By Ambika Manandhar Luitel–
I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in September 1986. As a young officer, I was highly motivated and enthusiastic to learn. I got an opportunity to study one-year diplomatic course in Geneva, Switzerland in 1988. This was followed by another opportunity to pursue diplomatic course in Oxford University in 1991-92. Both studies proved highly rewarding for my future career development. At the Oxford University examinations I got distinction in all core subjects. The Oxford study was more enriching to me as a young diplomat.
I worked in various divisions of MOFA as a Section Officer and as an Under Secretary and Joint Secretary In those days, there were very few Nepalese missions abroad. Therefore, it took seven years for me to get the first assignment abroad. In 1993, I was posted in Belgium. The Nepalese Embassy in Brussels was established in 1992. There was no undersecretary during the first few years of my assignment, which required me to undertake the responsibilities of Embassy Administration and Finance as well as the bilateral (BENELUX), multilateral (EU, OPCW, WCO) and consular matters. They were huge responsibilities for me. In the course of discharging my duties, I encountered resource constraints, manpower issues, language problem etc. However, such issues make one more seasoned – a learning process I would say. I also took the initiative to learn the French language; I now have a good knowledge of French, which I use in discharging my duties. Currently, as the Ambassador of France, my knowledge of French language has proved immensely valuable – it comes handy in my meetings with the French Officials, politicians and when necessary engaging with general population (communication) at large.
Notable achievements of my first posting are (i) the signing of Cooperation Agreement between Nepal and the European Union in 1996. This established the basis for cooperation between EU and Nepal. Since the signing of this Agreement, high level officials of EU and MOFA of Nepal meet every two years in alternate capitals to take stock of the development in Nepal and to discuss EU-Nepal relations. (ii) We also reached an agreement to exchange driving license between Belgium and Nepal in 1994. This was a great relief for Nepalese as this allowed them to exchange their Nepalese driving licenses into Belgian one without going through very difficult Theory and practical tests. I myself went through Theory Tests.
(ii) Nepal for the first time ever participated in Brussels Travel Fair organised at the Expo in 1996. For this to take place, the Embassy negotiated with the organisers to provide space in the Expo that too at a reduced fee of 50% discount. (iii) I developed contact with the Belgian Community who loved Nepal. In collaboration with a Belgian NGO called Bikash, which is working for Nepal’s socio-economic development, we organised Nepal day event in Anderlecht, Brussels with a view to promote Nepalese tourism and trade.
In those days, there were very few Nepalese in BENELUX. Some had started to claim refugee status. Presently, BENELUX countries have become home to many Nepalese.
I was posted the second time in Belgium in 2004, which is after seven years of the first one. During this posting, I also undertook the responsibility of Charge’ d’Affairs a.i for about one and half year. This was indeed a challenging responsibility. During my tenure as the Charge’ d’Affairs a.i, I constituted Friends of Nepal Group at the European Parliament with the Members of the European Parliament. Ms Nina Gill (MEP) was the first President and further 20 MEPs as the Group members. With their help I also organised tourism promotion event at the European Parliament Premises for the first time ever. It was a coincidence that the launching of the Friends of Nepal Group was inaugurated by all ladies: they include late Sahana Pradhan, the then Foreign Minister of Nepal, Mrs Nina Gill (MEP) and myself as the acting Head of the Mission.
Although the responsibility was more challenging nonetheless it was an honour and privilege to represent the country as the acting Head of the Mission and work for the interests of Nepal and Nepalese people. By this time, many Nepalese had already settled in the BENELUX. They had created 50 plus Nepalese Organizations. Maintaining healthy and balanced relation with Nepalese Diaspora by providing all possible support and services was quite tactful act which I believe I accomplished well as the acting Head of the Mission. As a result, every one of Belgic Nepalese diaspora remembers me and my time at the embassy with rejoice and admiration. Belgian, associated with Nepal, also highly appreciative of my work and they are in touch with me till this day.
My third posting was a very short one in London Embassy as the Minister Counsellor. The UK is a relatively big country where we have a big Nepalese diaspora and diplomatic activities involved mainly bilateral issues – a different experience from Brussels which involves both bilateral and multilateral with the European Union. In London, I met with many Nepalese professions in the diaspora. During my less than nine months of stay, I had to deal with Nepalese students’ problems who were basically cheated by different private colleges. I took their cases to the immigration authorities, these colleges themselves and in some cases followed up to countries like India from where some of these private colleges were managed.
It is an honour and privilege to represent my country Nepal as the Ambassador of Nepal to France and non-residential Ambassador to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Monaco and the Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. At bilateral levels, my focus is to further strengthen and consolidate bilateral relations between Nepal and the countries I am accredited as the Ambassador for, namely, France, Portugal, Greece and Monaco. With respect to UNESCO, Nepal is already a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO for the period 2013 to 2017.
Since Janaury 2016, I held the prestigious position of the Chair of the Asia Pacific Group at the UNESCO for a year. This Group has 44 member countries and it plays a very crucial role in the policy and strategic decisions of the UNESCO; I represented this group as the Group’s Chairperson. This is the first ever time for Nepal to Chair ASPAC Group at the UNESCO. Despite the fact that the size of Nepalese Mission is extremely small, we nevertheless fulfilled our commitment with great successes. I did face great constraints while coordinating the UNESCO Secretariat and the member countries of the Group because of the very few staffs in the Paris Embassy yet we are proud of what we achieved. This achievement was the result of our dedication, hard work and the team spirit.
In 2015, when Nepal was struck by the devastating earthquake, I organised a mass gathering at Trocadero in front of the Eiffel tower by mobilising individuals/organisations to garner support for the victims of the earthquake. I also approached to the government as well as to NGOs and INGOs. I participated in almost all programmes organised by various organisations for the support of the quake victims. I was also in various media outlets – such as France 24 TV (France’s English international TV Channel) as well as various other French National and local level TV, radio, newspaper and magazines – responding to their live interviews about the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake as well as the help and rescue services being organized by the Nepal’s government etc. I was also invited to the live news of various TV channels and gave interviews, information and opinion with French politicians and experts in the field. The media coverage was extensive. A magazine “Diplomat” published 4-5 pages of interview with me along with the photographs of Nepal. French organizations working for Nepal are highly appreciative of my approach. It made me extremely busy and it was highly demanding, nonetheless, it gives a great sense of achievement & satisfaction to get recognition from French people as well as from ex-French Ambassadors to Nepal who love and care about Nepal.
There are about 5000 Nepalese living in France. However, the student number is increasing and some Nepalese serve in the French army too. Around 4000 to 5000 thousand Nepalese could be in Spain however the number in Portugal is much larger. Unfortunately, the number of diplomatic staff in Nepalese Embassy remains just three – a number which has been since the establishment of this Embassy. Therefore the work load in the Embassy is very high. We also organise economic diplomacy events in various place in collaboration with local organisations. Similarly, we have to entertain large number of delegations from Nepal quite often. Resource constraints in terms of manpower, budget are major hurdles for us.
Despite all these, we work hard and provide services in an effective and transparent way. As the Ambassador, I play multifaceted roles as a leader, administrator, negotiator, troubleshooter and, above all, as a seasoned diplomat.
At the personal level, as a lady officer in the Foreign Ministry, it was difficult for me to balance between career and family. I was the lone Lady Officer in the MOFA after Madam Bindhya Shah’s retirement for almost 20 years. It is only after 20 years Rita Dhital joined as an officer. Subsequently, many ladies have joined MOFA mainly due to the inclusive policies enacted in the civil service act. For me, working in a male dominated environment as a lone female Office for over TWO DECADES or so was certainly not an easy go. One also needs to appreciate that Nepalese society is a patriarchal (male dominate) society and the case was more so then (15 – 20 years ago). But I always had the support and encouragement from my family.
Message to young generation:
- transparency, fairness and the rule of law is paramount
- good communication skills are important
- be positive, dynamic, innovative and persevering
- appreciate your own weaknesses and improve on it with confidence
- be friendly, develop public relations
- Up-to-date with information.
(Luitel is a career diplomat. She is currently Nepalese Ambassador to France. )