Monday, September 24, 2007

Chalobah's Legacy

In the time I have been resident in the UK--over 25 years for anyone who needs to know--I have seen the highs and lows of Sierra Leone's diplomatic representation in these islands and yes, it has been for the most part a story of lows, with the all-time low being the squalid affair involving the "sale" of 33 Portland Place. So I cannot pretend to have harboured any great expectations when yet another SLHC-UK made the traditional trip to the Palace in December 2006 to present his credentials. It is no exaggeration to say, though, that in the short space of time he has been in charge of the London mission H.E. Melvin Chalobah has made a very positive difference to the way Sierra Leone is perceived locally and he has, as well, made noticeable improvements to the way the mission serves the Sierra Leone community in the UK & Ireland.

One of the most important changes announced within a couple of months of Mr Chalobah's arrival was the requirement that all payments by members of the public for visas and travel documents should henceforth be made into a nominated Barclays Bank Account and the proof of payment document only be taken in to the SLHC afterwards. A small housekeeping measure, some might say, but I have spoken to many who thought it a long overdue step to restore confidence in the way the mission did business with the public.

Other evidence of H.E. Chalobah's assured handling abounds. He regularly hosts receptions to which he invites Sierra Leoneans to meet with him and other High Commission staff with a view to pooling ideas and offering feedback. Despite having quite a heavy workload he honours in excess of 80% of invitations by Salone-related organisations to support their events--I know because I actually see him at those events. He and his wife have enthusiastically spearheaded the representation of Sierra Leone in programmes and events marking the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery, and he has persevered with those endeavours even when his wife unfortunately fell ill. There are still efficiency deficits around the provision of consular services which are mainly due to resourcing constraints but these days you can be reasonably assured that if you try to get in touch with the SLHC-UK the telephone will be answered, your fax will be picked up, and your email will be responded to. Visit the SLHC-UK website http://www.slhc-uk.org.uk/index.html and you will find a well-designed, well maintained and very informative portal which makes you proud to be a Sierra Leonean.

It's likely that all this good work will prove ephemeral if the APC win the next election because these high profile diplomatic appointments are almost invariably reserved as "gifts" from the leadership to their favoured supporters. Now I don't know if that was the context of H.E. Chalobah's own appointment, but I do know that he came to London from a very competently-executed tour of duty as our AU Envoy in Addis Ababa and has fully deserved the opportunity to make his contribution in what, I repeat, has been such a remarkably positive way.

One would hope that for the sake of the greater good Melvin Chalobah will be allowed to continue his good work at the Court of St James regardless of whoever triumphs as President in the coming weeks, but I have to admit it is rather unlikely. So if you do have to leave, Mr Chalobah, please accept our grateful thanks for a job well done and best wishes for the future to you and your family.

Kayode Robbin-Coker

"Only takes one tree to make a thousand matches, Only takes one match to burn a thousand trees ..." (The Stereophonics)