was working hard to make sure the SLPP wins the next elections. How he was engaging on activities contrary to the tenets of the diplomatic profession. How he was engaging in other ‘kinds of things’ that do not reflect the high office he held!! The kind of pressure Schulneburg is referring to is not one normally exerted by African leaders, it is preposterous to even suggest that President Ernest Bai Koroma would dictate to the United Nations as to who should be their Executive Representative in the country! Schulneburg’s claim is not only daft but one that reflects the unprofessional diplomatic style he performed his duties in his host country! Schulneburg’s actions were more or less the sole determinants for his own demise.

Simon Akam, a British journalist resident in Sierra Leone who writes for Reuters, seems to have been engaged in a comprehensive media campaign to misinform the international community on the political situation on the ground. Akam, who has never written anything ‘pleasant’ about Sierra Leone or its government, has not only failed to report on the dramatic development progress taking place across the country, but may have deliberately chosen to present to his unsuspecting audience a distorted view of what is really taking place on the ground. In his latest piece for Reuters, Akam made no attempt to highlight the clear failings of Schulneburg as a diplomat, concentrating instead on a letter written to the U.N. by Schulneburg. Akam based his report on the letter which he claimed Reuters saw, but the fact remains that  it is difficult to convince anyone that Akam got hold of this letter by accident, as he himself confirmed that he spoke to other diplomats who verified the contents of the letter. Does Akam have an inside man at the in Freetown? Was it Schulneburg himself? Are there other foreign diplomats on the ground who are Akam’s sources for most of his scathing reports? As a journalist, it is important to present a fair and balanced view to your readers, and Reuters and Bloomberg are themselves guilty of failing to adhere to the tenets of the profession by not requesting that their man on the ground be mindful and sensitive of the political situation, especially when one looks back at what transpired in the country during the decade of civil war that brought untold misery and suffering. Akam has taken on everything good about Sierra Leone. from African Minerals to the Bumbuna project, his reports have been critical about the Sierra Leone government. After looking closely at Siman Akam’s recent report for Reuters, I took upon myself to call and out of curiosity ask him what his relationship with Schulneburg was like during the U.N. diplomat’s tenure in Freetown.

I got hold of Akam on the phone  and after a brief introduction, I went straight to the point: what was the relationship between Akam and Schulneburg? Alkam said to me he knew Schulneburg but the relationship was no different from the one he had with other diplomats on the ground. I then asked Simon whether the relationship was much more than just a contact, I wanted to know whether Schulneburg had been a source for any of his reports filed for Reuters – on this he said he couldn’t recall, but he has spoken to Schulneburg on several occasions and they had discussed the political situation in the country at length. I noticed during the course of our conversation, Akam was a bit irritated and guarded and was keen on knowing the reason for my questions. He was making a lot of effort to convince me that his relationship with Schulneburg was not inappropriate. But I was not satisfied, I continued to press and asked him why most of his reports portrayed the negative side of Sierra Leone and most times do not seem fair and balanced. He unconvincingly said he makes an effort to portray the good side. But after talking to Siman Akam, there seems to be more questions than answers on how Schulneburg may have used local and foreign Journalists to advance his nasty agenda in Sierra Leone. My investigations continue as I try to unravel the mystery of Schulneburg’s relationship with people in the media, especially, Gberie and Akam!


First Published on Newstime Africa: Feb 14, 2012 @ 17:36

© 2012, Ahmed M Kamara. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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