In the world of diplomacy, honesty is a sacred taboo. And if diplomacy had guidelines, all diplomats would wear the tag of success in government foreign services. This story is about three sisters who defied the principles of diplomacy.
You might have read their names in the papers, or rubbed shoulders with them— they all have one thing in common: “Ambassador” Mukantabana Mathilde from Rwanda, Mulamula Liberata from Tanzania, and Oliver Onekha of Uganda.
I was privileged to be invited to a dinner where several ambassadors had gathered to bid farewell to Mulamula. In two years of service to Washington, she had become a sister, a mother and a model diplomat to many.
They all met the same day, in a very unlikely place to meet: “the White House,” each waiting to present credentials to president Barack Obama. Their journey starts here. In a landscape where political compass offers no navigation guarantees.
Their meeting at the White House was serendipitous, each one emitting a faint hint of pride— but would soon realize the path to diplomacy was a perfect balance of bureaucratic storms. In Washington, what is certain is that nothing prepares you for churning political currents.
Mathilde came to Washington as an academician, teaching American history in college. As a person, her humility is a purity best left unexplained. She is tender, raw whose eloquence leaves you perplexed with amazement.
Mulamula is fiery and has earned the title of career diplomat. Prior to her coming to Washington, she served at the Tanzanian High Commission to Canada and Permanent Mission to New York. She became the mentor and guide for her sisters.
Oliver on the other hand, is the glue that holds the group together. Quiet but not shy, she brings order with assuring comfort. Their presence together is an impenetrable shield of power. They defend each other heartedly and that does not sit well with haters. I bade adieu to a diplomat who fortified the group and vilified ill wishers.
In a foreign land far from home, they built a sister-relationship at the time when relations between Rwanda and Tanzania were at its lowest. What the triplets have built is a trans-generational relationship that transcends diplomatic expectations.
This relationship exemplifies what other African Ambassadors could adopt. I am still troubled by the fact that the west still sees Africa as one entity. This leads some ambassadors to play appeasing diplomacy… where they plead hard even when it means to betray others for acceptance sakes.
Now that Africa is not merely dealing with wartime diplomacy as was the case for many years, it’s time to look beyond invisible borders and unify Africa in the eyes of foreigners. The trios played a self-contained diplomacy, one that looks beyond political leaders but that starts with individuals to reflect national interest.
In this context, Mr. Schlesinger would say that success and failure of diplomacy must be defined against opportunities to change the direction of events. The sisters had succeeded in doing just that. Together, they organized and held events together— Africa Day, Launch of the East African Visa, national holiday celebrations and more.
Small things matter in diplomacy. Recently in his battle on Iran Nuclear Deal, Secretary of State John Kerry would have his counterparts call him in his first name. It’s friendly and eliminates unnecessary distance. The triplets, not only do their refer in first name but also where the three meet expect unfiltered éclat of laughter.
Saying goodbye is never an easy thing. At dinner table, I absorbed details of their relationship. Their love is a scar buried beneath shreds of regret. In that moment, the words of Warren Butcher rang in my head: “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” They live beyond this… that’s a lesson I learned.