U.S. Embassy Bangui Resumes Operations With Chargé d’Affaires David Brown

— Domani Spero
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On September 11, President Obama notifiesd Congress of the deployment of troops to the Central African Republic in preparation of the resumption of operations at the U.S. Embassy in Bangui (see U.S. Troops Deploy to C.A.R. For Resumption of Operations at U.S. Embassy Bangui).

On September 15, Secretary Kerry announced the resumption of embassy operations in the Central African Republic and the appointment of David Brown as Chargé d’Affaires. Below is an excerpt of the announcement:

I am pleased to announce that we are resuming operations at our embassy in Bangui. The people and leaders of the Central African Republic have made progress in ending the violence and putting their nation on a path toward peace and stability. But we all know that much work remains to be done.

That’s why I asked David Brown to serve as Chargé d’Affaires and to work closely with the transitional government, as well as our international friends and partners, to advance a peaceful, democratic and inclusive political transition. And that’s why, on his arrival in Bangui, we announced an additional $28 million in U.S. humanitarian funding, bringing the U.S. total to $145.7 million this year alone.

With the September 15 transition to the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, we extend our profound thanks to the African Union, its force-contributing countries, as well as the French and European forces, for their important contributions to peace and stability in the Central African Republic. We call on all parties to fully support the UN mission in its vital task ahead as it takes over from the African Union mission. And as we reopen our embassy, I want to thank our dedicated Central African colleagues for their service during these difficult 21 months.

Full statement here.

David Brown is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and became Senior Advisor for the Central African Republic on August 1, 2013 succeeding Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers.   Mr. Brown was Diplomatic Advisor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, D.C. from August 2011 to July 2013. His prior Africa experience includes serving as the Senior Advisor to the J-5 (Strategy, Plans, and Programs) Director of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart (Germany); three times as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassies in Cotonou (Benin), Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso); and as Economic Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

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US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the US Embassy in Bangui, a 15% danger pay post, as well as a 35% COLA and 35% hardship differential pay assignment.  The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 10 and 28, 2012, and in Bangui, the Central African Republic, between November 5 and 12, 2012.

The diplomatic mission is headed by Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers, a career diplomat.  The deputy chief of mission is Brennan M. Gilmore. The embassy temporarily suspended operations on December 28, 2012, as a result of the security situation in the country.  We’ve blogged about it here.

Here are the key findings from the OIG report:

  • The Department of State’s (Department) inability to staff Embassy Bangui adequately has prevented it from functioning as an effective mission.
  • Embassy Bangui, a 15-percent danger pay post, faces numerous threats
  • If the Department cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified or find another way to maintain diplomatic representation in the Central African Republic, such as regional accreditation from a nearby embassy.
  • Post leadership has not developed a sense of team and unity of purpose.
  • Embassy reporting is excellent and appreciated by Washington consumers.
  • Embassy Bangui is unable to provide sufficient administrative support in house and would benefit from more support from larger embassies in the region.
  • Information systems security and management is inadequate. There is no U.S. direct-hire information management employee at the embassy, and temporary support does not provide sufficient oversight.

Quick background of US Embassy Bangui via the OIG report:

The United States has had diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic since its independence from France in 1960. The U.S. embassy in Bangui was closed in 1997 and again in 2002 in response to political and physical insecurity. The embassy reopened in 2005, and a resident U.S. Ambassador was appointed in 2007.

Embassy Bangui is staffed by 7 U.S. direct hires, 2 local-hire Americans, and 35 locally employed (LE) staff members. One temporary liaison officer from the U.S. Army’s Africa Command represents the only other agency at the mission. The embassy’s total funding is $3.6 million. OIG conducted a management assessment review in 2004. At that time the American staff had been evacuated and only the LE staff was present.

Front Office Report Card:

The OIG report also details some of the Front Office shortcomings, primarily on leadership, morale and communication issues. No mention on how well or how badly the senior leadership did in their OIG questionnaires. Excerpt below from the IG report:

  • The Ambassador arrived in September 2010 and the deputy chief of mission (DCM) in July 2011. They constitute a team that is particularly strong in outreach and reporting and have successfully weathered a series of management challenges. They are not as successful when it comes to leadership and morale.
  • Despite the embassy’s small size, executive direction is more hierarchical than collegial. A weekly country team meeting provides the Ambassador an opportunity to inform the team on his recent contacts with senior government officials. The communication from the country team to the Ambassador is not as effective. Notwithstanding weekly, topical staff meetings and monthly town hall gatherings with LE staff, some of the American and LE staff members feel distanced from the front office.
  • The DCM has broad executive responsibilities. He supervises the reporting agenda assigned to the first-tour political/economic/consular officer. The officer meets weekly with the DCM and usually the Ambassador as well. The DCM is responsible primarily for military affairs, which include the U.S. Special Forces deployment to the eastern Central African Republic and a rotational U.S. Africa Command liaison officer position.
  • The Ambassador has been effective in his dealings outside the chancery but less so in leading and inspiring his team. In addition, the DCM is overextended. At a mission where security-imposed restrictions on mobility, a tropical climate, daunting health challenges, and a dearth of entertainment test morale in the best of circumstances, the front office has attempted to build better morale. Despite the planning activities discussed earlier, the staff has a poor sense of Embassy Bangui’s place in the larger U.S. diplomatic agenda in Africa and asserts that it is inadequately supported. The OIG team counseled post management to look for more ways to better connect with their employees.

16 TDYs in 20 Months and Other Management Challenges, Holy Smokes!

  • The embassy’s management challenges, however, are not being fully met. The embassy struggled to overhaul its operations after reopening, including doubling its U.S. direct-hire staff, and a major restructuring of LE staffing—all in the absence of a permanent management officer. Excessive dependence on temporary duty support (about 10 temporary duty personnel a month in the past year) has compromised effective use of embassy resources and increased the cost of operating the embassy. Another issue is the Department’s increasing dependence on automated management systems that impose a bureaucratic overhead on small posts with inexperienced staff.
  • Embassy Bangui is too small to have functional depth or to benefit from economies of scale. There are too few people trying to do too much. The U.S. direct-hire staff consists of one management officer and one entry-level general services officer. Because the embassy has been chronically unable to recruit an at-grade, in-cone management officer, there is no permanent U.S. direct-hire management experience at the embassy. The current entry-level general services officer worked under 16 temporary duty management officers in 20 months.

Post was shuttered  in 1997, again in 2002 and once more in 2012. Not sure how many times it had been evacuated, but presumably at least three times as the evacuations typically precedes post closure.  If history is a predictor, the embassy will potentially reopen in 1-3 years and after a brief interval, closes again. We agree with the IG that if the State Dept cannot adequately staff and protect the embassy, it needs to consider whether the risks to personnel in Bangui are justified.  And if it decides that the risks are justified despite post’s many shortcomings, then you want that in writing from the accountable officials.  So if something bad happens, we’d know that a lowly deputy assistant secretary did not go rogue and we won’t need to pick up the flattened DASes thrown under the buses after multiple congressional hearings.

In any case, we noticed that the IG inspectors seem to massaged its  report with phrases such as ” not as successful” or “less [effective] … in leading and inspiring his team” or  is “more hierarchical than collegial.”   That’s sorta like giving you a tall glass of juice to take with an almost bitter pill.

Look, this is a tiny mission with 7 direct hire American employees (an ideal team composition by the way), and a total staff of no more than 50.  Sometimes working at a small post can really pull people together. At other times,  it can make it seem like a 24/7, 365 days a year root canal – you just want to be numb with Novacaine and get out of there.  For now, they’re all out of there except for the local employees. But — can you imagine if you were an entry level officer working for 16 management officers on TDY in a span of 20 months?

While this OIG report highlighted US Embassy Bangui’s Front Office’s less than ideal leadership, morale and communication at post, we should note that the embassy is not alone.

We’ve been hearing for a while now that US Embassy Cairo is suffering from “abysmal morale.” A recent posting on the Secretary’s Sounding Board regarding its 15% hardship diffential is just one part of it. (Apparently it has been at 15% for 15 years  and State sat on Cairo’s differential update request for six months.  Despite  changing conditions in Egypt, State reportedly refused the request with no explanation).  But see – folks normally do not refer to their morale as “abysmal” also known as “appalling” or “extremely bad” if it only has to do with the differential.  Don’t forget the human. Plenty of unhappy people there, the differential is one reason; there are reportedly many more. 

The thing that should give State’s Seventh Floors some pause is — Embassy Bangui has 7 U.S.direct hire. Embassy Cairo’s staffing is 68X that of Bangui’s, with 476 U.S. direct hire and a total staff of 1,874 (at least according to the 2009 OIG staffing numbers).

Perhaps it’s time for the OIG to pay another visit to the land of pharaohs?  The last OIG inspection was in 2009. With upheaval in the host country in the last two years and significantly changing conditions at post, we think Cairo deserves a visit, don’t you?  Oh, and please do keep a close eye on USCG Alexandria.
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After reopening in 2005, U.S. Embassy Bangui suspends operations. Again.

It’s one of those things that roll like thunder during the holidays, and one absolutely has no control over the universe. Our sympathies to the embassy folks at US Embassy Bangui.

On December 22, 2012 it sent the following emergency message:

Despite a Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) summit held yesterday in Chad which called for a cessation of hostilities, rebels of the Séléka alliance have reportedly advanced towards the central city of Bambari, Central African Republic (CAR).
[…]
The Embassy has no plans to evacuate at this time.  However, for the purposes of contingency planning only, the Embassy would like to inform U.S. citizens that should an evacuation become necessary, the designated assembly point for U.S. citizens will be the residence of the U.S. Ambassador, located near the Tennis Club of Bangui.   Only U.S. citizens would be permitted to gain access to this site, and should bring their U.S. passport for identification purposes.  U.S. citizen children would be allowed one non-U.S. citizen escort for evacuation purposes.   In the event of an evacuation, the Embassy will contact U.S. citizens via e-mail, telephone, and/or radio to inform them to meet at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence.   Should communication networks not function, U.S. citizens can meet at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence without waiting for notification.  However, in no circumstance should U.S. citizens attempt to travel to the U.S. Ambassador’s residence if the security situation within Bangui is not permissive.   In this case, sheltering-in-place is advised.

Two days later, the embassy was on authorized departure for non-emergency staff:

December 24, 2012 | As a result of increased rebel activity in the Central African Republic, on December 24, 2012, the Department of State authorized the departure of non-emergency U.S. embassy personnel from Bangui, Central African Republic. U.S. citizens should review their personal security situation and consider taking advantage of commercial flights. Embassy Bangui is able to provide only limited emergency consular services.

On Christmas Day, the embassy authorized the departure of additional personnel and suspended operations until further notice.

December 25, 2012 | As a result of increasing insecurity in the Central African Republic, on December 25, 2012, the U.S. Embassy authorized the departure of additional U.S. embassy personnel from Bangui, Central African Republic.   The Embassy is also suspending normal operations until further notice.   The Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights to depart the Central African Republic until the security situation improves.  Embassy Bangui is able to provide only limited emergency consular services.

Two days later, the State Department announced the Temporary Suspension of U.S. Embassy Bangui Operations

Press Statement | Office of the Spokesperson | Washington, DC | December 27, 2012
The U.S. Embassy in Bangui temporarily suspended its operations on December 28 as a result of the present security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). We have not suspended diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic.

Ambassador Wohlers and his diplomatic team left Bangui today along with several private U.S. citizens. As a result of this suspension of operations, the embassy will not be able to provide routine consular services to American citizens in the Central African Republic until further notice.

This decision is solely due to concerns about the security of our personnel and has no relation to our continuing and long-standing diplomatic relations with the CAR.

On December 28, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for the Central African Republic

December 28, 2012 | The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Central African Republic at this time.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the U.S. Embassy in Bangui suspended its operations on December 28, 2012, and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in the Central African Republic.  U.S. citizens who have decided to stay in CAR should review their personal security situation and seriously consider departing, taking advantage of commercial flights.  This replaces the Travel Warning of December 23, 2012, to reflect the deterioration of the security situation.

The U.S. Embassy staff in Bangui cannot provide services to U.S. citizens at this time.  U.S. citizens in CAR who seek consular assistance should contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at CARemergencyUSC@state.gov.

WaPo reported that at the State Department’s request, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had directed U.S. Africa Command to evacuate U.S. citizens and designated foreign nationals from the U.S. Embassy in Bangui “to safe havens in the region.”  Unnamed U.S. officials told WaPo that about 40 people were evacuated on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the details of the operation.

An unnamed US official also told AFP that  Ambassador (Lawrence) Wohlers and his diplomatic team flew out of Bangui at 0000 GMT Friday (Dec 28).

This is not the first time that the U.S. military has been called to evacuate US Embassy Bangui.  On May 23, 1996 then President Clinton ordered the deployment of U.S. military personnel to Bangui, Central African Republic, to conduct the evacuation from that country of “private U.S. citizens and certain U.S. Government employees,” and to provide “enhanced security for the American Embassy in Bangui.”  The embassy reopened in 1998 with limited staff.

The embassy was similarly evacuated of all staff in 2002 and resumed operations in January 2005. Who knows how long this one will last.

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