Trim the “fat” but that’s not our principal foreign policy strategic challenge

by Mukoni Ratshitanga It is commonly held that foreign policy is an extension of a country’s domestic policy. Small wonder then that it is hotly contested as domestic policy. States endeavour to protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity, promote their economic well-being and national image, among others. Foreign policy is therefore nothing but the name we give for a country’s domestic political, economic and, in the widest sense, ideological image of itself. It is this broad context within which foreign policy specifics are fashioned that Mzukisi Qobo misses in his article: “SA should trim excess fat from many embassies,” (Business Day, September 21 – ). He argues that South Africa should close down diplomatic missions from whence there is no “demonstrable increase in investments, growth in export markets and an upturn in employment.” Economic diplomacy is and should be one of our strategic tasks. This has in fact exercised strategic levels of government in the last couple of years. It was noted that since 1994, South Africa has done well in political diplomacy but not as well in economic diplomacy. One of the least known facts is that thanks to our success, we are host to the second largest number of diplomatic missions in the world after Washington. Acknowledgment of our success and failures, relative and absolute, did not imply, as it could not, perceiving foreign policy in cost accounting optics. Rightly or wrongly, it took it for granted that government is morally, politically and legally obliged to be prudent in its uses of public resources, including the all-round productivity of foreign missions assessed as part of on-going review of everything it does. Admittedly, it is not prudent to assert that there will not be much “demonstrable increase in investments, growth in export markets and an upturn in employment as an outcome of our diplomatic relations” with many of our SADC neighbours and much of the continent for a long time to come.A cursory glance at the underlying logic of the Southern African Customs Union’s (SACU) equal share of customs revenue among SADC member states suggests that though unstated, South Africa is in fact a provider of development aid to the region. Were each one of our countries in the region to receive their due, South Africa would doubtlessly benefit the most. But the model is not without good reasons. Our development efforts would be unsustainable if the rest of the region (and continent) remains underdeveloped. This is why South Africa’s contribution to the development of the region and continent has continued to be and must remain part of our foreign policy objectives. Besides self-interest, there is, after all, a principle of “solidarity” in the system of international relations, according to which you lend a helping hand to your neighbours and others further afield. Consistent with another and antithetical paradigm, Qobo is doing something more than advice government to “trim the fat” and close down missions from whence there is no “demonstrable increase in investments….” This is the corporatization and “rightsizing” paradigm of the state, a cost accounting purview which perceives government and governance exclusively in terms of financial loss and benefit. This view does not appreciate the social and political side of foreign policy which does not easily lend itself to the precision of an accountant. At times to its own and largely to society’s detriment, it defines the “national interest” in extremely narrow terms and often ends up being all things to everyone. Soon, the protagonists of this school of thought will demand the closure of South Africa’s mission to the United Nations in New York because it has no “demonstrable increase in investments, growth in export markets and an upturn in employment as an outcome of our diplomatic relations,” or so it assumes. The strategic foreign policy challenge is not, as Qobo and others would like to have us believe, the R10bn or so we spend annually on our missions or that 60% of missions are headed by politicians or people who are not career diplomats, a non issue if historical and contemporary domestic and global lessons mean anything. Relative to the totality of what it earns the country, the money spent on our diplomatic missions must also be assessed in terms of government spending as a whole. We have, for example, rightly or wrongly increased the political wage bill by more than R1bn a year after the 2009 general elections with the increase in cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and departments. The larger issue with respect to our foreign policy is its strategic political orientation! Mukoni Ratshitanga, September 25, 2012.

The Legacies of Sebhat Gebre-egziabher

Sebhat Gebere-egziabher is one of the literary figures in the history of Ethiopian literature who introduced a hitherto not-so-openly dealt with theme. He is also one of the literary writers who pursued their studies at some level in the West and got back to Ethiopia. The pieces he had written were only published as books before few years for he was just keeping a diary and never thought that they would assume the form of a book. Undeniably his works have grabbed the attention of his readership and fans.

Among other things, Sebhat is widely criticized for not writing as many books as he read. He is said to occupy the foremost position when compared to other literary writers who were known to have read a lot of books on an assortment of subjects. Simply, he was one hell of a bookworm. It makes one wonder, though, if Sebhat felt the responsibility to write in order to hand down the knowledge he garnered from books to the younger generations. Even the publication of the books that bear his name today was made possible by the pressure from others. All of his works mainly highlight sexual hedonism. This appears to be a deviation from the Ethiopian literature per se. However it doesn’t mean that sexual scenes and accounts are not found in other works authored by Ethiopian writers other than him-only not in such a straightforward fashion as in Sebhat’s narratives.

Apart from his works, his world outlook and modus vivendi has seized the attention of his fans and followers in particular and the Ethiopian public in general. Today sebhat has more fans, followers, and critics than any other literary writer in the country. Have you ever wondered how he came to be an individual of such a persona at the moment and has become the persona grata that he is at the present?

In his biography written by Zenebe Wela, Sebhat said, “I got hold of liquor, and counted it without savoring it.” Apparently Sebhat’s life had detoured when he broke up with his first wife, Hanna. Prior to this mishap, he had been a total teetotal, non-smoker, non-Khat chewer dandy. A chap you would, by Ethiopian standards of the day, refer to as a ‘demure journalist’. The termination of his wedlock with Hanna put him on an absolute u-turn. He was perplexed, so to speak, lost grip on life, and embarked on a way of life contrary to the one he had previously pursued. He didn’t see this coming at all and thus couldn’t figure the state of affairs that befell him. Eventually Sebhat became less of a journalist and more of a philosopher. For he was no more required to tally with standards set by Hanna, he adopted the principle of being ‘oneself’ in life.

The majority of his followers and fans don’t seem to be aware of this turning point in his life. Had he not lost his beloved Hanna, he would not have had the personality he has today. In any event, Sebhat didn’t join this path out of his own volition but he was compelled by circumstances he happened to stumble upon in his journey of life.

Do the yoof have to follow his example then? Should we take him as a model? It is pretty questionable. He has made clear on several occasions that he hasn’t ever done anything with the intension of setting an example of any sort whatsoever for the young generations.

Maybe compared to his own friend and colleague, Bealu Girma, who departed this life at a rather early age, Sebhat has not produced as much in more than half a century in the sphere of literature. He knows his literary pieces are not that historically, politically or even epistemologically enlightening and has kept on warning the younger generations not to follow his example. All the same, there is no denying that fact that he has had a great influence on his admirers. “I have never asked anyone to follow me but if anyone wants to, it is absolutely their right,” says Sebhat. “If anyone out there thinks the youth have done wrong and are going astray by following my example, why don’t they do better things and win the youth over to their side?” It makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet anyone as popular as him cannot avoid being looked up to in one way or another.

The reality, however, is that Sebhat’s works are full of sex scenes and accounts and whenever his name is mentioned anywhere, I am sure, sex pops up in minds of whoever happen to around. People have soft spot for sex and sex sells. Apart from that most people argue that his works don’t have much to offer than being mere erotica.
By Gubae Gundarta