By Mapwiya Muulupale
“A sincere diplomat is like dry water or wooden iron” – Joseph Stalin.
Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) was the dictator of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1929 to 1953.
He transformed the Soviet Union from a peasant society like ours into an industrial and military superpower.
However, his reign of terror killed millions of Russians.
That said, I am not here to wax lyrical about Stalin. Just that his background provides some insights into his perception of diplomats, as quoted above.
As far as he was concerned, there is no such a thing as a trustworthy diplomat. Note, however, that he did not mean diplomats are intrinsically irredeemable villains, no.
He was referring to diplomats serving the interests of their respective governments, where good diplomats, as per Caskie Stinnett, can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you would look forward to the trip. Or, as per Trygve Lie, they can slash your throat without you noticing that you are bleeding.
Had Stalin still been alive today, he would have had another think because, as the Government of South Africa has learned, the Malawi variant they have just expelled has given diplomatic deceit a new meaning.
For the expelled Malawi variant, constraining insincerity to national interests is gross underutilization of resources. Hence copying, incubating, replicating diplomatic disingenuousness, perfecting it, and taking it to scale for personal enrichment.
Let me quickly bring you up to speed.
“Press Release, 11 June 2021 – South Africa declares diplomats Persona Non-Grata for abusing diplomatic privileges.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation wishes to confirm that it has declared several diplomats Persona Non-Grata following an intensive investigation into their flouting of diplomatic privileges on behalf of the Republic of South Africa.
The said diplomats were found guilty of engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol.
This decision was taken in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is fundamental to foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without the threat of influence by the host government.
However, in instances where such privileges are abused, the host country is obliged to take the necessary action in line with the Convention.
To this end, the government of South Africa has given the affected diplomatic staff members and their families 72 hours within which they should leave South Africa. They are also expected to relinquish their diplomatic status by returning all the necessary diplomatic tools to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
Investigations of similar transgressions by other missions accredited to South Africa are at an advanced stage, and similar action will be taken should they be found guilty.
Accordingly, the South African government calls upon all diplomatic missions accredited to the Republic to respect, uphold and comply with all the laws of the land, including adherence with the prescripts of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.
Signed: Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) – RSA”
Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has since acknowledged and reassured Malawians that appropriate measures are in place to “ensure continuity of operations”, whatever this means, given that our former diplomats are, as we speak, in or boarding Munorurama buses, destination: Wenela Bus Depot, Blantyre, Malawi.
On their fate, MoFA says:
“The Government of Malawi (GoM) wishes to inform the public that the Malawi Government has since conveyed its regret to the Republic of South Africa on the conduct of the concerned diplomats. GoM will take appropriate actions on the Diplomats upon their return.”
You know what I know will happen? Once they arrive, they will bribe a few people in government, and these people will sit on the files and the scandalous envoys will eventually be redeployed to government ministries and departments.
Let me summarize their disgusting scandal:
~ instead of promoting Malawi’s interests, our diplomats were running smuggling rackets.
~ like Chisale used to do with former President Peter Mutharika’s TPIN, they were abusing their duty-free status, buying vast quantities of alcohol, amounts far exceeding “personal use”, and
~ reselling to locals hence robbing RSA much needed tax revenue.
In a nutshell, they were shamelessly stealing from South Africans.
That is not all.
We, Malawian taxpayers, pay them to look after our interests. Yet here they were, moonlighting and exposing us to reputational risk, which has, in fact, come to pass.
Our reputation and safety in South Africa, a major trading partner and transit point, are in tatters.
In addition, there is a security risk: people conducting illegal activities are highly susceptible to blackmail. They can and do sell state secrets or, worse, create falsehoods to satiate their blackmailers.
Further, on top of salaries paid into their bank accounts here at home, they get diplomatic allowances and perks that are way above the average South African’s salary.
What more can one want?
This, in my view, is nothing short of poking the middle finger at President Chakwera and Malawians in general.
What is most irritating is that these people are long overdue for recall, and now that they have not been recalled, impunity has crept in. They do not give a gram of heck for Malawi and Malawians.
They see the many previous uncompleted diplomats’ cases: e.g., Embassy cashgate, whose suspects are freely enjoying fruits of bad behavior, and they say, why not?
The see our court proceedings which take forever e.g., Muluzi’s and Mphwiyo’s cases and they begin to think this is the norm everywhere in the world.
The end loser is the ordinary Malawian because no one is looking after Malawi’s interests. Self-enrichment is the name of the game.
All these implications, sadly, are lost on President Chakwera and his Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the gospel according to Chakwera, foreign policy is something one periodically spins into poems or prose and recites with zero tangible action.
The excuse I hear for not recalling overdue diplomatic staff is that it is an expensive exercise. The last time I enquired, I was told the budget is USD45,000 per diplomat.
I still do not understand how what constitutes this. In fact, I have consulted people conversant with this business and neither do they understand this extortionate amount.
Something is definitely wrong.
Since this was worked out by the DPP government, which never did anything without building a buffer for bribes, this cannot be accepted at face value.
A new international tender for the recall of all diplomats whose terms have expired should be floated. There are many diplomats, hence the government will reap economies of scale.
At any rate, the cost of the damage done and still to be done is higher than the cost of recalling them. Hence, they must return before they do irreparable harm.
Vis-à-vis the new cohort, diligence must be exercised. Politicians’ relatives and friends have little or no regard for national interests and should be avoided.
Mr President, learn from this monumental embarrassment, abandon procrastination, re-invent the Malawi Diplomat, recall the old guard, and deploy envoys worth the name, not smugglers.
By the way, Sir, honest to God diplomats, in the sense of honesty to Malawi, are not in short supply. But a year on, you are yet to release the names of the next cohort. What, or where, or rather who is the problem, Sir?
Talking Blues- Weekly serious Analysis of Malawi Events. Weekly Sunday Column by Mapwiya Muulupale: Malawi’s Famous Political provocateur