Reflections on the recently held Foreign Policy Review Conference of the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation
The purpose of this article is to reflect on the recently concluded Foreign Policy Review Conference, which was held from 25 to 29 July 2016. I will attempt to answer the question whether the conference was of strategic policy value and by implication, whether it was value for money. In objectively interrogating this question, one has to take into account the main objective of the conference.
According to the information which was provided to the invitees, the purpose was to review the 2004 White Paper on Namibia’s Foreign Policy and Diplomacy Management with the view to formulate a new foreign policy. I argue considering the years that the White Paper has been in force that the conference was of strategic necessity.
The fluid and dynamic nature of the international relations arena demand periodic reviews of foreign policies and development of flexible international relations policies. The aim is to respond to emerging challenges and to take advantage of opportunities. The 2004 White Paper, for example, did not speak to Agenda 2063: “The Africa We Want” and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as they were conceptualised after the adoption of the White Paper. The two are major frameworks likely to influence international relations programmes and activities for years to come. Against this backdrop, the conference was strategic.
Regarding the conference content, I was impressed with the themes/topics and the selection of presenters. The speakers, including His Excellency the President and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation presented well-researched and high-level interventions. The salient points that the Deputy Prime Minister has articulated in her presentation on: “Namibia’s image” were impressive and solid. They were anchored in the constitutional principles and values of what Namibia ought to do and to be. Her coherent presentation, simplification of international relations concepts and how ordinary citizens are diplomats in their own rights were logically explained.
The conference was also significant, as many presenters evidently debunked the realists’ theory of international relations of a tough arena only fit for diplomats in a “disorderly real world” where only the strong survive. The presenters meticulously brought the message home throughout the conference that international relations is an extension of domestic policy. It suggests that the quality of diplomatic representation is dependent on solid and well-articulated national policies that are conceptually clear, have clearly stated objectives and have defined outcomes and impacts. If national systems and processes are dysfunctional and are characterised by patronage in recruitment processes, this mediocracy will be exhibited in the international arena.
The conference was also significant in the conduct of the staff members of the ministry. The staff members allowed free flow of views and ideas even in instances where some presenters were critical with the way in which Namibia transacts government business. It was encouraging to sit in a conference where a government ministry opens itself up for constructive public scrutiny without being defensive. Openness, transparency and appreciation of diverse views are characteristics of maturing institutions and systems. The bigger picture of making Namibia an influential and respectful global player seems to have overridden personal and institutional interests.
The management of the next policy processes would be as critical as the conference deliberations. Some of the messages emanating from the conference include the call that small in population size should not be a hindrance in Namibia becoming an influential and respectful global player. Namibia should seize the opportunity to become a moral and ethical leader in international affairs.
As a small country population wise, we cannot afford to continue functioning disjointedly both nationally and in international engagements. Namibia should therefore, strategically define impact-based national development programmes and activities that our diplomats should pursue internationally.
It includes clearly defining or redefining Namibia’s national interests taking into account the constitutional principles and values.
Such definition should not be the exclusive domain of the legislature, executive or judiciary, but should be arrived at through a consultative and inclusive process. We need to ask difficult questions whether the principles of inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable rights of all the members of the human family, democracy, the rule of law and justice for all upon which the Namibian State is founded are still the principles and values that guide the Namibian State and Namibians today both in theory and practice.
The Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation should also design targeted education programmes. The objective is to educate the citizenry about the work and operations of the ministry and how it relates to the ordinary people. The ministry, like other ministries, should embrace the culture of excellence, meritocracy and the ideal to consciously develop a moral and ethical organisation.
With regards to professionalism, Namibia should value, manage and leverage knowledge.
This is critical in knowledge societies, including in international engagements. As a small country, we should strategically utilise all the expertise at our disposal.
The country must guard against the culture of recycling staff members. The recent secondment to NIPAM is just one of the examples.
The NIPAM Board and Government will find it very difficult, if not impossible to defend the action on moral and ethical grounds. The recycling culture in most instances is retrogressive, as it demoralises competent individuals and stagnates institutions.
Dr. Marius Kudumo is the Director of International Relations at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. He holds a Master of Policy Studies degrees specializing in International Relations from the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies in Zimbabwe.