November 23, 2002
Frequent official visits to frontier states; signing agreements for foreign assistance and investment; international conferences and conventions; meetings of joint commissions, and the ongoing debate about the challenges of globalisation are all evidence of the importance of diplomacy to Guyana's existence.
Without the active and effective functioning of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Economic Co-operation and Finance and, of course, Guyana's missions abroad, much of the international assistance that Guyana attracts would probably cease. There should be little doubt, too, that its sovereignty and security would be in jeopardy.
Insofar as diplomacy could be regarded as "the formulation of a strategy aiming at achieving national interests in the international field, and carrying out this strategy by diplomats," the benefits of diplomacy to the State are inestimable. The Foreign Ministry, which trains and deploys the advance guard of diplomats, has never been an ornamental arm of the State. Its officers are not preoccupied with schmoozing at cocktail parties and living lives of luxury in exotic places.
Guyana's diplomats are more likely to be trying to promote the country as a safe place for investment, trade and tourism; protecting the rights of its citizens; building alliances to safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity, and representing Guyana's interests in international organisations and institutions.
This is not a cheap or easy task. Despite some mistakes arising out of inexperience and innocence in the early years after Independence, Guyana was able to establish a formidable diplomatic presence in the international community. It recruited an excellent cadre of intellectuals into the Foreign Ministry and deployed a corps of capable diplomats of international stature.
They played a pre-eminent role in the founding of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA), Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) groups of states, evident in the fact the CARICOM Secretariat was located in Georgetown and it was here too, in August 1972, that definitive discussions were held among Foreign Ministers for the establishment of what was to become the ACP group. They were also important actors in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, holding seats on leading committees and being elected twice to the UN Security Council.
These diplomatic achievements not only enhanced this country's prestige but also fostered a favourable impression which brought economic and security benefits. For example, Venezuela's aggression was blunted by international sympathy and support which Guyana's diplomats mobilised from Asian, African, European, and Latin American states and the former socialist bloc.
International prestige, though, is not a permanent condition and must be maintained continuously by the untiring representation of its diplomats. It is of paramount importance, therefore, for diplomats to be citizens who have lived and worked in Guyana and who have an excellent understanding of this country's needs and the aspirations of its people. Occasionally, say every three to five years, they should return to work for a few more years in other departments of the Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of Foreign Trade and International Economic Co-operation to keep abreast of shifting moods, opinions and desires and gain first-hand knowledge of the social, economic, environmental, political, commercial, security and other challenges facing the State they represent.
All these suggest the need for a corps of professional diplomats who have mastered the art and science of international relations and, year in and year out, give this country the best representation abroad. The fact that some of Guyana's most senior diplomats were without diplomatic training at the time of their appointment should no longer be a source of concern. Indeed, over the last decade, they have built on the foundations of a sound international reputation and continued to attract economic and other forms of assistance.
What is worrying, however, is that some of them have been in the same posts for about nine years and it is unclear how much longer they will remain there. It is possible that they may be losing touch with current developments at 'home' and may have become too familiar with the 'host' capitals in which they work and live. In short, they may have ceased to be fully effective as agents of the former in the latter. For good reason, most States set limits on the length of time diplomats may remain at their posts.
The risk of recalling diplomats with their families to work and live at 'home' is that they would not want to return to a country which they hardly know. That may be so. But it may be better to run that risk, even if it means having to replace them, than to take the easy, safe and cheap course of having them remain in the same place for too long.
That may be a false economy which will cost the country dear in the longer term.