The not so glossy life of a diplomat

Having worked for several decades as a diplomat, Ambassador Boaz K Mbaya decided to document his experience and perspectives on Kenya’s foreign policy. His book, Kenya’s Foreign Policy and Diplomacy: Evolution, Challenges and Opportunities, examines dynamics and factors that have shaped key periods in Kenya’s history since independence.
His wife, Florence Mbaya, motivated him to write the book, which started off as an autobiography, but later on changed into the country’s foreign policy book.
“He wanted to provide a platform where people could debate on Kenya’s foreign policy,” narrates Florence.
Mbaya joined the civil service in 1978, the same year he married Florence. He served briefly in the provincial administration before transferring to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
in 1980. His first posting was Rwanda. The young family soon realised that diplomacy was not as glamorous as it seemed to be.
“When he was posted to Rwanda in 1983, I had just gotten into my teaching career for one year.
“Our daughter and last born child was only two-and-a-half months old. I knew going to Rwanda meant I would have to quit my job,” Florence says.
Challenging start
Mbaya also loved his children and wanted his family to be with him. By this time, they had three children, two of whom were born while Florence was still in campus.
“Kigali was just an emerging town then, and not difficult to get around, except for the language. I would sometimes talk to them
in my Kimaragoli, which is close to Kinyarwanda, both being Bantus. Kiswahili was not widely spoken at the time—only Kinyarwanda and French,” she says.
Failure to find an English school madethem request for a transfer. Mbaya was posted to Netherlands in January 1985.
“It was challenging because we were the pioneers. While Rwanda had been like home because there were Africans everywhere, Europe was a different world. It was my first time there and worse, we went during winter.
“We thought we had bought the heaviest sweaters, but when we arrived at Schiphol Airport, it was freezing. The sweaters could not provide the warmth we needed.
“Despite being in a classy hotel, it was still cold and I tried to put my children to sleep, but they wouldn’t sleep easily. My daughter, especially cried endlessly,” Florence recalls.
Apart from dealing with his family, who were finding it difficult to adjust to the new environment, setting up the office was tough, as Mbaya had to deal with the logistics and renting the office.
He sent a message while in an empty office, seated on the floor and told Nairobi the office was renovated and ready to start the mission once furniture was bought.
“He was all alone. He was the ambassador, the secretary, accountant and he had to seek authority to employ staff to assist him. He got a Kenyan girl and an Australian, who became his personal assistants for some time.
“He had to write a three-page report stat-ing what ought to be done in future as far as the embassy was concerned,” she adds.
The then PS for foreign affairs, the late Dr Bethwel Kiplagat gave him maximum sup- port.
“We were lucky because in Netherlands, most people speak English, French and Dutch. They were warm and helpful as well. It was during our stay in the Netherlands that I began to write my first book, A Journey Within,” says Florence, an author of several books.
Mbaya was then posted to Germany. This time, Florence prayed to God to grant her the grace to adapt to the new lifestyle of shifting from one nation to another.
“In Germany, we stayed in Bonn, a nice quiet city. The language, as expected, was an impediment. I had to go to language school for some German lessons. We stayed for two years and eight months before we were posted to London,” she says.

Never tired
Mbaya served as ambassador to France, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia and the Holy See and also as a permanent delegate to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in Paris, France.
In 2005, while serving as Ambassador in Addis Ababa, former President Mwai Kibaki appointed him Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As PS, Mbaya initiated the first draft Kenya foreign policy document.
He intends to write another book on foreign policy, probably focusing on South-South Co- operation.
He works as a consultant and the executive director of Centre for Policy Analysis.

By Harriet James, People Daily

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