When a diplomat is assigned to a country that is still recovering from the effects of a brutal civil war, he should be mindful of what he says and be sensitive to the political situation on the ground, especial during an election period that will ultimately define the country’s future as upholding democratic principles. Ambassador Michael Owen recently made it his duty to predict the outcome of the Sierra Leone election set to take place on November 17. Western diplomats have made it a habit of interfering into the domestic affairs of host countries, especially ones that are extremely vulnerable and highly dependent on foreign aid and assistance for their survival. Sierra Leone is still on its knees after the likes of Julius Maada Bio, the current opposition SLPP presidential candidate, raped the country of its dignity and resources, and abused the fundamentals of democracy and human rights that has all been the pillars the country had relied on to sustain itself since independence.
By offering aid and assistance, and contributing financially towards the administration of the coming elections, does not give any country or its diplomats the automatic right to interfere in the political process in Sierra Leone. Trying to influence the outcome of an election by uttering statements that has the potential to sway the results, is indeed unfortunate and disgraceful. Ambassador Michael Owen recently said both the ruling party and the main opposition SLPP enjoy massive support in the country and that the outcome will be a run-off. It is indeed baffling to hear such comments from someone you expect to know better. But, not being mindful of the ramifications of his comments, may well paint a picture of a deliberate act to influence the electorate and the international community of what should be an acceptable outcome of the all-important vote. It seems the diplomat is laying out the terms of what would be deemed acceptable and is prepared to reject any outcome that is less than what they have predicted or expected: a run-off.
This is a dangerous political game, and the most gross abuse of diplomatic privilege. The Ambassador must have under-estimated the wrath of the Sierra Leonean people by the utter arrogance that litters his regrettable comments. By coming out so clearly with a statement that has all the hallmarks of a deliberate attempt to misinform the electorate and the international community, the Ambassador has made his position untenable, and should do the right thing by stepping down with immediate effect. The United States government may now have the unenviable task of recalling its Ambassador from a country in political transition. It seems no apologies will be sufficient to dampen the impact of what the Ambassador has done. He may have no choice but to quit, or be recalled.
The recent comments by the Chairman and Presidential Candidate of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Mr. Mohamed Bangura, in response to Ambassador Owen’s remarks, calling on him to make a public apology to the people of Sierra Leone, seems justifiable. But such an apology may not be sufficient to prevent the Ambassador from being recalled. The UDM leader went further by describing the Ambassador as “reckless and undiplomatic”. Mr. Bangura said he now fears that the Ambassador’s statement will set the stage for unscrupulous people to use his words as an excuse to engage in violence and chaotic behaviour when the results of the elections will be announced by the Returning Officer in November.
The tenets of the diplomatic profession does not make provision for diplomats to engage in any activity that jeopardises their home country’s relations with the host county. In fact, Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, states that “without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State”. The convention also emphasised their duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that country. But it seems our Ambassador friend has decided to stray away from diplomatic niceties and foster his own political itinerary which has all the makings of a regime change agenda.
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