In 2009, two Norwegians were imprisoned and sentenced to death in Congo. This triggered so-called consular assistance from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and political involvement. In addition, the media has paid extensive attention to the case. The Congo case is extreme, but at the same time illustrates some of the dilemmas the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to deal with every single day, all year round. The expectations of the Norwegian authorities are sky high, and they are growing as more and more Norwegians become global citizens.
- What did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs learn from the 2004 tsunami?
- Should the Prime Minister get involved in difficult consular matters? And if so – when?
- Why does Norway not put even heavier “guns” in the Congo case?
- Should Norway continue with aid and political contact with Congo when the country does not show a willingness to cooperate?
Tjostolv Moland’s tragic death in the prison in Kinshasa, Congo, again led to critical eyes being directed at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the government’s work to help Norwegians abroad (consular assistance). The new government’s initiative by engaging diplomatic heavyweight Kai Eide in the work to free Joshua French has silenced critics for some time.
If the government succeeds in getting French out of Congolese prison and home to Norway, the public’s impression of the authorities’ handling of this case will be more positive. But it does not change the overall picture, here as in similar cases, that many Norwegians apparently have sky-high expectations . It can often seem as if people expect that almost everything else will be set aside to save Norwegian citizens from various crisis situations.
2: Diversity of cases from many countries
According to cheeroutdoor.com, the Congo case is part of a series of challenges that the Norwegian authorities have to deal with every single day. There is an enormous range in the various cases that end up on the table of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ crisis desk . Most are of the more everyday kind : Interrailers are robbed of passports and valuables, Norwegians end up in prison after fights, thefts or other offenses, and elderly permanent residents abroad pass away and the family needs help to arrange transport home and cover other needs. There are also many tragic cases related to suicide or unexplained deaths that for good reasons go under the media’s radar, but which often require a lot of capacity and effort from the foreign service and embassy staff at the relevant location.
It is important to understand the driving forces behind the increased expectations from Norwegians when traveling. Individualisation and globalization go up in a higher unit: More and more Norwegians are on the move, and the journeys go to increasingly exotic and risky places. Some Norwegians also stay much longer abroad than before. Norwegian companies post people in their subsidiaries in a number of countries, and others are on long-term service assignments. Students no longer travel “only” to the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, but also to Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia. These are countries with more crime and more irregular behavior in traffic, and from there Norwegian citizens more often demand help from the Norwegian authorities.
The wave of Norwegians who settle more or less permanently abroad is part of the same picture, whether they move to Spain and France or to Thailand and Brazil. Cross-border marriages and immigrants who visit their original home countries, in turn, contribute to an increase in the number of Norwegian citizens traveling to countries with a greater security risk than we are used to in Norway.
3: The communication revolution
It is far more than the growth in the number of trips abroad , and especially trips to politically unstable regions, which necessitates more intervention and commitment from the Norwegian authorities when accidents occur. Modern communication provides unlimited opportunities for contact with the Norwegian authorities as soon as something goes wrong.
The media loves to be able to report on Norwegians in trouble abroad . Allegations of lack of help from the authorities are guaranteed to spread and make headlines. Admittedly, critical voices are also beginning to emerge against the media’s uncritical use of magnifying glasses on Norwegians’ problems abroad. But journalists still often hunt in droves when larger cases are underway.
The media’s hard drive may be related to politicians’ pursuit of winning issues and the struggle for public attention. Their desire to appear with courage and drive for the open stage increases the visibility of Norwegians in need. These cases probably also increase expectations of public service to Norwegians traveling. In this way, we quickly get a spiral of expectations with an ever lower threshold from more Norwegians with increasingly creative demands for help from the Norwegian authorities.