Country Director in Tanzania Gets Shaft
August 19, 2007
– Mike Learned, Editor
If you are a participant on our listserv, some of the details of this story will be familiar to you. Some of the information is public, some I’ve had to dig up. Of particular interest to us is the support this Country Director has shown LGB volunteers throughout her tenure.
Early in June Christine Djondo, the highly respected Peace Corps Country Director in Tanzania was forced to leave Tanzania because United States Ambassador Michael Retzer had suspended her “country clearance” to remain there. Peace Corps is an independent agency. Country Directors report to the Peace Corps Director, not to the local Ambassador. The PC Director reports to the President. Diplomatic staff such as Ambassadors work in the State Department and ultimately report to the Secretary of State. A United States Ambassador is the highest ranking government official in a designated country and has authority of “clearance” for the presence of other federal employees resident there. Relationships between US Ambassadors and Peace Corps Country Directors have traditionally been respectful and cooperative.
There was a notable exception in the case of Ambassador Retzer and Ms. Djondo. From what I have been able to learn Ambassador Retzer, a political appointee who is a Mississippi business man and former state and national Republican official, had decided to merge some of the operations of Peace Corps Tanzania with the US Embassy by co-locating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) office at the Embassy. He also wanted to merge the Embassy’s and Peace Corps’ Motor Pools and Health units.
Country Director Christine Djondo objected seeing such activities as compromising and undermining the Peace Corps mission in Tanzania and threatening the security and independence of Peace Corps programs and its volunteers.
Reaction from Peace Headquarters in Washington was immediate. Amanda Host, Peace Corps Press Director issued the following:
“The Peace Corps has always had full confidence in Ms. Djondo as country director. Unfortunately, U.S. Ambassador Michael Retzer did not concur and has exercised his authority as chief of mission to withdraw the authorization for Ms. Djondo to remain in country. Peace Corps strongly disagrees with the ambassador’s decision and has let him know the adverse effects this decision will have on the Peace Corps program in Tanzania, including the morale of Volunteers, new trainees, and staff. Because of the number of staff transitions in Tanzania, the June training class is being reduced by half to ensure adequate support for currently serving Volunteers and the new training class.”
But, Peace Corps never threatened to remove the program from Tanzania, preferring to work it through channels. Reaction from the State Department seemed passive. Ambassador Retzer had already submitted his resignation, and his actions against Djondo were taken only days before his resignation was to take effect. Former Republican Congressman Mark Green of Wisconsin had been nominated to replace him.
Now it gets interesting. Sen. Christopher Dodd, a former PCV and strong supporter of Peace Corps placed a hold on Green’s nomination as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepared to approve Green’s nomination.
Dodd said no action would happen until Retzer rescinded his action or the State Department apologized and reassured Peace Corps officials the agency would be free to carry out its mission in Tanzania. A couple of days later Dodd issued a statement saying the State Department had sent a written apology to Djondo and that he would now allow a vote on Green’s nomination. He said he was confident that Green, who once served as a volunteer teacher in Kenya, “would be a welcome alternative to his predecessor.”
Dodd continued, “I also hope that the point has been made that the State Department must honor the independence of the Peace Corps consistent with our broad foreign policy objectives. I have been assured by Congressman Green for his part intends to respect and enforce this principle,”
Now what does this all mean? I understand that Director Djondo has been offered a job at Peace Corps Headquarters, and I have not heard if there are any plans to send her back to Tanzania. She has been treated outrageously, and deserves the best PC job here or overseas that she is qualified for. I would guess that every U.S. Ambassador in every country with a Peace Corps program has heard a lot more of this story than we have. Traditionally Secretary’s of State, including Secretary Rice, has communicated the policy of separation between the diplomatic community and Peace Corps. This policy clearly precludes the steps taken by Ambassador Retzer.
Current and recent Peace Corps volunteers were at the forefront of this story, communicating and emailing the world. I got more information from a number of sources, including John Coyne of Peace Corps Writers, Peace Corps Online, the Peace Corps Press Release, the Washington press, and from some people in the know.