I’ll never forget speaking from the UN General Assembly podium- Vulindlela Kunene

28 November 2023

 From Mankayane, Vulindlela Kunene has gone on to represent Eswatini at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In our latest civil servants’ blog, Kunene, now an Under Secretary (Political Affairs) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, talks about his role advancing Eswatini’s foreign policy position.

Government Communications (GC): “When did you join the Civil Service?”

Vulindlela Kunene (VK): “I formally joined the Civil Service in 2009 having previously served as a Private Secretary to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hon. Senator Mabili D. Dlamini. I joined as an Assistant Socio-Political Analyst in the Political Department.”

GC: “What is your current job now and what does it entail?”

VK: “I am the Under Secretary (Political Affairs) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Essentially, I take the lead on the technical aspects of what the Ministry does. This includes being responsible for the Political and International Cooperation Departments in the Ministry. It is these units that filter issues and opportunities that the world has to offer for further use by the relevant line Ministry within His Majesty’s Government. This includes analysis of topical issues and the formulation of positions by Government in line with our foreign policy.

We are also responsible for the formulation of country positions in tandem with the line Ministry for presentation at various international arenas, including the multilateral sphere as well as in conducting our bilateral relations. In doing so, we look to safeguard Eswatini’s interests and advance our foreign policy objectives.

We are also responsible for initiating the establishment of diplomatic relations with other States. Having done so, we are then tasked with creating the legal basis for interactions with those States including the conclusion of various types of agreements between Eswatini and that particular State. This can include agreements from diverse spheres which may lead to investments in the country, agreements governing scholarship awards between Eswatini and the host country and multilateral agreements, to name a few. I provide oversight and guidance for the above.”

GC: “Before this role, what other positions did you occupy in the Service?”

VK: “a. Charges D’Affaires a.i. – High Commission of the Kingdom of Eswatini to the Republic of South Africa (July 2021 – July 2022)

  1. First Secretary – Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Eswatini to the United Nations: New York (March 2013 – June 2021)
  2. Assistant Socio-Political Analyst – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (February 2009 – March 2013).”

GC: “How is being an Under Secretary different from other positions you have held in the Civil Service?”

VK: “The main difference in being a U.S. is the increased responsibility to teach and groom other civil servants in a way that capacitates them for a career of service to Eswatini. As a lower rank technician, I was mostly responsible for the quality of my own output, be it written or spoken word or the way in which I interacted with other persons in a manner befitting a representative of Eswatini. This new position challenges me to get other people to appreciate some of what I have learnt and hopefully do better than I have done so far. Having said that, I am grateful in that I have a very capable crop of analysts and officers in my team. They make that task easier.”

GC: “So far, what would you say the biggest highlight/achievement of your Civil Service journey has been?”

VK: “Without a shadow of doubt, the highlight of my career has been to be able to repay the faith that successive bosses have shown in me. I had not dreamt that I would work in an area that is so impactful when I embarked on my tertiary studies. Having stumbled on this career, I am glad that I did. I have learnt so much. It is therefore humbling that I now get the opportunity to share what I have learnt with others who are at an earlier stage in their careers. I also get to interface with the public a lot more in my current position. The ability to help them in their area of need, be it facilitating scholarship applications or sourcing information about our different services offered, it is all fulfilling.

However, if I had to choose one particular moment that made me step back and wonder how far this boy from Mhlatane, Mankayane, had come, it would have been standing at the speaking podium at the United Nations General Assembly and reading a statement on behalf of my country at a commemoration of former President Nelson Mandela. That moment will always stay with me. Standing at such an iconic place made me realise just how fortunate I had been in my career.”

GC: “What is the biggest project that you have been involved in working for Government?”

VK: “Dealing with SADC and the country’s inclusion on the agenda of the SADC Troika. I witnessed first-hand how, from a position that was always reactionary, our country grew in stature and took up positions assertively, spoke up for ourselves and demanded respect from our peers. We had to deal with both domestic and external perceptions about Eswatini, much of which was being driven with what appeared to be a predetermined outcome in mind. It took everything that we had to engineer the shift in narrative, including some hard talk with some real truths being used in a “non- diplomatic” manner. In a high pressured environment, I was amazed at how our “voice” as a country grew.”

GC: “You have also served the country on Foreign Service. How is that experience like?”

VK: “This has been an amazing experience. One that has been filled with valuable lessons. The biggest one of which was, ironically enough, a growing appreciation and love for my own home in the Kingdom of Eswatini. Staying abroad for an extended period resulted in a multitude of emotions. Excitement, fear, loneliness, anxiety, wonder. They all form a part of your life.

I learnt that it is easy to visit new places and quite another to actually stay there. When visiting, you basically get to experience the best of what that place has to offer in a relatively short time. When you stay there you deal with all the realities that come with being in that space; be it societal tensions, epidemics etc.”

GC: “Which foreign country did you enjoy serving in the most?”

VK: “Well, I have worked in two other countries basically; the United States of America and the Republic of South Africa. Each of them had their own charms. The United States was interesting because I learnt different cultures, met new people, saw new places. South Africa was amazing because I was given a taste of what it was like to head up a Mission. It was a massive responsibility and one that has shaped me forever going forward. I particularly enjoyed being in South Africa as it allowed me to transition home in a seamless manner.”

GC: “What do you love the most about working in Government?”

VK: “In as much as I work in a Ministry that does not really provide a mainstream service, much of what I do on a daily basis brings me into direct contact with emaSwati from all walks of life. I love the ability that this offers as I am positioned to make a difference on a large scale and also impact the lives of individuals.”

GC: “What do you love the most about your job and profession?”

VK: “I have always loved words and how they can be used. My job affords me that opportunity. I am able to draft positions and statements that can affect change. To hear your words being used by someone and to witness the impact that these words have is an amazing feeling.”

GC: “What would you say are some of the challenges that come with your job?”

VK: “The main challenge that comes with my job is the fact that one is often called upon to take positions that will be challenged and critiqued. So, when you are taking those positions you must speak with certainty and be well informed. In this day and age where it seems everyone has access to social media, it would be very easy to take things personally. But, what one then has to do is take a step back and assess that particular differing opinion or criticism dispassionately and learn from it.”

GC: “What lessons have you learnt working for Government?”

VK: “One must always be willing to listen with understanding and be willing to help. Often a person will come to you and narrate a story. Out of that story, it then becomes incumbent upon you to distil the issues and offer a solution. Where you cannot offer a solution, find out who can and point that person in the right direction. Always be willing to help!”

GC: “What advice would you have for someone who wants to work for Government?”

VK: “Be prepared to serve. Working for Government is in many ways an act of service. Always treat people with respect and humility.”

GC: “What are your aspirations for the future in Government?”

VK: “On a personal note, I would love to grow further in my current field. However, there is limited scope for that growth as I believe that there are one or two rungs left for me to climb within my Ministry, so I have to be open to the possibility that growth may come with some change. I must be ready to adapt, to learn and to contribute positively wherever I am placed.

I do also share some hopes and aspirations for Government in general though. I do hope that all the hard-working and dedicated Civil Servants out there could be given their due recognition. I am excited with the intentionality that this Cabinet is approaching issues related to transparency. There is a lot that Government does and we need to showcase that effectively. Where criticism is warranted, by all means people should do so. But there are also a lot of people who are committed to service excellence, this too should receive the requisite response.”


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