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Monday, 11 October 2010

Diplomatic waste

Two bizarre recent stories on Zambia's diplomatic quest :

First there was a strange announcement that we have a new ambassador to Armenia (residence in Moscow) - one Mr Patrick Sinyinza (pictured on right enjoying a chat with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan). According to the Armenian presidency, they apparently discussed "the importance of studying the potential of cooperation in different areas of economy and opportunities to develop these opportunities". In other words - nothing! Can someone please tell me why a cash strapped economy like Zambia needs an ambassador to Armenia? Why can't this post be a saving we make to deliver more ARVs or income support?

Then we heard that Foreign Affairs Minister Pande has signed a Joint communiqué with Paraguay to formally establish diplomatic relations. Mr Pande allegedly believes that the Zambian people "attached great importance to relations with Paraguay...and applaud the support the two countries have continued to give each other at the international fora such as the UN". This again is just waste of money and simply creating posts for party cadres. The government needs a more professional foreign service and diplomatic services more aligned with a realistic vision of tangible development. These missions seem extremely arbitrary.

We should be moving to fewer diplomatic relations, rather than pursuing costly adventures which ultimately leads to more corrupt and inefficient arrangements. We have previously touched on this here, here and here.


  1. Just a word of caution - do not fall into the trap of becoming like the many other fora where people air their comments without backing up what they say. I suggest that issues discussed on this site, The Economist be analytical and evidence-backed. What I read by face value in the mainstream media, I expect better from an economist - figures of how much is involved in creating those diplomatic missions against opportunities and investments included would be ideal. I enjoy the book review section and especially liked the review of Wangari Maathai's book The Challenge for Africa.

  2. Since the ambassador is based in Moscow, it seems a low cost way to establish diplomatic relations and discuss investment possibilities with the many countries that border Russia. Even large countries use this approach for cost reasons - for example the U.S has no embassy in Tonga, but uses the one in nearby Fiji for diplomatic relations.

  3. Adding to the above - In other words, with diplomatic relations, there is no need for a permanent physical presence in a country, just a legal relationship. The few costs would be those such as travel expense to discuss issues such as investment possibilities.

  4. And adding more to the above - One small country by itself does not have much economic impact, but if you aggregate many small countries, they could amount to a sizable economic bloc.

  5. I find your quick rush to judgement irrational and inadequate. As the article states, the Ambassador is resident in Russia and merely accredited to Armenia. This is a common diplomatic cost saving practice where resident diplomats cover several regional countries. Also, establish deplomatic relations with Paraguay does'nt necesarily mean opening a physical mission. This could just imply more bi-lateral interaction. Your website/platform is informative but I think your stance and agenda is too negative and critical of any developments in Zambia. Try to look at issues with an object lens rather than pre-conceived negativity.

  6. Kafue,

    "it seems a low cost way to establish diplomatic relations

    I think you meant lower not "low". Your are argument is predicated on a comparison to a budgetary counterfactual of full blown embassies. Which by the way may well be the realistic counterfactual with this government.

    My argument is based on comparing to the "ideal counterfactual". I hold that the post imposes a huge opportunity costs because money can be spent on our poorest people. You only appear to see money being spent on full embassies.

    I hope this clarifies our respective positions.

  7. Zambian Economist,

    There is no "post" as I understand it. In other words, the diplomatic relations are handled through the Moscow embassy without additional staff being hired.

    Regarding opportunity costs which I doubt will be "huge" as you put it, if diplomatic relations and related work attract some trade and investment to Zambia from these small countries, it may well be worth these costs. It remains to be seen.

  8. Kafue,

    This is a new job. You are confusing fixed and variable costs.
    You are right he does not need a building but he has a secretary and if he was not doing this job he would be in Zambia.

    I am saddened you think a large house in Moscow, kids education paid by GRZ and a $40k per year is little money. You know full well how many people that can support on $2 a day.

    You are right about benefits. But I have told you the benefits are zero. I am not against embassies. If you should know my father was a diplomatic that's how I got educated in Europe. I just think there's no good business case here for this post.

  9. Zambian Economist,

    Russia is a major country, hence I think it is okay to have an ambassador there. Also are there not Zambian students studying there that may need assistance? And Russia is a major producer of low cost military equipment. Some of the reasons of why representation there is useful.

  10. Kafue,

    A bit puzzled by your response.

    Armenia is a sovereign state. It's not part of Russia.
    The new Ambassador just prefers Moscow and GRZ does not have money to have full office in Yerevan.

  11. Zambian Economist,

    I assumed you were saying that an ambassador in Moscow is not necessary. However re-reading your previous post, maybe you are indicating that there is a new post of secretary to be based in Moscow? Of course Armenia is a sovereign state, I understand that.

  12. Kafue,

    What I was telling you is that Zambia now has an ambassador to Armenia who lives in Moscow instead of Yerevan.

    The Ambassador to Russia is a different person. He also lives in Moscow. There's nothing wrong with having an ambassador to Russia.

    My problem is the envoy to Armenia who represents a gross waste of tax payer funds.

    Kafue, you may be financially comfortable but for our most vulnerable every kwacha counts. We must be ruthless in our assessment of what represents value for money. A sound business case is needed for everything. The problem with this govt is that it does make decisions based on proper evidence. I have no concern for it's politics. I am merely interested on whether the costs can be justified relative to a credible counterfactual.

    One commentar asks me for numbers. I produce many when I have time. But I wonder, when was the last he asked govt to produce a meaningful consultation on it's foreign policy? I just find many to be misdirected in their critique. Our task is to hold govt to account. If we don't, then who will?

  13. Zambian Economist,

    From my research, Patrick Sinyinza is the ambassador to both Russia and Armenia:

    As a sidenote, the previous ambassador Peter Chintala also had concurrent accreditation as ambassador to a number of other nearby countries:

  14. Kafue,

    You are right!

    I stand corrected. In which case this seems like a perfectly sensible arrangement .

    Those are the kind of models we need. Multiple shared arrangements.

    Thanks for digging that out.

  15. Zambian Economist
    Mr.Patrick Sinyiza is Zambia's Ambassador to Russia and CIS(Former Soviet Union states now Commonwealth of Independent States of which Armenia is part).Infact he is one of the most pampered Ambassadors and you were suppose to do some research before ridicule him like this

  16. Well, Armenia really has no excess money to invest in Zambia. Where do we even have overlapping interests besides a deep seated sense that we are both Christian nations? Armenia is not a significant mineral exporter (and those would be Russian controlled) and we grow different crops. So cooperation will be minimal. The costs in terms of annoying Turkey(they do not get on well with Armenia, I am referring to the small matter of Genocide) may be greater than the benefits of being cosy with a minor nation dominated by its far more powerful neighbours. Turkey has a bigger economy, more surplus cash, more experience in areas we may want help with.

    As for Paraguay: we at least grow soya too and the climate is somewhat similar. But Brazil can fulfill the same role and bring bigger benefits (once more, Paraguay is dominated by its vastly more powerful neighbours and is thus irrelevant politically).

    I will just point out that in order to establish these relations undoubtedly required foreign trips, airfares, conferences, workshops and consultations. All of these cost money, generally money that the Economist rightly points out could go towards ARV's. Fighting AIDS is much higher priority than the dubious benefits of relations with minor nations who are cash strapped themselves. This is not to demean either Paraguay or Armenia, I hope to visit both at some point as they are culturally and historically fascinating but those things will not create Zambian jobs and investment.


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