, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 5 – When former German Ambassador Walter Lindner left, many Kenyans felt, very big empty shoes had been left, probably a tall order to fill the position with a similarly warm German personality.
But with the entry of Margit Hellweg Boette, the post has been proficiently occupied. The 51-year-old professional diplomat is all smiles as she shares her firsthand experience when she arrived in the county last month.
“Ever since I set my foot on Kenyan soil, everyone was friendly to me; friendly people receiving me at the airport to the rest of people in the country,” she says.
Mrs Boette has 20 years’ experience in diplomacy and it doesn’t take more than a minute to notice her friendly, humble and get-along personality.
And so, our interview with the first female German ambassador to Kenya was pretty easy.
Q. What was your first reaction when you came to Kenya?
A. When I knew I was coming to Kenya, I bought myself travel guides to check pictures. Germans have in their mind, things like beaches in Mombasa, national parks, and among others Maasai Mara. I have not travelled a lot but I have been to Mombasa and Nairobi National Park, and surely the travel guides and reality met very well.
I have also learnt that Kenya is doing economically better than its neighbours. I also know Kenya has an important role to play in the region because there is a factor of security and stability especially with regard to Somalia.
It was a nice feeling to come here, I was received in a very friendly way, and I have already started to feel at home.
Q. What did your predecessor tell you about Kenya?
A. I have known my predecessor for about 20 years. He is a great guy and when I knew I was going to Kenya, I called him and asked him, “Hey! What do you think of me going to Kenya?” He said, “Great! You are going to have a great time, I loved every minute of it,” I think he was giving me good advice. Of course, sometimes he was disappointed by the slow pace of reforms in Kenya and my feeling after reading newspapers for about six weeks in this country is that this is shared by a number of Kenyans.
Q. What advice can you give to the Kenyan coalition?
A. I don’t want to give advice to anybody before talking to them. I just presented my credentials and I have not really had the opportunity to talk to members of government.
Q. What’s your professional background?
A. I studied French Language, Literature and History. I joined the Foreign Service in 1988 and I am a professionally trained diplomat. I have had quite a number of postings. I started out in Guinea then I went back to Bonn in the cultural department of the Foreign Ministry. Then I was the press spokeswoman at the German Embassy in London. I went back to Bonn and Berlin to work with German Parliament.
In the German Foreign Ministry people are somehow marked by the first posting they had, as my first posting was in Africa. I started to travel to Senegal, Cameroon and I always wanted to come back to Africa. Coming as an Ambassador to Nairobi is something many people in the German Foreign Service dream of, many of them couldn’t make it, but I did, so I am very happy about this.
Q. What is your best posting?
A. The most interesting time is when I was working for the German Parliament. I was still a member of the Diplomatic Service but I was detached to work for Parliament for seven years and it was just a very exciting experience to learn about these dealings between government and Parliament and ever since I’m convinced Parliament has a decisive role to play in running a country.
It’s not like what we think that this bunch of Parliamentarians is sitting somewhere doing nothing. No, they have role to play, and it is really important what they do. It is important the way Parliament and Government cooperate and work together.
Q. Being a woman did you feel disadvantaged?
A. The German Chancellor who is a woman got re-elected, so women have strong positions in Germany. But having said this still women have to struggle because they face a lot of competition from men and it takes time. You have to be tough to get to the top, but I’m still convinced women are very good leaders and men can learn a lot from this. I don’t want to step on anybody’s feet but this is something that stands from experience, men sometimes can only handle one issue at a time. But women have the ability to focus on many things at the same time because they were educated raising families. Let’s face it the best thing for leadership is to have a good team and to have women and men working together. They have different qualities and the more they combine the qualities, the better will be the result.