“Try frightening babies with painted devils, we are past such childish fancy,” states a character in renowned playwright William Shakespeare’s book, The Merchant of Venice.
This was the mystic message transmitted to Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi by the diplomats at the recent post-Namibian summit briefing.
All too often, frustrated and desperate politicians resort to sabre-rattling, college-bully antics and all manner of scurrilous demagoguery to try and brow-beat and cow diplomats into toeing their line.
Everyone knows that cooperation is better achieved without resort to that kind of hullabaloo.
Besides, ambassadors and high commissioners are untouchable and just don’t yield to boogeyman-scare tactics.
One can shout oneself hoarse, yell, mock, dance on the ceiling and be as abusive as one likes, diplomats simply do not budge or yield to rogue balooney.
They are inherently hard-nosed, gilt-edged experts and professionals in international relations and the requisite host-country decorum.
Sure enough, a barrage of disrespectful diatribe may earn one some cheap laughs and ovations, from charlatans, simpletons and hired cheerleaders, and even get the endorsement of some local powers-that-be, but that simply cuts no ice with diplomatic discipline — and Mumbengegwi, of all people, knows that.
No diplomat is impressed by foggy witticisms. It’s simply not the language of the diplomatic calling.
Mumbengegwi lectured and talked down, condescendingly, to the diplomats on Zimbabwe’s self-sufficiency, the diplomats’ activities vis-a-vis NGOs and sanctions, among other things, under the guise of reporting back on progress or lack thereof, of the recent Sadc summit held in Namibia.
The minister was downright arrogant, pompous and disrespectful, as he thundered.
But, from the body language of his audience, he simply did not impress anyone.
This is not to say that the minister may not have had a point or two, he probably had, but he chose to clothe it in shoddy and abrasive gobbledygook and, whatever detail that he may wanted to communicate got lost in his anger and arrogant bray.
It is said that when anger enters the scene, reason rides out.
The minister lost the plot. He forgot that what is cardinally fundamental is that the purpose of any conversation is to connect and dialogue More so, in the diplomatic purview.
Thunder may impress, but it’s lightning that does the job.
Diplomats are VIPs and the local representatives of their respective countries, therefore, one would do well to hold them in befitting esteem and treat them with respect, if one expects to connect and receive reciprocal respect and cooperation.
Modesty and discretion are the cornerstones and most important ingredients of statesmanship and communication between civilised men. Just a little bit of civility will get one further down the road each day, and before one knows it . . . Eureka!
We have often seen heads of state or government ministers waste national resources gallivanting all over the world simply to go and harangue and make absolute monkeys of themselves at international summits.
Not so far back, we had diplomats walk out on the President, in disgust and protest, at the Heroes’ Acre as the tone of the speech went outside acceptable levels of civility and decency.
Sure enough, there is a place for demagoguery, but that place is certainly not in situations that have to do with diplomats.
In all his trials and tribulations, Herbert Chitepo always maintained a cool and steady demeanour, I hear, even in trying times.
He devastated audiences with well-reasoned-out and cogently articulated arguments, never resorting to abusive invective.
Here was a sophisticated aristocrat with an eclectic, well-rounded-up professional flair for mixing at all levels, a sense of place and a disarming aplomb only associated with eminent Queen’s Counsels.
He was a master at self-restraint and measured language and never tumbled on a faux pas.
Chitepo had confidence, depth, detail and admirable dignity, garnished with rich, non-pretentious and fluent oratory.
One wonders what it would have been like, had fate been kinder and he had lived to see a free Zimbabwe? Perhaps, we wouldn’t have been in this rut!
What is the point in getting opportunities to dialogue and discuss national issues and then squander such opportunities in court jesting and jingoistic self- aggrandisement?
What kind of audience would be impressed by such a display of puerile behaviour, arrogance and abusiveness?
What real value or substance is there in vitriol?
In his single term in office, not once did Nelson Mandela ever lose himself in vitriolic indulgence. He did not have time for such shameless vanities.
He was busy pioneering a country and setting the standards by which others are now being judged, in terms of those enduring values – justice, humanity, humility, decency and dedication to serve.
He lit the torch that shall, forever, shine the path that will lead Africa and the world out of the quagmires of our epoch. Mandela is, indeed, the personification of humanity.
The only viable option in international relations is constructive diplomatic engagement — and bluster, foolish bravado and grandstanding buffoonery detract from that and serve no useful purpose except to prolong a crisis while creating more time and opportunities for those adept at benefiting from impasses, by plundering, pillaging and looting a country’s resources.
The Lancaster House Conference that brought independence was a diplomatic initiative.
Codesa, which untangled the most complex enigma and delivered South African independence, was a diplomatic initiative.
The very inclusive government arrangement from which some arrogant pundits are now deriving comfort, is also a result of diplomatic initiatives. So, why the arrogance?
I remember at the signing of the inclusive government agreement at Rainbow Towers hotel, President Robert Mugabe, who had been the beneficiary of President Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy”, entreating Botswana’s President Ian Khama not to criticise him in public but to be diplomatic.
Why then should what’s sauce for the goose not be sauce for the gander?
Politicians must get serious and realise that their arrogance prolongs the pain and suffering of the ordinary people they purport to serve and even costs lives at times.
At this point I recall and quote a great philosophy.
“Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated and drunkenness sobered, but stupidity lasts forever.”
We have an impressively educated array of leaders although some of the results of their work doesn’t always do justice to that education.
Methinks some of them are wont to indulge in “wilful ignorance”. Diplomacy is the only game in town . . . Believe me.