Diplomatic Dialogues

Last night had the Safaricom Power Hour Series, a talk session that featured the British High Commissioner, Dr Christian Turner. In a forum similar to Mindspeak, and other leadership series, he spoke freely on many subjects of his time as a political advisor (as an aide to prime ministers) and as a diplomat in the Middle  East, Washington and Africa.

He also answered questions on issues such as the Mau Mau settlement, the UK Miraa ban, the Scottish referendum (later this year), and Britain’s acquiescence in the weapons of mass destruction /Iraq War (they knew what would happen in Iraq after the war but didn’t seem to have cautioned the US)

Some points:

  • An aide has to be able to break down complex issues for his/her boss and present them in rapid short sessions (such as corridor walks, or car rides) and get them to make important decisions in those few minutes. To get to this position the aide has to first earn the trust of the boss.
  • A lot of what happens goes wrong in government are the result of mistakes (cock-ups), but the public likes to believe that these are due to conspiracies .. the reality is much harder to fathom (Westgate)
  • The importance of a leader surrounding himself/herself with/and enabling people with diverse views (avoid group think – or you end up with the WMD war)
  • Even in the age of twitter in which rapid opinions are formed and the added on pressure to look decisive, a leader should resist the temptation to look like they’re taking action – and sometime the best way is to go slow.
  • Also, avoid sweeping generalizations like the Arab Spring, and Africa Rising. He said each country in the Middle East had turbulence experienced that due to very different reasons.
  • There’s no East vs. West anymore. Britain did not lose ground to China in Kenya. He said China is investing in things that Britain does not like roads and some manufacturing – and that the balance of trade between Kenya and Britain is still almost even, while that with China is very skewed.

Funny anecdotes

  • Meeting with eccentric leaders like Gaddafi who thought he was irresistible to women and Saleh (of Yemen) who boldly asked for guns (instead of capacity building assistance) from Britain.
  • Some people diss Britain as they drink Scotch whiskey, drive Land Rovers and watch Arsenal football.

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