Bureaucracies are often considered dry and difficult to navigate. However, every organization is only as good as the people who comprise it, and the U.S. Foreign Service is widely respected and admired because of the incredible individuals who form and lead it.
The humorous anecdotes below, narrated by several diplomats about their superiors, relay some of the most important qualities of leadership: losing gracefully, learning from one’s mistakes, and self-discipline.
Drafted by Sairah Aslam
Manila, Philippines—Ambassador 1978–1981
Richard Murphy was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy on December 6, 2017.
Read Richard Murphy’s full oral history HERE. Read more
Victor Masbayi was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1951; he lived there with his family throughout his undergraduate college education at the University of Nairobi. While working for the African Medical and Research Foundation, Masbayi was sponsored to complete a Master’s Degree in Public Health at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
After receiving his degree, he secured a job with USAID/Kenya, where he worked on a variety of different projects relating to health, population, and development. Later in his career, Masbayi had the opportunity to work again in Kenya with USAID’s Regional Program for East Africa.
Having now concluded his career with USAID, Masbayi offers in his oral history a series of thoughtful reflections on his career. These include what he is most proud of, what challenged USAID in East Africa, and what USAID was successful at there. Additionally, he shares what advice he would offer to future employees, and what recommendations he would make for USAID to improve its work. Read more
With a simple “good luck” from President Richard Nixon, Ambassador Joseph Farland set out to Pakistan, unsure of what to expect. Having previously worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during World War II, Ambassador Farland was always cautious of those around him.
Thus, when he entered this post, he had been preparing for the worst. And the worst is what he got. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 erupted while he was stationed in Islamabad. As all other foreign diplomats left the country, those in the U.S. Embassy stayed put, many not realizing that their ambassador had devised an escape route from the country for all of them, in case the situation became too dangerous.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 started in early December with air strikes on Indian air stations. At that time, Pakistan controlled two different territories: East Pakistan and West Pakistan (now Bangladesh and modern-day Pakistan, respectively). The preemptive air strikes led to greater hostilities between West Pakistan and India, leading the latter to support the Liberation War for Bangladesh. Militarily, India planned on splitting West Pakistan in two, breaking Islamabad and Karachi away from each other, thus weakening the power of West Pakistan. With West Pakistan weakened, it would be harder to fight the insurgency in East Pakistan. Despite what the leaders of West Pakistan believed, they did in fact start the war, and they were not going to win it.
The war only lasted 13 days, ending in the middle of December of 1971 with the fall of Dacca and the establishment of Bangladesh. The main goal of this specific war was to achieve East Pakistani independence. While other wars between Pakistan and India have followed, no other ambassador since Farland has had to devise a secret escape route from Pakistan or been “the only one left.”
In 2003, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated up to $650 million worth of food aid to meet urgent food needs in Ethiopia. However, during the same time period, it only provided six million dollars in agricultural assistance, even though more than 70 percent of all Ethiopian households relied upon farming for both food and income.
This experience showed, consequently, that providing food aid without enabling people to better their agricultural production efforts can adversely affect the relationship between agricultural development and developing nations.
With the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world, African farming communities stand to gain the most from increased agricultural development. Despite the importance of rural African women participating in agricultural ventures, most U.S.-based research had ignored the major contribution of women in the rural economy. By shifting focus toward household dynamics and the processing of farming commodities, agricultural research has grown to acknowledge the input and successes of rural women in Africa.
Growing up on a farm in Wisconsin, Emmy B. Simmons learned the importance of farming in rural communities. This upbringing, along with her work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, led to more than thirty years of experience in international agriculture and economic development, with a particular focus on the role of women in an agricultural economy. While working for USAID, Simmons sought to combat the issues facing agricultural development in Mali and Kenya, and she held a number of agriculture, research, and nutrition positions in Nigeria and Liberia. Read more
While U.S. politics can be contentious, American elections themselves tend to run smoothly. Usually, voters cast their ballots, numbers are counted, and the winners are declared. In many countries, the United States is seen as an exemplary role-model for conducting democratic elections, and U.S.-based groups often help run and oversee elections in other countries.
However, the U.S. presidential election of 2000 was not so smooth, causing the U.S. Embassy in Honduras’ “Celebration of Democracy” night to take an unexpected turn. A year later, Honduras itself held an election which passed without any major glitches or issues. This unusual reversal of roles was an interesting and humorous facet of Frank Almaguer’s ambassadorship in Honduras. As he said, “The Honduran media had a great time with this story. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, one cartoon had me holding a newspaper with a headline (in Spanish) that read, ‘U.S. Election Decided in 36 Days,’ and a Honduran holding another newspaper that said, ‘Honduran Election Decided in Two Hours.’ Many of my political friends were enjoying the opportunity to suggest that Honduras would be glad to offer the U.S. technical assistance in conducting elections!”
Apart from his ambassadorship in Honduras, Frank Almaguer also held positions in Belize, Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Washington, D.C. Read more