Former Ambassador to the United States, Canada, Cuba, Egypt and Former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York, Somduth Soborun has had a long and fruitful career in the Foreign Service. President and CEO of Soborun Consulting, he has been credited with both national and international recognitions. He shares with us his notable views on Mauritius’ diplomatic relations.
What is your analysis of the year 2018 on the political and diplomatic level?
I am of the view that politics is at a stalemate in Mauritius; other than the politics of politicking, weekly press conferences or daily statements at the various functions organized by the social cultural organizations, there are no great lessons worthy to retain our attention. It looks like the major political parties, in particular those representing us at the Parliament, are reading from the same page. There is nothing new that they are proposing at a time when the world is undergoing a transformative change spearheaded by no other than the superpower of the world itself. Mauritius needs a new generation of politicians who can bring about an economic and political revolution in the larger interest of the country.
At the diplomatic level, it seems that there is a status quo. We are following the same policies laid down years ago. It is true that we have signed several bilateral and multilateral agreements in the course of the year but these are all routine business. Usually diplomatic policies do not change with change of governments. After mere considerations and reflections, we choose and adopt the policies and stay the course. Nonetheless, I find quite strange the conspicuous absence of our head of diplomacy at the various multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the African Union particularly.
How do you perceive the evolution of the diplomatic relations Mauritius has had with different countries in 2018, especially the USA?
Overall we have continued to consolidate and strengthen our excellent bilateral relations with those countries with whom we have established diplomatic relations. The fly in the soup this year was when a senior cabinet minister announced to the world that Mauritius had severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in all likelihood without seeking the approval of the Cabinet. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to rectify the blunder as best as it could. This should not have happened in a country like Mauritius.
We are far more mature as a nation. In spite of the fact that we have brought the Chagos issue at the ICJ, I see no backlash or change in our relations with the United Kingdom. The USA is not a party to Chagos but has a major interest in Diego Garcia. This said, I see the relations between our two countries doing business as usual. The Trump Administration has scrapped a couple of regional trade agreements or reviewed them, such as NAFTA. However, so far it has left the African Growth and Opportunity Act intact. Mauritius, as we all know, is an important beneficiary of AGOA.
Where is Mauritius lagging behind when it comes to diplomacy? What should we improve?
First and foremost, there is an urgent need to have a Mauritius Foreign Service Act. The Foreign Service in general has not still gathered momentum and has not reached the cruising speed. We cannot further continue housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Newton Tower unless we do not understand what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country means and stands for! With due respect to all those gentlemen who are serving as Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Permanent Representatives in our overseas missions, it is unacceptable that out of the 17 diplomatic missions abroad, we only have one career Ambassador. It is true that the Government, or rather the Prime Minister has the choice and more precisely in the common parlance of Mauritius, it is the “Prime Minister’s prerogative to appoint an Ambassador.”
However, it is high time that we agree on a ratio between career Ambassadors and political appointee Ambassadors. Given the situation currently prevailing in our diplomatic service, the ratio could be 50-50 to start with and gradually raise to the level of three-fifths in favor of career Ambassadors. Political appointees should preferably be chosen from retired career diplomats. This will be healthy for the diplomatic cadre at the Ministry and provide a more professional image.
Mauritius needs to take a thorough look and bring about a fundamental review of its diplomatic service. We need to have Ministers of Foreign Affairs who fully comprehend and are totally convinced of the great work done by our diplomatic missions and officers."
With which country should Mauritius strengthen its diplomatic ties and why?
As a member of the United Nations Organization, it is in our interest to maintain excellent relations with all the member states of the organization. Notwithstanding this, at the political level, our relations with the member states of the African Union should be unfailing. As far as the economic, trade, and commercial relations are concerned, we can include, in the list, countries like the USA, the UK, the European Union, South Africa, India, and Pakistan, among many others. Over 75% of the people in Mauritius are of Indian Diaspora. It therefore goes without saying that it puts us in a very special and privileged relation with India and it is in our mutual interest to continue further strengthening these relations.
What are your views about the Chagos negotiation? Do you believe that Mauritius has its chances?
I should like to reiterate something I had stated over seven years ago to a very respected weekly; “Chagos is far more complex than it appears at the surface.” Chagos was excised from Mauritius at a very critical and trying time of our history with dire and painful consequences to the inhabitants of Chagos. It is a national issue and we should avoid playing politics with it. As far as the negotiations are concerned, it is my considered view that the several former Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ambassadors concerned with it, at least, should have been party to the committee on negotiations. Furthermore, the former Prime Ministers and the Leader of Opposition should have been part of the delegation at The Hague. Their presence, to say the least, would have added more clout to the delegation.
As far as the chances of Mauritius on Chagos are concerned, I would not venture to speculate on it. I leave it to the integrity and knowledge of the learned Honorable Judges of the International Courts of Justice to interpret the International Law on the matter. As a Mauritian national, we would wish that the opinion of the ICJ goes in our favor. Nonetheless, we should remain seized of the matter that an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice is non-binding. Therefore, the important question is: What next?
What lessons should Mauritius draw from year 2018?
Mauritius needs to take a thorough look and bring about a fundamental review of its diplomatic service. We need to have Ministers of Foreign Affairs who fully comprehend and are totally convinced of the great work done by our diplomatic missions and officers. Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should hire retired ambassadors on a continuous basis to benefit from their wide experience and knowledge in the diplomatic service. Mauritius needs a full-fledged foreign service institute to provide ongoing training to the diplomatic cadre. As small island states, two countries which have made tremendous strides in the diplomatic front are Singapore and Cuba. They are present in most of the major capitals of the world. Singapore spends per capita on foreign service more than a country like India. Mauritius needs to increase its diplomatic representation in many other countries. To start with, in our own continent, we need to set up missions in countries like Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Zambia, to mention a few. We cannot keep on stating that Mauritius is the gateway for financial services or the bridge between Asia and Africa by maintaining a status quo.
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