Last week, I asked whether we knew what ministers were supposed to do.
Today, I ask the same question of ambassadors. Incidentally, an ambassador can be a man or a woman but for convenience, I will use the masculine pronoun to avoid the cumbersome ‘him or her’. Also, in a Commonwealth country the ‘head of mission’ or ‘ambassador’ is known as high commissioner.
Again, for convenience, I will refer to the head of the diplomatic mission in a Commonwealth or non-Commonwealth country as ‘ambassador’.
Like a minister, there is no certificate which qualifies one to be an ambassador as we have for a lawyer or doctor. Therefore, since we believe in certificates, it is assumed that anyone who does not ‘murder’ the English language badly can be an ambassador.
At the inception of the diplomatic service in Ghana, we adopted the method of ‘training-on-the-job’ to school our future diplomats in the art of diplomacy.
The minimum qualification required before training was a degree. Over 100 candidates applied to join the new Foreign Service. Ten were chosen. For on-the-job training, they were attached to British embassies where they worked as members of the British diplomatic mission for a year. Some continued at tours in France to learn French.
At independence, therefore, Ghana had ‘trained’ men to open and man her diplomatic missions. Future recruits were to serve in London, where a training centre was established.
The centre hardly took off before its ‘tutors’ were dragged out to open diplomatic missions. More missions were opened than the planners expected. Training was, however, not abandoned.
Newly recruited officers had spells at the London School of Economics whose proximity enabled them to be conversant with the work of the Ghana High Commission in London. These officers were expected to add to their knowledge and skills as they worked under the pioneers.
Meanwhile, the pioneers were not believed to be old enough or fully conversant with party (i.e. CPP) ideas and objectives to be expected to represent the country as ambassadors.
An approach was made to some of them to join the party so that they could make rapid progress. Contrary to the ambitions and lack of self-confidence prevailing today, only one or two accepted the offer. Most believed they could make it by merit and not by joining the party.
Meanwhile, high-ranking party faithful and distinguished Ghanaians were approached with the offer of an ambassadorship in specific countries. One of them was Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye, who required hard persuasion to accept the post of High Commissioner to London. The distinguished personalities did well.
Later, the pioneers were appointed ambassadors side-by-side with political appointees. The idea began to take root that the post of ambassador was a political reward and the knowledge and expertise required of the office was gradually ignored.
One has to be frank and state that as governments abandoned a great deal of their proper role and vision, the work of the ambassador became blurred and the post became an opportunity for party faithful, friends of the presidency and ethnic associates to live well outside Ghana, while they made some money. The belief remains a bane of Ghana’s diplomatic service today.
To avoid unnecessary argument, it should be observed that in many developed countries, personalities outside the regular Foreign Service are appointed as ambassadors now and again for specific purposes. Ghana has followed this practice.
Thus, President Nkrumah appointed specially chosen envoys to the Congo to assist Patrice Lumumba and to other African countries to promote national independence and African unity. Needless to state that some of those appointments were unfortunate.
Therefore, and because Nkrumah believed in specific roles for the state and had a policy and vision, in spite of strong party opposition, he yielded to the plea and pressure of some of us to try competent experienced Foreign Service officers as ambassadors to execute his African plans and strategies.
Thus, a career officer was appointed ambassador to Ethiopia to execute his policies with distinction before and after the OAU Conference in Addis Ababa in 1963. I hope that the excursion into the past has given an idea about what the ambassador does. In a nutshell, he helps the president in the execution of policy in his country of accreditation and generally promotes the national interest. This is a tall order and requires great devotion to duty, constant study of changing situations and circumstances, and above all, hard work. The ambassador represents Ghana in the country of accreditation.
He carries a letter of accreditation from the president to the head of state of the receiving state or the country to which he is sent. He speaks for the president and country.
What the ambassador does is a lot. It is not all cocktail parties. Many Ghanaians find these parties boring and the wives often get tired of them. But sometimes the shrewd wife gets to know what the ambassador does not know.
Meeting those who help in the making and execution of policies is important. It enables policies to be understood and explained. The effectiveness of the ambassador often depends on what state officials and colleagues in his country of accreditation think of him. Some ambassadors of European countries do not think much of an ambassador who does not appreciate music and art!
It should be clear that the post of an ambassador is not one which any party faithful can apply for after an election. It is not a post for the one who fails to secure a ministerial appointment. At some posts, such as Geneva, academic inclination is required. Therefore, even career officers should be posted as ambassadors according to their competence and inclination.
To appoint ambassadors before deciding on their country of accreditation is bizarre. Equally bizarre is the idea of a percentage of ambassadors being drawn outside the Foreign Service. Ambassadors should be drawn from the Foreign Service while the president reserves his prerogative to appoint a handful from outside the service for specific purposes in the national and not the party interest.
Either the Foreign Service is a necessary institution or it is not. If it is not, it should be scrapped and so should the Foreign Ministry. Foreign ambassadors to Ghana can then conduct business directly with the other ministries as is done now.
One thing ambassadors do is to prevent faux pas as happened over messages of condolence on the occasion of Mandela’s death and also at the recent World Economic Forum Session at Davos in Switzerland. At this latter event, the President was reported, according to the Ghanaian Times of January 23, to have innocently sought international cooperation to enable us to move from the current status as a primary processor of mineral resources to a secondary one”.
Any Ghanaian ambassador to Geneva, in the same Switzerland, who is conversant with UNCTAD and other organisations, would feel let down with this confession of helplessness and loss of confidence since Kwame Nkrumah’s days when we embarked on a gold refinery. Any ambassador who approved the draft speech should be sacked. Ghana is not a nation of ignorant, begging pickaninnies.
Ignorant of what heads of missions do, we think anybody can be an ambassador. If after so many years we have not learnt anything about why we spend so much money in diplomatic missions and believe that anybody can be an ambassador, we may as well make anybody an Army-General or Attorney-General. Who knows, we would then have more discipline and less judgement debts!
Source: K. B. Asante / Daily Graphic
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