By Timoteus Mashuna
WINDHOEK - The Socialist International, quoting the then Swedish Foreign Minister, Sten Andersson, in the memorial address for Bernt Carlsson, wrote that Carlsson was a “man with a natural talent for the difficult art of silent diplomacy.”
The memorial address further noted that even though not so many could succeed in the art of silent diplomacy, Carlsson was an exemption. He was indeed a distinguished diplomat of his time. Carlsson is noted to have been born to a modest family in Sweden in November 1938. He began to actively participate in politics at the age of 16.
Notwithstanding his early involvement in politics, he completed his secondary education and eventually enrolled for tertiary education in the United States of America (USA). Upon graduating he got recruited into the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
In 1976, he was elected as the London Secretary General for the Socialist International (SI), an international organization that advocated for the promotion of social democracy throughout the world. Whilst at the helm of the SI Carlsson dedicated himself to the call of duty to fulfil that mandate.
In the memorial reference is made that upon becoming SI Secretary-General, Carlsson contributed enormously to the expansion of the SI membership. He extended SI membership, especially to countries and organisations in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 1983 he returned to Sweden for two years as special government emissary to the Middle East and Africa.
Two years later, from 1985-1987, he served as Under-Secretary of State for Nordic Affairs. In 1987, Carlsson was appointed as the United Nations High Commissioner for Namibia. His appointment was in essence a test of his political resolve and tenacity and a recognition of his diplomatic talent. The UN Council for Namibia had not been effective in ending South Africa’s colonial administration of Namibia, let alone the protracted war of liberation between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and SWAPO’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
To underline his commitment to the total liberation of the persecuted and democracy, it only took him a short time in office for the diplomatic log-jam on the Namibian political issue to begin to shift. To reaffirm this, the memorial address by SI reads that “Not long after his appointment his new initiatives succeeded in transforming a stagnant situation. The war-weary South African troops eventually retired and, after intense discussions in which Carlsson played a part, the independence of Namibia was agreed upon.”
Even thought the role he played in reaching a political settlement for Namibia is noted to have attracted the enmity of the “Pretoria Authorities who are alleged to have done their best to make his life uncomfortable in London”, Carlsson remained utterly firm in his opposition to South Africa’s colonial occupation of Namibia.
Following the 1988 summit which paved the way for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 leading to the signing of a peace agreement for Namibia, Carlsson was appointed as guest of honour at the signing ceremony at the United Nations headquarters.
Unfortunately, whilst on his way to the signing ceremony on the 22nd of December 1988, he was killed in the Lockerbie air crash, an act many have linked to “terrorism”. Carlsson’s political career has earned him a legacy as “one of those incredible Nordic Social Democrats, who had given so much to the world, including their lives-on behalf of those without voice, power or privilege.”
During the liberation struggle he is noted to have been SWAPO’s choice for the fulfilment of hopes for the “realization of a free and democratic Namibia.