- The Foreign Office of the United Kingdom has decided to close down nine embassies worldwide by 2006, including in six former colonies. In Africa, the British Embassy in Madagascar is to be closed, as are the High Commissions in the former British protectorates Lesotho and Swaziland.
According to an announcement made yesterday by the Foreign Office in London, the embassies in Maseru (Lesotho) and Mbabane (Swaziland) are to be closed and an Honorary Consul - which mostly means a local citizen - is to be appointed. Diplomatic relations with London are to be run by the British Embassy in Pretoria (South Africa).
In Madagascar, the largest state to be affected by the wave of closures of British embassies, the Ambassador in Antananarivo is also to be replaced by a local Honorary Consul. Responsibilities for the UK's ties with Madagascar are to be moved to the Embassy in Port Louis (Mauritius).
In addition to the closures in Africa, the UK plans to shut down four more embassies in former colonies - including Bahamas, Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu - in addition to the embassies in Timor Leste and Paraguay. A further 21 honorary consulates will be affected worldwide, include the British representation in Douala (Cameroon).
For the former British protectorates Lesotho and Swaziland, the loss of the British embassies is another painful cut in the diplomatic presence in the two minor capitals. The embassy environment of Mbabane and Maseru now mostly consists of fellow countries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the US.
The two Southern African kingdoms are set to lose a key channel to their old metropolis. This will affect the business society and all kind of visa seekers and, furthermore, a direct line to an important donor country is being lost. Of course, it is also a loss of prestige for the two capitals.
For the Malagasy capital, Antananarivo, the loss is not equally severe. With the new government of President Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar has indeed experienced a revitalisation of diplomatic ties with Western countries. A new confidence in the Malagasy democracy and economy has created new donor ties and seen the opening of new European embassies. The closure of Britain's Embassy only seems odder in this light.
While the British government expects an outcry in its former colonies over the move to close its embassies, it is keen to downplay the move. "All these cover arrangements are subject to confirmation and agreement with the host governments concerned," the Foreign Office carefully notes.
London plans to have implemented all these changes before the end of 2006, according to the Ministry. "Overall savings should amount to around £6 million [euro 8.75 million] per annum," the Foreign Office states. The Ministry has been ordered to cut its costs by £86 million (euro 125 million).
Some of the savings were however to be redeployed to "strategic priority work" within certain regions. "In Africa, for instance, we plan to create new jobs to cover these issues across the region, with a new post in Nairobi to help support our work on climate change, one in Nigeria to cover energy, and one in Pretoria to cover regional issues more generally as well as covering Maseru and Mbabane," the Ministry says.
The British diplomacy claims it was only getting in line with other European countries by cutting its overseas representation. Since 1997, Britain had had a net growth of eight foreign embassies and employed 500 more diplomats abroad. France meanwhile had downsized its embassy network to comparable to Britain's and Germany today has 11 fewer posts than in 1997.
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