There is no Place for Mediocrity in Diplomatic Jobs, Why do We Always Send the Worst?

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Other countries when they send ambassadors to Kenya, they usually go for highly competent people. Because ambassadors often double up as intelligence officers. Their espionage is more than gathering political gossip and the sexual tastes of the leaders of the country they serve in.

Most of the time, they are cutting deals for their countries, looking for new opportunities to expand their country’s business responsibilities. You have probably looked up when being driven through some leafy suburb and saw an embassy of some country like Kazakhstan and you wondered what possible ties could we be having with them, for crying out loud. But maybe you have never checked to know where the rice or wheat you consume comes from.

For us, most of our ambassadors are mostly political deadweights, relatives of the ruling elite, loyal civil servants from various departments like the military and parastatals whose time to be sacked or retire has reached, or they have to be shoved aside from that key parastatal or military position to pave way for someone under them from the right tribe or with proper connections to take over. And of course, there are a few good ones.

Where other countries ensure that the ambassador is qualified academically or in terms of experience, for us, academic qualifications don’t matter at all.

For instance, when sending someone to France to be our ambassador, as a prerequisite, one should speak French and understand a bit of French history and their way of thinking. As well as other countries that we don’t have a shared heritage.
I don’t know Sarah Serem’s qualifications that earned her the job in China, one country that we ought to send our very best to if it matters. I know she did well at the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC). She is a good Adventist, but I don’t know anything else.

I know our ambassador to the United States has been an abject failure if you ask Kenyans in the United States. They bungled even the simplest exercise of Huduma Namba, even when some patriotic Kenyans decided to go get registered.

When ambassadors from the West go back, often they write books and those books are very insightful. I don’t remember any Kenyan ambassador who wrote an instructive book that can even be used in a university for diplomatic studies.

I think as Africa, we like a lazy approach. We like giving people free rides to go and have a good time in these foreign countries. Do we even have a way of appraising the work of ambassadors? Do we have objectives in the countries where we have foreign missions? Do we work hard towards those objectives?

Yet, we have some of the most brilliant brains anywhere in the world. Too bad some of the brains don’t have a good enough last name, and most of the time, they spend languishing in some third-rate university, fighting departmental politics, because that is what they have been reduced to. Meanwhile, mediocre windbags are elevated, and before you know it they are representing Kenya in a very strategic country when they don’t even know the country they are representing well.

Lastly, I don’t think, Kenya or Africa should always operate from a ‘woiye woiye’ standpoint. We have a right to be here and standing up to bullies is how we are going to earn our dignity back.

Over the years as a journalist, I had the privilege of working with some Ambassadors, mostly from Europe and Maina, let me tell you, those guys often earn their keep. I have seen how they nearly come to tears when they run into our bureaucracy (spelled as corruption), and how they do their best to beat it.

I don’t what our ambassadors often do. Except that when there are Kenyans being attacked in South Africa anytime the xenophobic attacks erupt, the last person you will expect to see on TV to tell us what proactive measures they have taken to safeguard the lives of Kenyans is our ambassador down there. Neither do we see our embassies acting fast anytime they need to help a stranded Kenya. Often, the media and Kenyans abroad must shame to do it.

Lastly, I don’t think, Kenya or Africa should always operate from a ‘woiye woiye’ standpoint. We have a right to be here and standing up to bullies is how we are going to earn our dignity back.

Kenyan government always has a disdainful relationship with Kenyans in the diaspora. And for a reason. About 99 percent of Kenyans abroad went there purely out of their personal effort. Through scholarships, escaping, jobs and what have you. But there is no Kenyan abroad who will tell you that he or she went there because of some government help or intervention. Even scholarships given to the Ministry of Education are probably handed to most undeserving relatives and girlfriends of the officials.

Hence, Kenyans abroad are treated badly, but we like their dollars, pounds, dirhams, you name it. Presently, diaspora remittances have overtaken what we used to earn from coffee and tea. They have plugged a huge hole in our national budget, but still, we don’t want to treat them with dignity, for a fraction of what they send.

You guys, you need to read fiction in order to understand the subtleties of ambassadorial stuff. Start with Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor and its sequel, Executive Orders. As well as The Bear and the Dragon. They are huge tomes, in biblical font and the prose can be a bit of dross, but you will pick so many insights into how these things work than you will ever learn in any other movie or classroom.

Lastly, I don’t think, Kenya or Africa should always operate from a ‘woiye woiye’ standpoint. We have a right to be here and standing up to bullies is how we are going to earn our dignity back. The right place to start is always hiring competent people who will know how to navigate the sensitive politics of diplomacy as well as knowing which side of the Kenyan bread is battered.

This is the only way we can balance the trade so that it will now be one-sided. We import virtually everything, but we can’t even export the best Kisii avocadoes, because apparently, they are substandard, in countries where people eat bats and snakes and GMO.

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