President Hakainde Hichilema just returned from his one-day state visit to Malawi. Prior to this, he had just returned from DR Congo. He had been to Botswana, South Africa, United Kingdom and earlier United States of America. He has emphasized the point that he is the country’s Chief Marketing Officer and that the country is seeking to re-position itself through economic diplomacy as globalisation continues to dictate the order of doing business, politics, education, security, technology and culture.

President Hichilema has been in power for just over three months. Questions are being raised as to why he has been making these trips and whether these trips are even important.

To delve in this subject I will borrow from my knowledge and experience in public policy, governance, diplomacy and international relations as holder of MPhil (International Public Policy and Human Development) Master of Economic and Public Policy, Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and Governance and Certificate in Diplomatic Practice, Protocol and International Relations.

A simple answer is that they are very important trips and he must travel whenever necessary especially in his early days to open up and re-position the country for enhanced diplomatic relations. The trips he is undertaking, the bilateral talks he is has been holding, the negotiations and commitments he has been making in all these trips are regarded as an investment in international relations and economic diplomacy. The returns to such an investment could not all be instant but will begin to be felt in the near future. Clearly, important considerations to such trips become minimizing the costs by travelling with only key staff (lean delegations) that would represent value for money.

From this short period of time that President Hichilema has been in power, he has ably demonstrated that his New Dawn Government is placing greater emphasis on economic diplomacy. He has treated such trips with utmost respect and applied himself with exception and exemplary conduct in order to reap the best economic benefits that the country can get out of such.

Unsurprisingly, this is in line with President Hakainde Hichilema’s long standing campaign pledge to use economic diplomacy to benefit Zambia. In 2011 at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre during the Live Presidential Debates ahead of the 2011 general elections, President Hichilema in responding to what he felt about the increasing Chinese influence in the Zambian economy indicated that once elected the United Party for National Development (UPND) will ensure that economic considerations remain in the forefront of efforts to achieve foreign policy goals. He categorically noted that the issue was not China; because like Zambia, China was a participant in the global economy that has carefully used economic diplomacy to it’s advantage.

To make the discussion easy for all, economic diplomacy is the art of serving economic security and strategic interests of the country by the use of economic instruments in the conduct of State to State relations.

It is meant to influence policy and regulatory decisions of foreign governments as well as those of international organizations for the purposes of promotion of trade and investment, resolution of international economic conflicts, and multilateral trade negotiations among others.

Therefore, President Hichilema is right to move and engage his fellow presidents and other important actors across the globe for the benefit for positioning this country for development. Further, Zambia’s status in international relations became obliterated in the last seven years as scandals of corruption and abuse of donor funds and social cash transfer headlined international tabloids. Zambia further suffered a dent as it’s relations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tumbled in 2018 which saw the Fund withdrew it’s Resident Representative Dr. Alfredo Baldini. Other dark spots in Zambia’s diplomacy included the ejection of the US Ambassador His Excellency Mr. Daniel Foote for allegedly pushing a gay rights agenda. The Cuban Ambassador to Zambia Nelson Pages Vilas too was ejected for gracing the launch of the opposition Socialist Party. Clearly, President Hichilema has such a tall order of restoring Zambia’s image in the international relations space. However, his preoccupation has been to enhance economic diplomacy.

Whilst this is the task that President Hichilema has effectively embarked on himself, this is the role hugely performed by the official representatives of the State or rather Diplomats.

Therefore, this suggests that President Hichilema has a crucial task in his appointment of Diplomats. Yes, the appointment of Zambian representatives to various missions and international bodies. The President as the appointing Authority will need to apply the scrutiny that places emphasis on what the country would be benefitting from enhanced relations with countries where we have missions and bodies where we have attached diplomats.

The President will need to put in his mind the economic goals as well as political and strategic objectives in this selection in order to identify the right personnel for the right tasks whether drawn from the UPND, the Civil Service or the pool of national talent available to serve our country. To achieve this, President Hichilema will be expected to break the tradition and help change our mindset. Changes are required not only in the functioning of our missions abroad but also on the appointments of diplomats. In this regard we still seem to be in a sort of a vicious circle. History has shown us that Diplomatic jobs are treated as a preserve of rewarding loyalty and affiliation to the party with a tendency to regard missions abroad as general jobs where all party cadres, supporters and sympathisers are dumped with little consideration of their qualifications, skills, experience and other vital aspects that border on them performing their tasks for the benefit of the country.

Interestingly, international economic relations show that countries that have developed the most are those that have realized the importance of attaching right diplomats in the right missions and/or bodies. China’s rapid development is traced to it’s strategy of sending out it’s finest scientists to the United States of America to learn from the technology in the U.S. China sent it’s best military personnel to Russia, it’s best economists to Germany and some of its experienced bureaucrats to Japan. The benefits are all out there to be seen. Therefore, the argument here is not whether the Diplomats are appointed from the party, but that such appointees must possess the requisite qualifications and characteristics to help them perform the job. Over and above everything, they must be qualified Zambians.

To contextualize the discussion, for instance, Japan is a country where Zambia can learn efficient processes modelled on the Kaizen concept. Japan believes in efficient process in management, industry, service delivery and all walks of life. Zambia urgently needs efficient processes in the public service and its local government as interaction with the public in providing services has proved to be a challenge. Other benefits from Japan are a world class transport system and a robust manufacturing industry. What kind of people does the President send to such a country? Such a profiling must be extended to all missions and bodies and match the right personnel needed.

In a nutshell, President Hichilema’s task could be related to that of an Intelligence Officer; spy on the missions and bodies and profile what they can offer for Zambia. This will require him identifying the major areas of cooperation to be advanced for our socio-economic, political, security and technological interests. He will then be expected to set out the targets and and assign the right personnel to these missions with clear key performance indicators. This is very important because diplomats are simply an extension of him (President Hichilema) operating in those jurisdictions with a clear mandate to achieve. World over, there is no diplomatic service that functions fully on career Diplomats without political appointees. , Therefore, President Hakainde has a huge pool of personnel to make appointments from.

Given the poor performance of the Patriotic Front (PF) government and mismanagement of the national affairs, on 12th August 2021, the people of Zambia overwhemingly gave the United Party for National Development (UPND) the mandate to turn around the fortune of this great nation. The Party ushered in the New Dawn Government. With it also comes with the mandate to appoint Diplomats to be flag bearers outside the country. These could be appointed from the party, or anywhere else. The downside to appointing more party officials to serve outside is that the party will be devoid of hard working party functionaries that will consolidate the party’s gains with the electorates.

Considering that President Hichilema is highly analytical and smart, exceptionally tough and effective negotiator, firm believer of his political ideology, fluent and concise, super methodical, and pays meticulous attention to detail; he himself satisfies the qualities of a good diplomat. The Zambian people are expecting that we shall get some people with such characteristics or at least something closer in order to benefit from these people’s assignments in those missions and/ or bodies.

For the purposes of reference, President Hichilema’s primary consideration in the composition of his cabinet was achieving regional balance in order to restore and foster national unity. He delivered and his cabinet is a reflection of all of our country’s ten, (10) provinces. Similarly, the President will have to base appointments of diplomats on some key considerations he wants to achieve- his passion is economic diplomacy. It is without doubt that President Hichilema will once again score a success in this one and set a new tone for the country in terms of international relations considering that he is determined to use economic diplomacy to grow Zambia’s economy.