US Embassy Addis Ababa: a Parade of Seven Chargés d’Affaires and a Quiver of Carrots but No Sticks

carrots mosaicImage by m kasahara via Flickr

Here is the last of the peeled onion.  The OIG report on US Embassy Addis Ababa in Ethiopia says that “Executive direction at Embassy Addis Ababa is good for a front office in prolonged transition, with seven chiefs or acting chiefs of mission, five deputy chiefs of mission (DCM), and several office management specialists since July 2009. This situation reflects, in part, questionable personnel decisions by the previous leadership in the Bureau of African Affairs (AF) that also have impacted negatively on the political/economic section.”

The OIG report explains:

Embassy Addis Ababa’s executive direction is good but in prolonged transition, a circumstance dating from the summer of 2009 when a highly successful Ambassador and most other ranking Department officers departed. Gone in short order were the entire front office, including the DCM and two office management specialists, as well as the officers responsible for political/economic, regional security, management, consular, and public affairs – and in some instances their deputies as well. Several entry-level officers found themselves effectively in charge, as all layers above – the unit and section chiefs as well as the Ambassador and DCM – had left. For one ten-day period, which coincided with a cabinet-level visit, a middle-grade offi cer served simultaneously as chargé d’affaires/acting DCM, political/economic section chief, and acting public affairs officer, information officer, and cultural officer. By all accounts, he performed well.
The parade of chargés d’affaires and acting DCMs, inherently a “value-subtracted” situation given the learning curve for each incumbent, could have been dispensed with and/or shortened – and some $100,000 in temporary duty costs saved – had the Department simply extended the previous DCM to serve as chargé d’affaires ad interim. For reasons of its own, the previous AF leadership declined to do this, despite the outgoing Ambassador’s recommendation. Similarly, AF chose not to extend the political/economic chief, the embassy’s best source of programmatic continuity.
Since the Ambassador departed in July of 2009, six chargés d’affaires have served at Embassy Addis Ababa. Among these are two retired former ambassadors. One left upon reaching the mandated annual salary cap; the other was present during the OIG team’s inspection but slated to leave in about a month. The DCM, who arrived in September 2009, has also served five times as Embassy Addis Ababa’s chargé d’affaires. Also briefly at the helm was the incoming political/economic affairs section chief who, along with the new public affairs officer, has been acting DCM.  Office management specialists have left frequently, too. During the OIG team’s inspection, the DCM’s office management specialist – after just 5 months in Addis Ababa – left for a non-hardship assignment and was replaced by a temporary-duty office management specialist from another embassy. At present, the Ambassador’s office management specialist is on loan from the regional security office.
During the OIG team’s visit, there was just one fulltime permanent office management specialist for the nearly 40 Department officers at Embassy Addis Ababa. Another Washington staffing decision by the previous AF front office has sidelined an employee widely viewed as the mission’s best strategic thinker to out-of-cone employment as information offi cer within the public affairs section.

Seven chargés in 11 months has got to be painful for the staff. You can check out the previous leadership at the State Department’s AF Bureau here. We must note that the current top bureau chief, Ambassador Johnnie Carson did not come on board until May of last year. So scroll upward on this list of Assistant Secretaries for the Bureau of African Affairs.

The OIG report continues:

“While transfers are part and parcel of diplomatic service, the Addis Ababa personnel situation appears to be far from the norm. The OIG team believes that Embassy Addis Ababa, with over 1,100 American and local employees, is too large and too important a mission, with too many moving parts, to have a front office in such flux.”

In any case, about that “dingy, scattered embassy complex” — have you ever worked at the Dungeon or had to wear plugs during a power out? No? Then you’re more lucky than these folks:

“Stress from the construction of the new embassy and utter neglect – for cost-conscious reasons – of the dingy, scattered embassy complex is palpable. To weather these shabby facilities, staff resort to humor. Offices are nicknamed for their distinctive problems. Several sections work out of The Swamp where a major flood left a huge area stripped of rugs and, in some instances, even flooring. Others have The Dungeon, a dank airless room. One section chief occupies The Generator, a room adjacent to the embassy’s generator where one must wear earplugs whenever city power cuts out. Another officer enjoys The Closet – yes, a converted closet; another has The Bowling Alley, a 30 by 4 foot room with a pipe running its length. The Marine security guard detachment lives in The Stable, once home to horses.”

On the proliferation of  planning documents:

“Embassy Addis Ababa, for example, does the Mission Strategic Plan, an operational plan for the embassy prepared by USAID, a country operational plan for PEPFAR, a performance plan and review for USAID, a malaria operational plan for the antimalaria initiative (first funded in late 2006), a plan for the international education initiative, and others. The OIG team views with misgivings the proliferation of planning documents that consume valuable staff time better spent in the field doing actual assistance work, in many instances. The goal of these reports, after all, is not just to publicize the issues under scrutiny but to provide platforms for action.”

Referral cases, asylum seekers, Fulbright grantees heart the USA:

“Two recent validation studies showed that nine percent of referred visa cases – including numerous Embassy Addis Ababa local employees and families – failed to return from the United States. Five percent of those receiving student visas never attended classes. The section is planning a study of B1/B2 (business and tourist) visa issuances, and will report the results when compiled. This report is expected to find significant asylum claims from members of the Ethiopian middle class who applied for and received nonimmigrant visas. While no apparent fraud was involved, the public affairs section has found that nearly half of its Fulbright scholars and other grantees sent to the United States do not return to Ethiopia.”
“The failure of many Ethiopian exchange grant recipients to return has induced the public affairs section and the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, over time, to significantly reduce exchange programs to the United States. The public affairs section is enlarging in-country programs and wants to increase the number of U.S. scholars in Ethiopia on various Fulbright programs, in part to compensate for the reduction in Ethiopians’ studying and/or visiting the United States. The educational infrastructure of Ethiopia can absorb additional American grantees. The public affairs section has asked the bureau for increased funding for American exchange grantees.”

A quiver of carrots but no sticks:

Outside the embassy, the frequent leadership changes have taken a toll. Ethiopian Government officials understandably would welcome more continuity in high-level embassy contacts before committing undue time to building relationships. Office management specialists, new to the job, find it diffi cult to finesse the Ethiopian bureaucracy. The DCM, however, has effectively worked with the host government to facilitate the many in-bound shipments related to the construction of the new embassy compound – a high hurdle in that the Government of Ethiopia is extremely bureaucratic and sensitive to implied infringements of its sovereignty.

Embassy Addis Ababa has an unusual operating dilemma in terms of policy guidance and planning. The interim front office lacks chief of mission instructions and full authority. It is somewhat underpowered in terms of dealing with other agencies within the mission, including a dozen or so Department of Defense elements, some not entirely under chief of mission authority and/or prone to resist the chargé’s authority almost to the point of insubordination. The OIG team was repeatedly told that the mission, at all levels, receives considerable informal communication from a senior official in AF who was previously ambassador in Addis Ababa. At other times, the mission appears to be fashioning policy guidance from public statements or informal emails from individual Washington agencies. Ironically, Embassy Addis Ababa faces the unusual situation wherein it has a quiver of carrots but no sticks as it seeks to rein in a government whose political direction may be putting U.S. strategic interests at risk.

The end.

Related Items:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-10-51A, Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 2010

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