READERS may have noticed that beginning end of last June, I have devoted the last Thursday of the month to a section called “Titbits from My Diplomatic Bag” as part of this column in which I describe some of the activities I was personally involved in while serving as Press Secretary at the Zambia High Commission in South Africa. This will continue for several months to come.
Because of the nature of their work, diplomatic missions are rarely appreciated. You only get to realize how important they are when you are in a foreign country and get entangled in some problem. But for as long as you are safe and secure, an embassy means nothing to you; you pretend as if it doesn’t exist. The truth of the matter, however, is that a diplomatic mission is very important both in good times and in bad times.
Your country’s diplomatic mission is supposed to be your home away from home. If you live in a country where you have a Zambian diplomatic mission, you should consider yourself lucky and make an effort to register yourself with them by providing them with your contact details, including those of your next of kin. These need to be updated as your situation changes.
The reason is that in case of a problem, the embassy will be able to contact your next of kin back home. Or there may be a crisis of some sort in the host country and the embassy may wish to alert its nationals about such an emergency or indeed to evacuate them back home. How will they get in touch with you if they don’t know of your existence in that country?
A good example is the 2015 tragedy in Lagos, Nigeria, in which an apartment building belonging to the popular Nigerian clergyman, Prophet T.B. Joshua, collapsed, killing over 115 people and injuring several hundreds.
According to the Zambian government, no Zambian national perished in that incident. Of course, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Harry Kalaba, was able to make this categorical statement because Zambians who visited T.B. Joshua had registered themselves with the Zambia High Commission in Abuja and the mission was able to account for each one of them after the incident.
Imagine if these people did not register themselves with the Zambian mission in Abuja, what would have happened? It would have been extremely difficult for the Zambian government to know whether or not Zambian nationals were among the casualties in the collapsed building unless, perhaps, after they were approached by relatives.
Meanwhile, the South African government was able to confirm that 84 of its nationals died in the tragedy – again this was only because the victims had registered themselves with the South African diplomatic mission in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
As one or two incidents I have documented for this column will show, there is a considerable number of Zambians who have died and been buried in foreign lands without the knowledge of their parents or relatives back home. This is because such people did not bother to register themselves with their embassies in the host countries. They may have thought nothing would happen to them that would warrant the intervention of their embassies. How mistaken they were!
Indeed, without the input of diplomatic missions as facilitators, most of the foreign direct investments we see springing up all over the country would not have come about. Also, diplomacy has played, and continues to play, an important role in preventing the outbreak of a third world war by ensuring that conflicts of any kind are resolved amicably through dialogue.
Although I spent a whole year in Botswana upon my transfer to that beautiful country, I did not do much travelling there because as an immigration attaché this time, I was mostly confined to office work. But what I experienced in South Africa can be said to represent a general picture of what happens in diplomatic missions worldwide, with some variations of course.
It is my intention that through my experiences, many people will come to appreciate the importance of having a diplomatic mission in a foreign country – that diplomats are not there to play around but to do serious business of protecting the interests of their countries and compatriots.
It is also my hope and prayer that the young men and women going into the foreign service for the first time will learn something from my experiences in terms of what challenges to expect as they start to perform their respective duties in their missions. A diplomat needs to be humble, approachable and loyal to the government of the day because you are not a politician: you serve all Zambians in the host country regardless of their political affiliations.
If you think you cannot serve under a particular government, the wisest thing to do is to resign and do your own thing. This is because as long as you serve as a diplomat in any country, people there will look at you as Zambia, and not as Chirwa, Nyambe or Mulenga, so whatever you say or do will have a bearing on Zambia.
On a light note, some people have asked me whether there is a difference between a High Commissioner and an Ambassador. As far as I know, there is none. Both are heads of a mission. One is a High Commissioner when one is accredited to a Commonwealth country and an Ambassador when accredited to a non-Commonwealth country. Clear? Now read on…..
KK RECEIVES LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Saturday, 18th July, 2009, was a big day for Zambia; for it was in the evening of that day that the country’s first republican president, Dr Kenneth D. Kaunda, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the African Heritage Society in recognition of his contribution to the liberation struggle in southern Africa in general and South Africa and Zimbabwe in particular.
The award was presented to Dr Kaunda in the Pavilion at the Sandton International Convention Centre, Johannesburg. Two of the South African president, Jacob Zuma’s daughters presented the award to Dr Kaunda on behalf of the African Heritage Society.
Over 500 invited guests, including former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, former Swazi Prime Minister, Prince Dhlamini and several high-ranking ANC leaders led by the party’s treasurer-general, Mr Mathews Phosa, attended the function. Former Lusaka mayor, Mr Fisho Mwale and Behrens Limited chairman and chief executive, Mr Abel Mkandawiere, were also there to witness the event.
And the then Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Mr Leslie Mbula, who was the first to speak at the function, said that Zambia was very proud that the African Heritage Society had decided to present Dr Kaunda with the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contribution to the liberation struggle in southern Africa.
He noted that it was common knowledge that Zambia worked closely with the liberation movements in southern Africa, including the ANC of South Africa, ZANU and ZAPU of Zimbabwe, SWAPO of Namibia, FRELIMO of Mozambique and MPLA of Angola.
Continues next week!