The Diplomat is Francis Stevens George’s third work of fiction. His first work gave readers shades and perspectives on being black and black African in Oslo, Norway. His second work describes a Norwegian Plant scientist’s journey into the Central African Republic.
This time Francis Stevens George takes us back to Oslo, Norway. We are two years into the future, and the national security and future economy of Norway is at stake. The very first Ambassador from the African Union Federation is the central character in a story that sees Norway wanting to stake its economic future through big investment in Africa.
Ambassador Geraldo is not entirely convinced of the benefits of Norwegian investments for ordinary Africans. He is also concerned about permeating old attitudes. Through his character, we see a type of African diplomat with a background from the West; with a thorough understanding of international issues; with a deep appreciation of African political and economic history. We see changing attitudes in which the interest of the Africans becomes paramount; we see a change in which overseas investment are just accepted lock stock and barrel but questions are raised.
The novel is rich in history. Through the fictional character, Ambassador Geraldo, we are provided with the history of the OAU, attempts to create a United States of Africa and the roles of post-colonial leaders such as Emperor Haile Selassie, Kwame Nkrumah and Leopold Senghor.
We are aslo served the history of the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Abomey people.
Francis has cleverly used history and historical references to project a future that not entirely fiction.
All people and peoples are living histories. Understanding the linkages between past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human. This novel provides some understanding of the efforts of Africans to unite.
In the novel, Francis gives a future in which Africa is a Federation on her way to becoming a United States of Africa. He gives a future in which Africa is a major economic and world power. Using current statistics, he futurize an African market with a middle class of over 300 million people.
Through another fictional character, a political adviser in Norway, we get an analysis of Norway current and future economic challenges; security issues and a short history on border issues with Russia. More interesting is that Norway now sees her economic future tied to Africa. Like the Chinese, Norway now sees opportunities for investment and trade with Africa. This is change in policy is driven by, ironically, an extreme right wing government whose economic policies calls for investment over Aid with Africa.
The Diplomat can be read like a mini-textbook where Francis has used fictional characters to present facts. The reader is served the story of Africa-China relation, and a status report that provide insight into the economic situation in Norway in 2017 and beyond.
Cleverly using memos and diplomatic cables, the author gives us a picture into future economic and political relations.
Ambassador Geraldo gives us an outside perspective of Norwegian values and attitudes; he gives us interesting observations and reflections on the Norwegian “model” and mentality. The novel takes us through the ambassador’s everyday life, and also the political agendas that form the backdrop of the Ambassador’s moral dilemmas and diplomatic relations.
In the novel, The Diplomat, Francis also deals with Norwegian issues particular to Africans and people of color. Again using fictional characters, he address racism and discrimination. It is very well known in Norway that many dark skinned or people with foreign sounding names have often found it hard to get jobs in Norway. In The Diplomat, Francis addresses this. This is an extract from the book;
“The Political Adviser job went to 42-year-old Bonte Kizongo wa Zoya, a Norwegian of Congolese descent.
This was in line with using members of the African diaspora.
The Ambassador took a particular interest in him. His academic credentials were top-straight A student from school and obtaining a First Class university degree with distinction.
Yet his work experience on his CV was not impressive. He had not done much work or even much relevant work comparable to his qualifications.
During the interview, Bonte explained how he had suffered years of rejection for almost every job he had applied for in Norway.
The Ambassador could not understand. In the United States, companies would pay to get a person with such qualifications!
Bonte told the Ambassador that the only time he was once called to an interview, was when he changed his name on the application.
This was a common tactic used by Norwegian citizens of foreign extraction to get an interview- assuming they get that far! Sometimes all they want is an acknowledgment that their application has been received!
Bonte’s story did not leave a good impression of the host country on the Ambassador.
Francis also discusses the concept of Janteloven. To quote from his the novel;
Berit and Ms. Tsega explained the Janteloven.
They explained how this was slowly changing, and in some ways threatening the solidarity of the Norwegian society.
The Ambassador learnt how this was the basis of the condescending attitude Norwegians in general have to individuality and success.
Instead, the individual is part of collective entity and any form of individuality is frown upon; even discouraged in some cases.
Having spent his adult life in the United States, the Ambassador was fascinated by this “Janteloven”. In some ways, the Janteloven began to give him an understanding of some aspects of Norwegian people and society.
He began to understand why politicians and Government officials use public transport; why they would go shopping just like everyone else; why people hardly noticed them in public.
He also begin to see how such a Janteloven would have been good for Africa; the Africa his parents and grandparents were born to.
If only the colonialist had not just followed the opposite of all the 10 principles of Janteloven, probably there would not have been the civil wars and tribal wars.
The colonial “master” told Africans they were not smart: that Africans were inferior; that African culture and practices were uncivilized and backward and so on.
In another chapter in the book, Francis wrote;
The janteloven made him accept his condition, because it says he was not better than any other. Even though he was the top in his class; even though he was among the bright and best; he was no better than the dull and worst.
The same janteloven that made him, after a while, accepts it was not racial discrimination. It was just janteloven. “I am not better than the person next to me. I may have been the best in my class, but that does not entitled me to a prestige job.”
All this now seems in the past.
The issue of racism and feelings of discrimination are also discussed in the book. This is another extract;
The talk with the Ambassador had given him a sense of worth; a sense that he was important to someone.
All his years in Norway, where he had felt undervalued seems to mellow away.
However, somethings had left a deep mark on him.
For many years, he found it hard to “trust Norwegians”. By Norwegians, he meant white, native Norwegians.
He was the best in his class; had all the credentials. Despite their talk of fairness, equal rights and access, he was discriminated out the job market for years.
He could not live up to his potential; accomplish his goals and fulfil his dreams. At times, he felt almost bitter. At times, he felt an incredible sense of injustice. At times, he felt confused.
He loved Norway, – a country that has now become his home. He loved and cherished her values. He loved the peace and security. He loved the predictability of life. He loved winter. He loved skiing; he was a keen cross-country skier. As a student, Easter holidays was with the “boys” to the mountains.
After graduation, without the prestige of a job; without much disposable income, he began to fall outside the “boys club”.
Despite all he has been through, he was not bitter.
He was a quiet, pensive, retiring type with a sharp mind.
Bonte epitomized a typical African mentality.
A mentality that believes in an almighty power: a power that decides. A mentality that tells you to “take what is in front of you, if you do not get what you want”; that tells you “to make the most of it and do not complain”; a mentality that tells you “it’s better to work for one cent than get 10 cents for nothing”.
A mentality that he was able to combine well with his Norwegian values.
The Diplomat is also available in Norwegian.