Address diplomats’ woes

Countries invest in diplomatic missions because they have a vital role to play. They are the vehicles through which national interests are articulated and pursued. Besides projecting the country’s image abroad, diplomats also promote trade and boost international co-operation.

Since Independence 60 years ago, Kenya has opened and maintained embassies and high commissions in countries where it has strategic interests and UN agencies to enable its full participation in the community of nations.

It is, therefore, shocking to hear that the Kenyan Embassy in Saudi Arabia is too broke and thus unable to effectively discharge its mission. Now, Saudi Arabia is not some backwater location in the middle of nowhere. It has been a major trading partner of Kenya for many years, and remains one of the key Middle East actors in international relations.

Saudi Arabia is also a major oil producer and has added significance as the heartland of Islam. Kenyan diplomats in Riyadh have been complaining about delays in paying salaries. A parliamentary committee recently found the Kenyan embassies in the Middle East understaffed and in horrible condition. These disgruntled staff cannot be expected to efficiently serve the 200,000 Kenyan immigrant workers. Also appalling is the state of the Kenyan Embassy in Kuwait, which also looks after Bahrain, Jordan and the wider Middle East.

While it is important that Kenyan diplomats overseas be well looked after to project and maintain a good image of the country, there is a need to review the policies and establishments. Perhaps some embassies should be collapsed into one that can be properly funded and able to adequately discharge the duties.

We should relook at the operations of the embassies and see what has changed since the 1960s, and make some readjustments. While governments often reward political functionaries with diplomatic appointments, they should be blended with well-trained career diplomats to enhance their roles in international relations.