Most people think of International relations in terms of politics and communication between heads of state. In reality, it is the unseen diplomat working hard to keep international relations humming along. Carlos dos Santos has served as a diplomat for Mozambique since the age of 19, when his fledgling nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on talented youth to help.

The African nation of Mozambique is a nation on the rise in the 21st century. After nearly 500 years of Portuguese rule, the country achieved independence from its European colonisers in 1975. At that point in time, the nation was embroiled in a bitter war for control of its future. Since 1992, Mozambique has enjoyed growth and stability as a democratic republic. Carlos dos Santos has been there for his nation throughout its growing pains, helping to establish its foreign connections, and watching with pride as his homeland’s international profile improves.

Mozambique in his Youth

When Mr. dos Santos was born in 1961, his homeland was still a colony of Portugal. By the time he was 10, the nation had set out on a new path as an independent state. During those early years of independence, Mozambique was forced to start from scratch in its attempts to build government agencies and establish international connections. The nation had no diplomats or politicians with experience, meaning everyone was going to have to learn on the job. At the age of 19, Mr. dos Santos was a teenager in search of a career and a future of his own. The nation had various secondary schools to prepare its youth for future career paths. There were schools for the sciences, industrial sectors, and commercial training, to name a few. For his part, Mr. dos Santos was contemplating a career as an accountant and was looking into an accounting programme at secondary school.

However, he soon found himself involved in the nation’s Ministry of F oreign Affairs. Mr. dos Santos could not afford, and his parents did not have the money to help him to further his education. He needed to find a job to support himself in continuing his formal education. The fledgling nation’s foreign affairs department swooped in with a suggestion for the talented youngster. He possessed a natural interest and knowledge base in history. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in need of talented youth to help develop a core of diplomats, offered him a job and the opportunity to pursue a degree in international relations.

Maputo Mozambique Photo: Fedor Selivanov

Maputo Mozambique Photo: Fedor Selivanov

The Career Diplomat

If you ask Mr. dos Santos about his career as a politician, he will quickly counter that he is not a politician. According to Mr. dos Santos, “there is a significant difference between a politician and a diplomat”. He explained the difference in an interview with Kreol Magazine, stating the following: “The thing is, I’m a career diplomat. The kind of job we do is political, but we are not called politicians as such, we are diplomats, career diplomats. Some ambassadors are appointed politically, those are the ones who come from politics, have a career in politics. But I am a career diplomat, who started as an attaché and progressed to third secretary, first secretary, a counsellor, a minister counsellor, Minister Plenipotentiary and then Ambassador.” Mr. dos Santos has spent the majority of his adult life alternating between his studies and his profession.

As he began his diplomatic career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he collected an annual salary working in entry-level positions. Over the years, he would work for a stretch of time and then receive time off to attend to his studies. According to Mr. dos Santos, his work-study balance in the ministry worked as follows: “That was then after 5 years of working and studying, interrupting work to study fully one year, and then two years’ work, and go back to school and then one year he would interrupt, and the third year. In total five years we were given a bachelor’s degree equivalence and we became the first diplomats of Mozambique once we finished the training.” Once he had completed his initial degree and training, he began working as a full-time diplomat. His first major overseas appointment as a diplomat for Mozambique was in New York City as an attaché at the United Nations (UN). Multiple postings abroad followed. He spent five years in Zimbabwe as a junior diplomat. While living there, he earned two graduate-level degrees. As a student at the University of Zimbabwe he was conferred with a Bachelor Honours Degree and a Masters Degree. He studied both politics and administration, and international relations. In the years that followed, he worked in different positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

President Joaquim Chissano asked Mr. dos Santos to serve as his Private Secretary beginning in 1992. After four years in that position, he was sent to New York as an Ambassador to the UN. He earned an Executive MBA Degree at Baruch College (City University of New York) while working as permanent Representative to the UN. Following six-and-a-half years in that post, he returned home to serve as a Senior Advisor to the President, and then returned to the diplomatic realm as the Ambassador to Germany.

New Horizons

Today, Mr. dos Santos serves as High Commissioner of Mozambique to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. His role in the United Kingdom is much the same as his previous positions as a diplomat. While living in the UK, it is his job to educate the international community about the potential for investment in Mozambique, promote bilateral relations between the UK and Mozambique, nurture international relations among governments, and connect with the grassroots community of expats living abroad. A primary goal for the High Commissioner is to encourage investment and business in his homeland. Mozambique sits on a wealth of natural resources, including huge natural gas and coal reserves that can provide a bright economic future for the people of the nation.

Educating the World on Mozambique

Mr. dos Santos sees his homeland as a dynamic, unique culture that has much to offer the world. He speaks of his nation in terms of the “commonality of everything.” He views his country as a place where many cultures and ethnicities have bonded together to form one national identity. For example, the people of Mozambique speak 36 different languages, but the official language remains Portuguese. After 500 y ears of Portuguese rule, today’s Mozambique is a place where cultural diversity is considered the wealth of the country. Mr. dos Santos is fluent in Portuguese, English and the ethnic language of Ronga (his mother tongue). Every nation he is sent to as a representative of his homeland, it is his job to convey the wealth of his nation to others and promote mutually beneficial partnerships.

Future Dreams and Ambitions

It is difficult to ask a man who has already spent 20 years working as a diplomat where he sees his career in the future. By his own admission, he believes that he has fulfilled his dreams and aspirations as a diplomat, working overseas to boost awareness and the image of Mozambique. Pressed by Kreol Magazine to explain his hopes for the future, he said the following: “The aspiration for a diplomat you will find in many countries, is to continue to serve the country in different places, and that’s what I aspire to do. That is what I hope to continue to do.” After a lifetime in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he clearly understands his goals and has crafted a simple message for the people of the world. When asked what he would like everyone to know about his homeland, he had a straightforward answer: “Well, it’s for people to visit Mozambique, or read about Mozambique and learn more about Mozambique, and they will certainly, if they read about it and know about it, they will want to visit, because it is an interesting, exciting and welcoming country. It is often called The Pearl of the Indian Ocean.”

A pod of dolphins catch a wave and surf it in Mozambique

A pod of dolphins catch a wave and surf it in Mozambique. Photo: Barry Tuck