• Frank interview by Lesotho diplomat opens the lid on struggles to maintain embassies
Lesotho's Consul General to Johannesburg, Majoro Mohapi, (by the way, Lesotho has a fully fledged High Commission in Pretoria) told a South African news agency this week that he saw no need for the kingdom to maintain its presence in South Africa because, with no resources, it serves no purpose.
The diplomat said his office was failing to pay for expenses and he had to illegally reconnect his electricity when it was disconnected for non-payment.
The consul general said his colleagues have been forced to buy duty-free goods in SA to sell back in their home country just to cover expenses.
I bet some of you are laughing while others are cringing in embarrassment for Lesotho, but actually, I am thinking Mohapi is the first truly honest African envoy there has ever been.
For years, many African countries have insisted on opening huge, fully staffed embassies and high commissions in countries around the world and struggled to keep up appearances, when in actual fact they would have been much better off spending that already scarce foreign currency on more pressing matters at home.
This case got me thinking about how much money the countries of the EAC, for instance, spend on embassies in each other's country and whether it is at all necessary.
At one point in history, embassies were locations in foreign countries where diplomats were based to offer assistance to people from, or seeking to communicate with, their home countries. With the advanced state of communications in today's world, this sort of thing is not as necessary as it once was.
Would it not be more cost-effective to close them down and agree that East African nationals have free movement in the region and if, for instance, Kenya needs something from Uganda, the government departments concerned can get on the phone or have a Skype meeting and sort it out?
Imagine if SADC, Ecowas, and so on followed suit, then all that would be needed would be a SADC diplomatic mission in Arusha and an EAC mission in Gabarone, and so on.
This could actually work if we as Africans got our act together. We are already talking about the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which removes tariffs and other restrictions on substantially all goods traded between each other.
In East Africa, we have our regional passport and are talking about a common currency. The other regional groupings are at various stages of establishing these connections and so really it is not unfeasible.
We could then dedicate ourselves to educating and equipping African diplomats to deal with issues such as trade deals with important non-African partners who often if not always get the better of us, such as the Europeans, the Chinese, the Americans and so on.
These crack diplomats could go out and literally score deals for Africa and be worth the monies invested in them.
I'll never forget an old friend who suggested that instead of our diplomatic corps living in expensive exclusive residential areas and a fleet of cars to impress nobody, it would make more sense for them to live in low-rent areas and use public transport.