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When the Sudanese Autocrat Met President Reagan and Lost his Job

In 1969, Colonel Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiry (seen right), who three years earlier had graduated from the United States Army Command College in Fort Leavenworth,  overthrew the government of newly-independent Sudan and became prime minister. Once in office, Nimeiry made full use of his powers, nationalizing banks and industries and brutally eliminating his enemies; he ordered an aerial bombardment in 1970 which killed several thousand opponents.

The following year, he was elected President. In 1972 Nimeiry signed an agreement granting autonomy to the non-Muslim southern region of Sudan, ushering in a period of relative stability to the region. He drafted a new constitution which insured his authority and sought ways to exploit the vast resources of the country, instigating initiatives to develop agriculture and industry, returning banks to private ownership and encouraging foreign investment. He was not able, however, to contain domestic opposition, and Sudan was rocked by several coup attempts. Read more

The Inspector General — Rooting Out Fraud and Abuse in the State Department

With thousands of employees from dozens of countries spread across the globe, the U.S. Department of State sometimes falls victim to various forms of fraud and abuse at the hands of the locally employed staff (LES, formerly called Foreign Service Nationals, FSNs) who help run the day-to-day operations of embassies and consulates, and who were often aided by less than observant Foreign Service Officers. While abuse by LES and especially FSOs is relatively rare, it can be an issue from time to time. One State employee at Embassy London was sentenced to 57 months in prison in March 2016 in an extensive computer hacking, cyberstalking and “sextortion” scheme.

The responsibility of rooting out these crimes falls to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which performs the vital, and often thankless, task of ensuring that the Department is functioning efficiently and maintaining its integrity at every one of its posts. Read more

The Stolen Victory and Mysterious Death of Moshood Abiola

In June 1993, Chief Moshood (M.K.O.) Abiola, a Muslim businessman and philanthropist, ran for the presidency of Nigeria and appeared to win the popular vote in what was considered a free and fair election.  The vote was annulled by Nigeria’s military leader on the basis that the election was corrupt. When Abiola rallied support to claim the presidency, he was arrested for treason by the military regime led by General Sani Abacha and sent to prison for four years. Religious and human rights activists from across the globe called for his release.

In June 1998, General Abacha was found dead under mysterious circumstances.  One month later, on the day that Abiola was to be released from prison, he met with a U.S. delegation in Nigeria which included Assistant Secretary Susan Rice and Under Secretary Thomas Pickering to discuss the country’s planned transition to democratic rule. During the July 7 meeting Abiola suddenly became ill, collapsed and later died in a hospital. Some claimed he had been poisoned by members of the U.S. delegation after drinking tea during the meeting. Read more

Creating Yaounde’s First Consulate

The first official U.S. diplomatic post in Cameroon was founded in 1957 during its waning days as a United Nations trust territory. The country was divided between the French and the British; both colonial powers had been preparing their respective territories for self-rule since the end of the Second World War. With other nations, including Morocco, Libya, and Ghana having declared independence, there was confidence among the people of Cameroon that their turn would be next. In 1959, the people of British Cameroon voted to join their French counterparts to form the greater Republic of Cameroon, which was still technically under French jurisdiction. The following year the largely Muslim two-thirds of British Cameroon in the north voted to join Nigeria, while the largely Christian southern third opted to join the new republic. 

Independent elections were held for the first time, and Ahmadou Ahidjo was elected as the Republic of Cameroon’s first Prime Minister. Although Ahidjo had been a key leader in the independence movement, a political party known as the Union des Populations Camerounaises (UCP) grew impatient with the slow pace of negotiations towards full sovereignty and initiated a guerrilla war to speed up the process.  Cameroon became a sovereign nation in 1960. Read more

Negotiating the UNFCCC – Moving to the Endgame

In Part III, Robert Reinstein, the United States’ top negotiator at the United Nations, and Stephanie Kinney, one of the State Department representatives, give a behind-the-scenes look at some of the negotiating tactics and backroom dealing used to draft the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They discuss the crucial negotiations in Nairobi, which marked the beginning of the endgame, and touch on the flurry of meetings around the globe, many of which were less than productive and resulted only in heated exchanges. Reinstein discusses at length some of the tactics he used in negotiating in a multilateral setting. Read more

Burundi: With Independence Came Genocide

Coordinated attacks in Burundi in recent years left hundreds dead and forced thousands to flee the country. The State Department advised Americans to depart and drew down the embassy in response to the escalation in violence amid concern that the small African nation could again be on the brink of civil war.  Internal conflicts have pitted ethnic groups against each other and led to genocide throughout the country’s history.  The first was in 1972.  Burundi became independent from Belgium in 1962 and was declared a constitutional monarchy. Members of the Hutu ethnic group, which made up a large majority of the country, won most of the parliament seats in the country’s first election, but the king appointed a Tutsi as prime minister. Resulting Hutu uprisings were put down by the Tutsi-led police and army.

In 1966, the monarchy was deposed and replaced by a republic under the leadership of the Tutsi Prime Minister Michel Micombero, who became the country’s first president. President Micombero’s government more closely resembled a military regime than a republic, and ethnic tension and violence continued to be explosive.   Read more

I Was So Wrong For So Long: The Art of the Apology

The words “I am sorry” can be difficult to say and sometimes even more painful to accept. Working as representatives of the United States, individuals in the Foreign Service are accustomed to using apologies as powerful tools to repair tense relationships and acknowledge mistakes.

These excerpts form a collection of both serious and humorous accounts of apologies in the Foreign Service. The selections range from an officer working towards reconciliation in post-WWII Germany to a school teacher’s experience with an unruly student. The common link between the excerpts demonstrates the often ignored and under-appreciated roles that apologies serve in the Foreign Service, and, more generally, in interpersonal relations.  Read more

Dress for Success

Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference, especially during tense moments when the stakes are high. For example, during the negotiations to resolve the 16-year-long Mozambique civil war, which killed over one million people. The warring factions, the Front for Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and the Mozambique Resistance Movement (RENAMO), met in Rome in the early 1990s. Dennis Jett, who served as Ambassador to Mozambique from 1993-96, recalls how one small gesture was tailor-made for a successful outcome. Read more

World Wide Wangs—When the State Department Met the Internet

One of the monumental technological advancements of the past century was the creation of the Internet. Commonly referred to as “the Third Industrial Revolution,” the advent of digital technology has changed life – both personal and professional – as we know it. Today the World Wide Web has made everything from shopping for groceries to communicating internationally as simple as a point and click.

The Internet has revolutionized communication for anyone with access to a computer and a phone line. Governments, civilians, businesses and even crime networks regularly employ the Internet, with far-reaching implications for global security. With so many ways to see, hear and stream news and up-to-the-minute information, diplomacy has been forced to make adjustments. Read more

Surviving the Coup that Transformed Liberia

Liberia erupted in violence on April 12, 1980 as Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe seized power from President William Tolbert, ending 133 years of political dominance by Americo-Liberians. Americo-Liberians traced their ancestry to African Americans and Black British subjects who immigrated to Africa and became the founders of the Republic of Liberia, in power from 1847-1980.

In October 1985, having promised to return Liberia to civilian rule, Doe was declared the winner of Liberia’s first multi-party elections. The results were largely rejected by the international community after his own staff took the ballots to a hidden location to be counted.  Lacking experience in government, Doe’s rule was characterized by civil unrest and the murder of political opponents. He was murdered in September of 1990 by members of a rival faction.

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