September 2000. I was at my desk doing some paperwork when the phone rang. “Hello, may I speak to Raymond Maxwell?” Not expecting any calls out of the ordinary, I responded in my normal manner, “This is.” “Please hold from the Ambassador.” I found it strange the ambassador’s OMS would be on the call and with so much formality. Ambassador Sullivan usually just picked up the phone and called. But it wasn’t Ambassador Sullivan, it was Ambassador Ledesma calling from Gabon, a somewhat neighboring country. He called to offer me a job as his admin officer. We were two weeks from packout and pretty much set on going to Accra. I very politely declined the offer. Lesson learned: if an ambassador calls with an offer, not the Bureau and not DC HR, you may want to give it very careful consideration. He (or she) has an interest in you and will very likely support you and “take care” of you. That support is nothing to take for granted, as I would soon enough discover.
November 2000. We left Luanda and moved to Accra where I took over the reins of the General Services section as supervisory general services officer (GSO). Prior to arriving at post, I bumped into my new boss at FSI. He told me “They say very good things about you in the AF Bureau.” He laughed, then said, “There is no way you can live up to your advanced billing.” He laughed again, then smiled. O my god, I thought, a psycho for a boss. Three years. OMG!
We arrived. Elections brought in the opposition just as we were settling in. The coup leader turned dictator turned democrat stepped down after nineteen years of rule. Western pundits called it the Ghana Miracle because Lt. Rawlings bowed out gracefully. But it was no miracle — just normal folks behaving like adults. To expect otherwise says more about the expector than the expected.
Accra was fine and we did some outstanding work in GSO, especially in contracting and residential leasing. Filomena returned to USAID, managing child health programs. But the level of collegiality and camaraderie at Embassy Accra was not the same as it was in Luanda — perhaps because Angola was a country at war, while Ghana was a country at peace.
Embassy operations were spread out in locations throughout the city and bad traffic made moving from location to location stressful. GSO itself was operated out of four separate facilities. As lead contracting and logistics officer I had a very diversified operational portfolio of responsibilities. I spent a lot of my time on the road, getting from location to location.
Mentors warned me it would be taking a backwards step going from administrative officer in Luanda to general services officer in Accra. They told me I might not even be invited to Country Team meetings. Their predictions came true, but I was willing to take that backwards step for the complex construction, services and security contracting opportunities the position would afford me. It turned out to be a bad trade, especially when I had my pick of administrative officer positions in the Africa Bureau and beyond from which to choose. It didn’t help that this was my boss’s first administrative officer position and he had no interest in my “big picture” previous experience.
There were tensions across agencies and even in the administrative section, lots of pettiness, lots of bickering. Having my own universe outside the main embassy did not make me immune from the seeds and sources of division.
On the other hand, being in Accra provided some very bright moments. Ghana was rich in pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial history. As an aside, It was Sierra Leone, I would learn, and not Ghana that the British had groomed for eventual independence. Historically, well-to-do folks in Ghana sent their children to Sierra Leone for civil service and teacher training.
(Side note. Three countries had somewhat interesting but unique and different recolonization pilot efforts for their freed and enslaved Africans. Brazilians sent their emancipated slaves back to Nigeria, from whence many of them came. By the end of the 19th century, colonial officials outlawed the speaking of Portuguese by repatriated Africans from Brazil, ultimately under penalty of death. The United States experimented with recolonizing freed and enslaved people to Liberia, even before blanket emancipation. President Madison, whose baby brother Willey had a house in central Virginia that eventually became the site of a prep school I would integrate in the early ’70’s (but that is a whole different kettle of worms) was a leading proponent of solving the Negro problem through massive “recolonization.” What a disaster that would have been. Great Britain found itself with a sizable population of freed slaves following the rebellion in the colonies and their offer of freedom to any slaves willing to escape and join their cause. Similarly during the War of 1812. They were first settled in Canada, then in England. Ultimately the British would experiment with resettling them and their dependents in Sierra Leone. End note.)
But that all changed in 1957 when the Ghanaians jumped the gun and declared their independence from colonial United Kingdom. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first leader, studied at Howard University (where I presently work) and a steady stream of African American leaders made pilgrimage to Accra and to the Ashanti Kingdom center, Kumasi over the 50’s and 60’s, including W.E.B. DuBois, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.
It was Ghanaians who introduced me to yoga. The Fantes enstooled me and gave me the name “Nana Kweku Appiah.” The Ashantis embraced me and taught me their culture and philosophy. The Ewe and Ga protected me and kept me safe from harm. To quote an Emerson poem, “. . . give all to love . . . . when the half-gods go, the gods arrive.”
At the end of my tour, the local employees and I performed a traditional “blessing” of the land where we hoped the new embassy would be built, Bud Field, but not before making a convincing presentation to OBO and AF/EX that Embassy Accra needed a new Embassy compound as soon as possible. A powerpoint presentation I composed and delivered to OBO Director Williams and AF/EX Director Huggins provides a snapshot view of dispersed embassy operations at the time and made a strong case for a new unified embassy compound.
How did I leave out 9/11? Probably because it was all very abstract experiencing it overseas. I got a call on my cell from the facilities maintenance guy around noon. He heard that something had happened in the states. We arranged to meet at my house for a late lunch. A meeting had been called of the Emergency Action Committee but we weren’t members, just as we were not invited to Country Team, but information filtered through that there had been some sort of attack. When I got home I turned on the television and CNN was showing replays of those planes flying into those buildings in New York. I pulled out a bottle of single malt and we had a drink. Middle of the goddamn day. Things had suddenly changed forever. Some months later we got more directly involved when there was a threat that the diplomatic pouch had been contaminated by anthrax worldwide. We donned anti-c’s and cleaned the pouch room down to parade rest as part of our effort, along with embassies and consulates around the world. It was the dawning, for us, of the Age of Terrorism.
The most memorable project I was involved in at Embassy Accra came at the very end of my tour. By a fortuitous turn of events, we needed at least a 200-year lease on a large piece of property for the construction of an embassy compound at the same time that the Ghanaian Ambassador in Washington needed to close a deal on property he was purchasing for his official residence out in Potomac, MD. The Ghanaian constitution did not allow foreigners to own land, but OBO assured us that a long-term lease of at least 200 years was as good as a title deed.
Fortunately for us, the new supervisory post management officer (PMO) in AF/EX in charge of the project, Stephanie Sullivan (presently the chief of mission in Ghana), had previously been political counselor in Accra and knew all the political players, including the Ghanaian Ambassador to the U.S., Alan Kyerematen. The management counselor was on leave, so it fell to me to handle the negotiations on the Accra side. We worked the phones, just like in Ops, Embassy Accra to AF/EX in Washington, Embassy Accra to the Ghanaian Embassy, Embassy Accra to the Foreign Ministry, Embassy Accra to the Presidential Palace, Embassy Accra to the members of Parliament, and every combination and permutation within and across all these elements. Stephanie steered me masterfully through the local and national Ghanaian government bureaucracy. Within mere days, we managed to execute an MOU with the Ghanaian government, in effect persuading legislators to amend their constitution to grant long tern lease rights to a foreign government, resulting in granting us the 200-year lease on Bud Field. Great work, by the way, from the DC Office of Foreign Missions pushing the reciprocity angle. A couple of years later, NOB construction commenced at that very site, blessed by all the local chieftains on the GSO staff. And in a few months I would be joining Stephanie’s PMO shop in Washington.
Part 1 – Foreign Service Exam and Oral Assessment
Part 2 – A-100 and reassignment training
Part 3 – Embassy Bissau – the first year
Part 4 – Embassy Bissau – the second year
Part 5 – The London Embassy
Part 6 – The Ops Center
Part 7 – Embassy Luanda, Angola
Part 8 – Embassy Accra, Ghana
Part 9 – Domestic Assignment – AF/EX
Part 10 – Epilogue: the final eight years
Part 11 – Bonus: Reflections on War and Peace in Iraq