Minefield of Diplomacy – An art demanding more than the naked eye


The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is regarded as the cornerstone of international relations among independent states. The international treaty has set new standards on the importance of individual countries maintaining diplomatic relations with other nations to advance their foreign policies and national interests. Namibia’s President Hifikepunye Pohamba recently appointed 10 new ambassadors to advance the country’s foreign relations. ANDREAS THOMAS of The Southern Times spoke to the newly-appointed Namibian Ambassador to Cuba, DR JEROBOAM SHAANIKA, about his new assignment and the importance of maintaining diplomatic relations with other nations. 

Q: Please, briefly tell us about your career, especially in Foreign Service. 

A: My career in Foreign Service dates back to 1995 when I was posted as Counsellor to the High Commission of the Republic of Namibia to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland with concurrent accreditation to Ireland.I served there for a four-year period 1995-1999. In 1999, I was cross-transferred to the Namibian Embassy in France with residence in Paris as Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, with concurrent accreditation to Spain, Italy and Portugal. At the same time, the Mission or Embassy is also accredited to UNESCO in Paris. I, therefore, served as Deputy Permanent Delegate to UNESCO from 1999 to 2003. In July 2003, I was transferred to the Namibian Embassy to Cuba with concurrent accreditation to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Dominican Republic. I served in Havana for a period of four years from 2003 to 2007. In August 2007, I returned to Namibia and was deployed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of the division responsible for Americas, Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East in the Department of Bilateral Affairs. In November 2010, I was posted to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations in New York as Minister Counsellor and Deputy Permanent Representative. I served in New York until my appointment as Ambassador-designate to the Republic of Cuba. 

Prior to my career in the Foreign Service, I also served as Executive Secretary to the President of the Republic of Namibia 1990 to 1993. In 1994, I was promoted to become Special Assistant to the President ‑ that time Dr Sam Nujoma ‑ now the Founding President and Father of the Namibian nation. I developed interest in diplomacy while in Nigeria as a young student. I recall during our first long vacation, in 1982 at the Federal Advanced Teachers' College in Abeokuta, Ogun State, one day I went to the college library with my good friend Niclas Willem. While at the library, I came across a copy of Africa Today magazine with a frontpage photo of Col. Muammar Al Gaddafi (former Libyan leader). 

I read through and found the story interesting. Col Gaddafi had attempted to host the OAU summit in Tripoli that year but that could not materialise due lack of a quorum. I started interrogating the story to establish the reason why the summit had failed. The reason was apparently that some leaders had been told by some powerful countries not to attend the summit in Tripoli. 

Although the issue of Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) admission to the OAU was cited as the main reason for the boycott by some African leaders, they were against Libya and Col Gaddafi to host and chair the OAU. Some countries were sternly warned if they dared to attend, they would risk forfeiting bilateral development aid. I could not believe what I was reading. How could an outsider determine the type of meal I should cook in my own house? I realised then that hand-out (foreign aid) is another form of slavery, creating a perpetual dependency and limiting freedom to act on your own free will. 

That story changed me and instilled in me a sense of purpose to rededicate myself to the liberation struggle in Namibia and to the noble goal of African Unity. From that day, my friend Nicklas nicknamed me Col Gaddafi, because of my strong feelings opposing the perpetual dependency which only serves to limit the freedom of Africans to act out of their own free will.

Q: In your opinion, what do you think the job and duties of an ambassador entail, especially in modern-day diplomacy?

A: The ambassador primarily acts as the President's representative and envoy to the Head of State of the receiving or host state. He or she is the eyes and ears of the principal.  By extension, the ambassador (and his or her staff) is the representative of all the people of his or her country. The ambassador is the messenger of his or her compatriots. He or she is the face and mirror that reflects the image of his or her country, including its history, traditions and cultural values.

The ambassador’s duties include promoting and enhancing economic, political, cultural and social relations between the sending and the receiving state. He or she is expected to create awareness of, and promote, the policy objectives of his or her country in the host country.

The ambassador is charged with the responsibility of negotiating, creating and nurturing favourable and mutually beneficial enabling conditions and environment for enhancing relations with the host country. The ambassador offers protection to the citizens of his or her country living, working or studying in the host country as well facilitating travel and visits to his or her country of citizens of the sending state for all legitimate purposes. Needless to say, a conscientious ambassador should be an objective analyst, who provides leadership to his or her team, and be civil and courteous in dealing with the public, and be a good listener and strategist.


Q: Why is it necessary for Namibia to have representatives around the globe? 

A: As the saying goes, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”.  Indeed, we can also say that no country is an island. What happens in one country inevitably impacts other countries. Nations need to interact with each other, not only for the purposes of managing conflict, but also in order to develop, nurture and promote their national interests. 

Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance-era Italian historian, politician, diplomat and philosopher had this to say “just as a cartographer will descend into the plains in order to study the nature of mountains and will then climb the highest peaks in order to study the low-lying land, so too, only an exalted prince can grasp the nature of the people…” The same applies to diplomats or representatives of states to study the nature of the international situation in order to accrue extra benefits. 

Diplomacy is a field of growing many hidden opportunities, and to harvest them, one has to go cautiously through a minefield where self-destruction can become a possibility. The art is how to avoid self-destruction and harvest the fruits of opportunity; however, to discover them also, it requires more than a naked eye. 

Machiavelli's advice is that “a prince must emulate both the fox and the lion, because a lion cannot defy a trap, while a fox cannot defy a pack of wolves. A prince must therefore be a fox to spot the traps and a lion to overwhelm the wolves”. 

The same applies to a diplomat. He or she must be a fox or a lion at the right time. Be a fox when surrounded by traps and a lion when surrounded by hungry wolves, only then will a diplomat be able to succeed in representing, promoting, and protecting vital national interest of his/her country.  Since the dawn of the nation state – diplomatic representation has been part and parcel of the international system. 

Representation in another nation’s court, and now capital is a necessary tool that countries use to gather information and understand events and trends in other countries and how the events might impact both the individual sending state, the receiving state, as well as the international system generally. The institution of diplomatic representation provides the framework around which states can determine the positions, interests and needs of other states and balance them with their own. 

Q: What do you think are the main challenges you might face as Namibia's representative to Cuba.

A: I am going to Cuba to continue building on the solid foundation laid by my predecessor, Ambassador Hopelong Ipinge, as well as by other ambassadors before him. I am very happy that, by appointing me as my country’s Ambassador to Cuba, President Hifikepunye Pohamba is sending me back to Cuba where I previously served as a Foreign Service officer. I trust that this personal historical bond with my Cuban sisters and brothers will facilitate further the cementing of mutually beneficial relations between our two countries.Nevertheless, I do not underestimate the tasks and challenges before me.

Both Cuba and Namibia belong to a group of developing countries. The two countries are members of the United Nations, the Non Aligned Movement and other groupings. 

We share the same aspirations for the improvement of the living conditions of the peoples of our two countries. We share the same aspirations for a more equitable international community that is responsive to the needs of all humanity. 

We share the same goals for the reform of the United Nations and the need to settle international conflicts through peaceful means. Since the dawn of the triumph of the revolution, Cuba has been subjected to a unilateral economic and financial blockade. I will be lending Namibia’s full and unflinching support for the lifting of this unjust embargo. I will summon all my diplomatic skills and redouble my efforts to promote and solidify and reinforce the economic and excellent political relations that so happily exist between the two friendly and sister countries.

Q: Why do you think diplomatic relations between Namibia and Cuba are of special importance?

A: The relations between Namibia and Cuba date back to the days of our country’s liberation struggle. Both countries have a shared history written in the blood of the martyrs of their respective revolutions. Cuba stood firmly with the people of Namibia in their hour of need. The people of Cuba supported us morally, politically and militarily to defeat the inhuman system of apartheid and end the illegal occupation of our country.Many Namibians were educated in Cuba; before and after independence. Mutually beneficial co-operation in educational and other programmes between the two countries continues as we speak.

Q: How has Namibia benefited from such diplomatic relations in the past and how do you plan to improve on that.

A: I have already mentioned Cuba’s role in our liberation struggle and in the educational field. Namibia benefited in a wide range of other fields from Cuban assistance. 

These areas include health, where Cuba has seconded many health personnel to our country since independence. In the agricultural field, Cuba has provided experts to assist in the green scheme projects. They also provided experts in aquaculture, who have been invaluable in advising on inland fish farming. The list goes on!

Let me say that, while I will be exploring new avenues, I will also continue to build on the foundations put in place by my predecessors and implement existing agreements. I intend to consult widely with all stakeholders in both Namibia and Cuba. As I have said before, I would like to see increased trade and other mutually beneficial activities between the two countries that would reinforce the excellent political relations between Namibia and Cuba.

Q: In your personal view – do you think Namibia is well represented abroad? 

A: As I have already noted, diplomatic relations and representation are an essential component of both bilateral and international relations.Even though Namibia is a fairly new and small country in terms of its population, it needs to be represented in as many countries around the globe as possible in order to create a milieu where the country can advance its policy objectives and maximise benefits from international partnership and co-operation.

The peaceful resolution of international conflicts is one of the pillars of the international system. This cannot be achieved without diplomacy and diplomatic representation.  Since diplomatic missions are generally not on the cheap side, it is not easy for small states like Namibia to be adequately represented around the world to the degree that we would desire. 

Namibia certainly needs to have more diplomatic representation. We are, however, mitigating this factor by making use of concurrent representation and accreditation. Article 96 (c) of the Namibian Constitution mandates the state to create and maintain just and mutually beneficial relations among nations.  I believe that Namibia is doing what it can, given its size and resource base, to project its presence on the international scene.




September 2013
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