Diplomats still ‘lying’ for a living

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I ONCE attended a diplomatic reception in Harare’s Meikles Hotel.

Jimmy Carter walked out in protest at something the then foreign minister, Witness Mangwende, had said. 

The former US president objected so strongly he decided to storm out, rather than shout at the Zimbabwean politician, or take drastic action —  walking up to him, to give him a “peanut farmer’s” punch on the nose.

After reading about the Wikileaks revelations, as avidly as anybody else, I wondered how the US ambassador in Zimbabwe might have recorded this incident for the State Department in Washington.

I have no doubt he went to town, garnishing the report in words that would stick in the minds of the recipients.

The wag who said most diplomats are “lying abroad for their countries” probably described diplomacy more aptly than all the other high-sounding language we have been subjected to. 

One definition reads thus: “Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states.

“It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights.”

Picture this: An African diplomat accredited to the Ivory Coast attends last Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony of Laurent Gbagbo as president of the country. 

There is not enough time for him to attend Alassane Outtara’s counter “swearing-in” ceremony at the other end of the cocoa-rich country.

But he sends a junior official to confirm that the opposition leader, said to have won the election, was sworn in — after a fashion …

In his report, does he leave out the fact that, officially, Gbagbo had lost the election to Outtara?

If his country is a self-proclaimed “pan Africanist” state, obsessed with fighting neo-imperialism, he might blame it all on the West.

After all, taking their cue from the United Nations, the major Western countries, including the former colonial master, France, picked Outtara as the winner.

Gbagbo had the backing of the army and the so-called constitutional court to give him “legitimacy”.

Or does the diplomat throw all caution to the wind and tell it like it is — calling Gbagbo a bully and a charlatan and a power-hungry so-and-so who has ruined his country and wants to continue to do so for the next five years? 

Wikileaks told us a few things about how the US government views both friends and enemies, according to confidential correspondence which Washington would prefer not have been revealed.

Some of it is innocuous enough. Of course, calling President Robert Mugabe “a crazy old man” might sound to some people to be over the top.

The man is old, of course, but “crazy”?

The stuff about Morgan Tsvangirai is amazing.

This man started off as a trade unionist and was chosen by his peers to lead the MDC.

This is not a trade union, but a political party.

So far, he has led the party with remarkable acumen.

In the 2008 presidential election, he beat Mugabe.

Considering how long that politician has been in the game, Tsvangirai’s victory was nothing short of spectacular.

African diplomacy, like African politics in general, is coloured somewhat by the priorities of the leader.

It may be true that there is collective responsibility — in other words, all the people at the top share responsibility for every decision taken on behalf of the country.

But in reality, something is utterly incontestable: the leader’s word is gospel.

In most African countries, where independence resulted from an armed struggle, it’s not likely that the leader could tell his peers: “I don’t agree. But your view is wiser than mine. Let’s adopt it.”

In diplomacy as well, the civil servant who knows which side his bread is buttered will know how to report on developments in the country he is stationed: he will lie, if necessary.

He won’t say Gbagbo is a disgrace, which he is. 

It’s a very brave African diplomat who would say that to their government — or to Thabo Mbeki, the African Union’s mediator.

It would be nothing short of amazing if Mbeki decided Gbagbo was a perfect follower of the African Renaissance, of which Mbeki is the proponent.

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