Cockcrow diplomacy, 800 projects in 46 countries and ‘Truly Asia’ plans to link up with JKIA are all factors in three very special relationships which JANE MWANGI discovered in a three-way interview
What do Dr Chijioke Wilcox Wigwe, the Nigerian High Commissioner, Mr Julio Cesar Gonzales Marhcante, the Cubans Ambassador, and MrZainolRahimZainuddin, the Malaysian High Commissioner have in common besides being their iconic nations’ envoys in Kenya?
Well, for starters, they hold fairly passionate views on their agenda for Africa.Speaking to Diplomat East Africa in their chancelleries in Nairobi, all three envoys articulated their home countries’ policies on a wide range of issues of both national and international interest.
Dr Wigwe’sstrongly-held views strike one as a testament of the power of his passion and focus. He cherishes his profession and practices it with zeal and sagacity, masterfully juggling the numerous tasks entrusted to him.
MrMarhcante is a man whose position has given him solid ground to stand on and pride in his place in the world. His face never knows a dull instant; a lively personality dwells in that countenance.MrZainuddin is an astute individual with a diplomat’s air of grace under pressure.
All three offered a glimpse into their service and their respective governments’ agenda for Kenya and the region.
Diplomat East Africa: Looking at foreign policy orientation, what nations has your government given priority to and why?
Nigeria: Africa lies at the heart of Nigeria’s foreign policy. This is evident from our physical presence in 39 countries on the continent. Being located in West Africa, which is home to 16 countries, it makes sense for us to give priority to closer ties with the countries of the region, hence the formation of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975. However, the overall goal of Nigeria’s foreign policy is integration of the African continent.
Cuba: Cuba’s foreign policy is a turf of solidarity and international collaborations, more so with the sister nations of the Third World.
Notably, during the past three decades, Cuba offered direct support to the national liberation movements of Guinea Bissau, Algeria and Cape Verde; defended the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and Angola and granted a decisive contribution to Namibia’s independence and elimination of South Africa’s apartheid regime.
During this period, 380,000 Cubans fought alongside their African brothers and sisters. From 1961 until 2009, Africa has benefited from 104,360 Cuban workers in 46 countries with over 800 projects in implementation and eight major areas of co-operation — notably health, sports, technology transfer and scholarship programmes, among others. The literacy programme exists in nine African countries; furthermore 31,486 young people have graduated from Cuban educational institutions from 45 Sub-Saharan African countries.
Malaysia: It’s better late than never and, so far, there have been lots of agreements signed and MoUs and we feel there should be more direct contacts to have Malaysia and East Africa more closely connected.
Your respective countries’ economies flourish — what is the secret behind this and what advice can you give developing nations in Africa?
Nigeria: Oil will remain the major stimulus for economic growth for the foreseeable future, although a combination of non-oil variables has made significant inputs. The newest and perhaps most significant driver of our economic growth since the nineties is natural gas.
In 2008 alone, the total value of foreign direct investment was $20 billion, most of it in oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing.
Another blossoming sector is the banking industry, which has seen the emergence of mega banks that have become major players in the global financial market. The relocation of the capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991 triggered a mammoth development in the construction sector, which is still ongoing.
Nigeria’s economy is also propelled by an ever-expanding telecommunications sector, a revitalised agricultural and agro-allied industry; an active transportation and aviation sector and a burgeoning solid minerals sector.
Cuba: On the 52nd anniversary of its revolution, Cuba seeks to commemorate this period with the contentment of having transversed national limits to place itself on the top list of nations from the Third World. In these 52 years we have many things to be proud of. We have managed to have free and universal education with equal access for all at all levels, as well as free access to quality medical services with a life expectancy of 77 years, up from 59 years. Full employment is now a reality, at the end of 2009 the unemployment rate stood at 2 per cent. We have succeeded in building a system that guarantees the enjoyment of all human rights for all people.
Malaysia: The shift from an agricultural based economy to that of manufacturing and industry was a gamble that proved to be profitable. It was not easy having that mind shift simply because we were already in a comfort zone, thus change was very difficult. Our country’s strong leadership and support from the Malaysian people as a whole helped to grow the process.
Your government’s agenda for Kenya, what investment opportunities are in the pipeline?
Nigeria: My responsibility is to promote economic and trade relations between our two countries by making Nigerian investors aware of the opportunities that exist in Kenya with a view to attracting direct investment to Kenya while pursuing the same objectives with respect to investments from Kenya to Nigeria.
The past two years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of Nigerian investors entering the Kenyan economy. The big players to venturing into the market include Silverbird Productions and United Bank for Africa. There are also insurance and ICT companies here.
I have extended invitations to two conglomerates from Nigeria, namely the Dangote Group and Chicason Group, to look into the market here.
Cuba: In January 2009, during the 4th Session of the Joint Economic Commission, held in Havana, it was decided measures would be taken to concentrate action in the field of bilateral cooperation so that Cuba and Kenya can continue enjoying friendly relations.
The areas on top of the agenda are the fight to eradicate malaria and the local production of drugs. Cuba wants to complement the efforts that the Kenyan Government is already undertaking. We aim to start the programme in the second half of 2010.
In addition is adult education and illiteracy eradication using various teaching methods, including audio-visual equipment. This programme is currently underway in Tanzania, where our Cuban consultants are already on the ground working with the people.
This year, three Kenyans will be graduating from our school of medicine; we granted 15 scholarships to Kenyan students, seven being in the field of medicine. Co-operation is also ripe in the fields of sports and agriculture.
We plan to set up an anti-doping lab, currently there are only three such labs in Africa. We are also working on a proposal to apply sports-medicine as well as bringing Cuban coaches to train in areas such as basketball, volleyball and weight-lifting.
We are also looking to create a school of sports with an aim of identifying and nurturing sporting talent from an early age.
Malaysia: Plans are underway to have direct flights from Nairobi to Malaysia, hence serving the entire region because Nairobi is the hub for East Africa as Malaysia is for South-East Asia. There is a need to expose Kenya and its potential.
Am passionate about three areas of interest that am undertaking in bringing our countries closer together; trade, education and tourism. Liaising with my trade commissioner, we are organising around 30 Kenyan businesspeople to go to Malaysia, linking them with persons from similar professions, hence enabling them to share and learn from each other.
Why do you fail to criticise the actions of the Kenyan Government unlike the case with your counterparts from America and Europe?
Nigeria: Diplomatic relations and conduct among states are guided by a set of rules and regulations encapsulated in the 1963 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations.
Article 41 goes on to define how a diplomat should conduct himself or herself within the territories of the receiving state. It states that it is the duty of all persons enjoying diplomatic privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state.
They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that state. We do not play to the gallery of the Kenyan media or the general public, which is often hungry for sensational headlines. We do not engage in cockcrow diplomacy.
We do not call press conferences in our residences in order to offer advice to the Government of Kenya on how to implement reforms or how to proceed to have a new Constitution in place before the next General Election.
Malaysia: We don’t interfere with the domestic affairs of a country because we realise everyone has a set way of doing things.
We respect the leadership and democratic process; if any advice is sought from us we will freely give it
H.E ZAINOL RAHIM ZAINUDDIN of Malysia is a 50-year-old father of two. He has served in the Administrative and Diplomatic Service of Malaysia as Assistant Secretary (North Africa and OIC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1989-1993. In 1993-1996 he served as Second Secretary, Embassy of Malaysia, Moscow, Russian Federation, before becoming First Secretary, Embassy of Malaysia, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, until 1999. In 1999-2001, he was Assistant Secretary (Policy Planning), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before becoming Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations, Geneva. In 2004- 2006, he was appointed Deputy High Commissioner, High Commission of Malaysia, New Delhi, India. From 2006-2009 he served as Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations, New York. In 2009 he was appointed Malaysian High Commissioner to the Republic of Kenya and Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN-Habitat.
The Nigerian High Commissioner,
H.E DR. CHIJIOKE WILCOX WIGWE, of Nigeria 59, A FATHER OF SEVEN, also serves as Nigeria’s non-resident High Commissioner to the Seychelles. He is also the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UNEP and UN-Habitat, and also oversees Nigeria’s relations with the Republic of Somalia. He has served as the Director of the Asia and Pacific Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, from July to October 2007. Prior to that, he spent four years as head of the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs (Third Committee) at the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations, New York, from July 2003 to July 2007. Between 2002 and 2003 he was the Director in the Office of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He also served in various capacities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Nigerian missions abroad, including Tokyo and Warsaw. He has a number of scholarly publications to his name, including a book titledLanguage, Culture and Society in West Africa. He is a lifetime/platinum member of the Cambridge Who’s Who Registry of Executives and Professionals. He was recognized by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) with the conferment of the title of Ambassador for Peace, a title best demonstrated when he negotiated and secured without payment of ransom the release of the crew of the Nigerian vessel theMV Yenegoa Ocean, captured for 10 months by Somali pirates in June 2009.
HE JULIO CESAR GONZALEZ is holder of BA in International Relations from the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. He served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1984 as has held different positions in the division of protocol and, America and Africa affairs.
He has also served as deputy director of the multilateral division and advisor to the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister. He represented his country as an envoy to Colombia and Austria before taking his current position as ambassador to Kenya, Madagascar and the UNEP and UN – Habitat.
He has attended numerous international events among them several UN General Assemblies, Economic and Social Councils, human rights commissions, commission on sustainable development, UNCTAD meetings and a series of UNEP and UN – Habitat events.Gonzales is an official of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He is married with three children and speaks both French and English
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