Updated: March 7, 2021
The African Union has fired its charismatic and outspoken ambassador to the United States, accusing her of massive corruption and abuse of office, but tens of thousands have come to her defense in Washington D.C., claiming that she was being unfairly treated and targeted because of her anti-colonial speeches.
The African Union said Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao was fired following an internal investigation that concluded that she was a rogue, corrupt and self-dealing diplomat.
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She was fired last month and on her final day on the job this week, she danced, doubled down on her rhetoric and remained defiant, reminding the African diaspora in the United States how colonial powers such as France continue to pillage Africa.
“No more shall we continue to be exploited,” she said, according to NPR.
“France can no longer take 500 billion out of Africa,” added Dr. Quao, who served more than three years as ambassador, and had become popular among the African diaspora.
NPR reported that when her term was ended by the African Union last month, almost 90,000 people signed an online petition asking the AU to reinstate her.
The petition claimed that she was fired because of that kind of speech and called her dismissal unjust.
However, an internal investigation by the African Union obtained by NPR alleged that Dr. Quao misappropriated funds, and created a toxic environment for her staff and that she fundraised for personal projects using the African Union name.
The investigation found that Dr. Quao spent $181,000 on an AU beauty pageant.
The AU said she did not seek approval from the organization, adding that the money for the expensive beauty pageant was earmarked for other projects.
AU investigators said she also sold tickets online for up to $150 a person and did not turn over sales to the African Union.
When NPR contacted her by phone, Dr. Quao called the investigation a sham and a witch hunt.
She said she used ticket proceeds to pay members of the diaspora who had experience putting together events like these.
“I don’t think even one of them got a thousand dollars – for four months of working,” she said.
The investigation also found that a $10,000 grant from Chevron was never accounted for.
But Dr. Quao said the grant money never came to the African Union, adding that when she became ambassador, she found an office in total disarray.
“The problem was you are dealing with an office with staff that had no clue. That was really the problem with this mission,” she told NPR.
She said she tried to make the mission more dynamic, but the staff always resisted her.
She said when an AU auditor came in, he believed the staff and not her. In her view, this investigation was the staff’s attempt to railroad her, NPR reported.
“They don’t come to work. When I am out of town, they don’t show up at all. And they are stealing, by the way – stealing – frivolous claims for education, frivolous for health care. It is a horrible office. The staff is stealing money – no question about it”.
Ebba Kalondo, a spokesperson for the chief of the African Union Commission refused to comment on an internal investigation.
But she confirmed that the report obtained by NPR was authentic.
Kalondo said Dr. Quao was a political appointee serving at the pleasure of the AU chair and he has simply decided her time was up.
“This is diplomatic practice around the world – since diplomatic practice began”.
“When confronted with Dr. Quao’s allegations about the AU mission in Washington, Kalondo says the AU is a diplomatic service, not, quote, “group therapy.”