In the evenings, we would regularly take our children for a walk around the neighborhood. As fuel was severely rationed, there was little danger from traffic – though the occasional goat could get too close!
One of the homes we frequently passed was the residence of the papal nuncio – the “Embassy of the Holy See”.
The papal nuncio at the time was described in the national newspaper as “the doyen of the diplomatic corps”. In other words, the senior ambassador. It was his job to organize the diplomats of the various nations represented in Ghana, whenever the Ghana government had something special going on and wanted to invite ambassadors to be in attendance.
Arguably, this made the papal nuncio very influential.
It struck me at the time that the Vatican had the world’s best diplomatic corps – far better than the United States.
In 1979 when the Shah of Iran was overthrown, we were in Ghana. It was a tumultuous year for both countries. The US Ambassador to Ghana was informing the State Department in Washington DC that the pro-US military government of Ghana was stable and that the people were loyal to it. Many of us were better informed – we knew the people were greatly suffering contending with serious food shortages and an inflation rate of over 600%. Non-diplomats were expecting trouble!
We were not surprised to learn that the US Ambassador to Iran was informing Washington that the pro-American Shah of Iran was stable and popular. Early in 1979 the Shah was overthrown and replaced by the Islamic theocracy that still rules the country. Some say this event was the start of World War III, which is still going on – the never-ending conflict between the West and Islamic militancy. The then Ambassador’s ignorance cost the US dearly.
In Ghana, the government was overthrown on June 4th and a radical, revolutionary government took over, backed by Libya’s madman, Colonel Gaddafi. Other Gaddafi sponsored coups followed in other west African countries. Once again, a serious failure of US intelligence.
The doyen of the diplomatic corps was always better informed.