In some democratic countries, presidents and prime ministers pick “career diplomats” to represent their governments and countries in different parts of the world.
Career diplomats are not the same as political appointees.
In Africa, especially, political appointees are a leader’s praise singers with little knowledge of foreign affairs. The ‘appointment’ is a reward, not a recognition of ability.
Governments open embassies and consulates in other countries for several reasons.
Chief among them being “to assist and protect the citizens of the consul’s own country, and to facilitate trade and friendship between the people of the two countries”.
Spying, which is the major reason for their presence, is not mentioned. But I digress.
In this day and age of instant communication and speeds that mock the speed of light, embassies and consulates have evolved into very important points of contact to quickly defuse any misunderstandings between nations and to assist citizens in their travels.
Like my father said when Americans first landed on the moon: “…they can travel at a speed we never shall understand but, to achieve anything, they must stop, get off their machines and walk with these same legs you and I have.”
It does not appear to me that technology has created better and faster communication between our nations’ leaders. If anything, they do not seem to even appreciate solving conflicts by simply picking up the phone and calling their counterpart.
When Zimbabweans are flogged in Botswana, is Mugabe not able to pick up the phone and call President Khama and ask him to go easy on those Zimbabweans?
They do not do that because each leader has to be advised of what to say to the other leader in advance. Speed is deliberately slowed down to the ordinary level for convenience, just like papa once told me.
So here we are, unable to appreciate our own success or enjoy the alleviation of archaic constraints as people. We should be celebrating the convenience of a Zimbabwean president flying to Abuja for lunch with his Nigerian counterpart and still be home for supper with his family in Harare.
But the easier it has become, the more acrimonious relationships we have developed. It is now a scandal for certain leaders to talk to certain leaders. Leaders who used to talk to each other now need middlemen or proxies to bridge the gap between themselves.
But Embassies and Consulates have purpose of existence: “assist and protect the citizens of the consul’s own country” and “facilitate trade and friendship between the people of the two countries”.
Friendship is a big word; it is important because it paves the way for the opening of embassies between two nations; it encourages citizens of either country to visit the other country.
Hardly a month after I joined the Sunday Standard in 2006, I remember a story that I was supposed to proof-read that said ‘the Botswana High Commission in London has used the government money, under the destitute vote, to bail out Botswana National Front and Leader of Opposition, Otsweletse Moupo.’ (http://www.sundaystandard.info/moupo-receives-destitute-money-london).
Apparently, Moupo “ran out of money while on a private trip in England” and, knowing of the existence of his country’s diplomatic missions, he went to seek help.
And he got it.
Unlike my Batswana colleagues, I was positively touched and pleased by this incident because, in my country, no such thing could ever happen. Mugabe embarrasses or kills political opponents not assist them.
Moupo was justifiably cartooned and laughed at back home in Botswana but the role of the embassy/consulate had been fulfilled ÔÇô serving and protecting the citizens of Botswana abroad ÔÇô nothing political.
In my last column here, I mentioned in the very last paragraph how Mugabe took a large delegation to the US for a conference that his Foreign Affairs minister or Environment Affairs minister could have handled alone yet the government failed to come up with $12,000 to fly back home rescued Zimbabwean women stranded in Kuwait where they had been abused and some turned into sex slaves.
The 32 women, out of more than 200, were finally able to get home through assistance from outside government although some MPs took a very active part in their repatriation back home. Many more still remain in Kuwait awaiting assistance to return home.
Sadly though, this past week, I became aware that the Zimbabwean Ambassador to Kuwait, Grey Marongwe, is himself a bitter man because “he struggled for money to bring his wife home for burial when she died last year ÔÇô and his bosses in Harare would not help”.
Ambassador Marongwe had reportedly not been paid for several months.
In January this year, it was revealed that: “At least ten of Zimbabwe’s 40-plus diplomatic missions are under legal notice for eviction over unpaid rentals with salary arrears for staff, in many cases averaging 12 months, also remaining unpaid.”
And these are the people who are supposed to engage and encourage potential business investors, tourists and visitors to go to Zimbabwe. These are the very same people who should welcome their fellow citizens and assist them in their problems in faraway countries.
I have always wondered why Zimbabwe has so many embassies in Africa and around the world.
Zimbabwe has a very hostile investment climate while property rights are not guaranteed even for citizens.
Our embassies/consulates are very intimidating and unfriendly. Zimbabweans in the Diaspora are suspects and are viewed with suspicion on embassy grounds.
It has been a long while since I set foot on the grounds of a Zimbabwean embassy but for my decade-old stay in Botswana, I noticed ambassadors from other countries mingling and socializing with local populace and international gatherings but the only time I saw the Zimbabwean ambassador at a gathering was when the Methodist Church Botswana held a memorial service for Susan Tsvangirai who had been tragically killed in a car accident when her husband had just become Prime Minister in the Zimbabwe coalition government.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador then, Thomas Mandigora, came to the services looking bothered and uninterested.
Because he was a political appointee, totally ignorant of his role on the international stage on behalf of his country, he was an insult to those gathered. Indeed, he left before the service was over.
Zimbabwe embassies are there to spy on their own citizens in foreign countries. They do not bring any business back home.
Maybe it is fair that they are not paid since they do not generate any services or income but are parasites by political appointment and are of no use to the rank and file.