Revolutionary greetings from the Cuban Ambassador to Zambia Nelson Pages Vilas.

By: Chris Zumani Zimba


Broadly speaking, the Zambian government has all the diplomatic powers, rights and privileges to expel any diplomat they deem unwanted at any time. Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 states that “The host nation at any time and for any reason can declare a particular member of the diplomatic staff to be persona non grata. The sending state must recall this person within a reasonable period of time, or otherwise this person may lose their diplomatic immunity”. Yes, the host state can expel any diplomat, any time and anyhow but such actions have serious bilateral and multilateral negative implications. So, I take it that President Lungu expelled the Cuban Ambassador to Zambia, Nelson Pages Vilas on 1st April, 2018 in line with this provision. But as someone who has done and taught international relations, foreign policy, comparative politics and diplomacy in theory at different academic levels as well as having worked at Foreign Affairs Head Office in Lusaka at some point as Political Secretary/Foreign Policy Analyst, I hereby identify and advance ten (10) key reasons why I am certain that the expulsion Ambassador Vilas was a political error and diplomatically wrong as follows:

1. By attending the launch of the Socialist Party in Zambia, the Cuban ambassador was 100% in order as he was undertaking one of the basic functions of a diplomatic mission. Article 3 (d) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 mandates diplomats to ‘monitor and ascertain by all lawful means the conditions and developments on the commercial, political, economic, cultural and scientific life of the host country (Zambia) in order to report to their sending state (Cuba)’. Therefore, it was a political and diplomatic error to pompously expel a socialist ambassador for monitoring the launch of a socialist party in the host state in order to accurately report to his sending socialist state/government;

2. Since Article 3 of the same convention clearly mandates a diplomat to ‘protect the interests of the home country (Cuba) and its citizens in the host country (Zambia)’, Ambassador Vilas was at the right place as the topmost most diplomat in representing the interest, values and ideologies of the ruling Communist/Socialist party in Cuba as a Socialist/Communist himself. The launch of the Socialist Party in Zambia was notoriously dear to the Cuban socialist government and people;

3. By being in Zambia and interacting with political players in Zambia, the Cuban Ambassador was in order as he was ‘representing his home country/sending state in the host country-Zambia’ as provided by Article 3 (a) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. Cuba is practically a Socialist State and attending the launch of the Socialist Party in Zambia had everything to do with Cuba and not his personal program. By shunning it, he would have betrayed his government and people;

4. The Presidential Press Aide, Mr. Amos Chanda was the wrong person to have announced the expulsion of the Cuban Ambassador. Article 10 (1) (a) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 mandates the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Host State to notify or announce the appointment, arrival, departure or termination of the functions of the members of the diplomatic missions. In Zambia, it is only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which coordinates diplomatic and consular missions both internally and abroad-not state house please. Established in 1964, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the formulation and administration of Zambia’s Foreign Policy and establishment and maintenance of Zambia’s International Relations. Therefore, Amos Chanda was the wrong person to have announced the expulsion of Ambassador Vilas as the Minister or Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs are still alive and in office;

5. President Lungu expelled the Cuban Ambassador without expert guidance from his rightful advisors on foreign relations. How? It is laughable to stress that the decision was a state house’s fool’s day posture as Amos Chanda hurriedly executed it. The Zambian government only practically involved the Foreign Affairs Minister, Joseph Malanji on 3rd April 2018 when he announced at a media briefing in Kitwe that Ambassador Vilas was given 7 days notice to leave Zambia following the withdrawal of his diplomatic recognition. As the rightful expert advisors, this Minister and his Permanent Secretary were supposed to have been at the alpha and omega of the expulsion and not merely announcing and facilitating the procedural effects of the Presidential Press Aide’s proclamations;

6. Given that he was speaking in Spanish while someone was translating into English, it is not wrong to stress that Ambassador Vilas was harshly expelled based on erroneous media reports and inaccurate political hearsay. In all diplomatic fairness under such circumstances, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could first accorded him an opportunity to give the side of his story and exculpate himself. This was vital as the Zambian government is fully aware that diplomacy and international relations is all about amicable negotiations and peaceful resolution of issues.

7. The expulsion was done and read at the wrong place i.e. Pamodzi hotel in Lusaka. This also shows that State House acted on impulse and emotions to hurriedly show political power by expelling the Ambassador anywhere and anyhow which is not very different from doing it on phone or from Mr. Amos Chanda’s house. I know very well that the Zambian government has good conference facilities at Foreign Affairs Head Quarters or State House itself where such issues should have been addressed during working days and hours.

8. Whatever the ambassador said at the launch of the Socialist Party, the least he could been given is an express demarche. In diplomacy, a demarche is a written formal protest of one state to another state which highlights gross displeasure or grievances concerning the action or behavior of another state in question. The responding government is then officially compelled to either justify, withdraw the action or apologize to the offended state. This was the most appropriate diplomatic response the Zambian government should have taken against Cuba and Ambassador Vilas;

9. By impulsively and emotionally expelling Ambassador Vilas for attending and/or addressing the Socialist Party Convention, the Zambian government abandoned and abrogated our national values of democracy, good governance and Christianity as provided in the Republican Constitution. A case in mind is how the British government democratically, diplomatically and professionally reacted when they suspected/discovered that Russia was behind the poisoning of the two Russian spies in the UK last month. They first gave Russia an ultimatum to exculpate itself or face grave consequences. Zambia should have done the same;

10. Directly or indirectly, the expulsion of Ambassador Vilas puts Zambia on the wrong side of diplomacy and international relations on the global map and consequently opens a historical chapter of instant ‘political and diplomatic cold war’ between the Cuban Communist government and the Zambian PF government. The decision and action threatens and undermines all the cordial bilateral relations and benefits Zambia has enjoyed from the Cuban government and people from pre independence era to date. Unfortunately, the expulsion of Ambassador Vilas also declared an instant political running battle between the leaders/members of the newly formed Socialist Party and the leaders/members of the PF government. All these show that the decision was diplomatically ill timed and politically wrong as such could have been avoided and prevented at all cost.

In conclusion, I deliberately analyzed the expulsion of Ambassador Vilas mainly using the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 as it is the most appropriate international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries to which Zambia and Cuba subscribe. The treaty is considered as the cornerstone of modern international relations as it specifies the privileges of a diplomatic mission and immunity that enable diplomats to perform their function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country. Thus, it is clear that an envoy from another nation is traditionally treated as a guest while their communications with their respective sending state are treated very confidential. In the case of ambassador Vilas, his expulsion was unfair, impulsive, unpalatable and harsh: the Zambian government clearly mishandled the matter and ill-treated him which is regrettable.

By: Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer, Researcher and Consultant