Honorary consuls are essentially volunteer diplomats.
Shultz is the honorary consul of South Africa to Kansas and Missouri. Born in New York, he moved to the Midwest in 1960. After graduating from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1967, he practiced law in Kansas City for 12 years. Beginning in 1979, he worked in Wichita as a corporate attorney for two decades. It was during this time that he found himself in South Africa during the late 1980’s on business.
“As a corporate attorney, one of the projects I undertook was buying a coal mine in Swaziland,” he said. “Swaziland is very small, so I would have to go to South Africa next door to get things done.”
This was the beginnings of a love affair that continues to this day.
“Certainly with what has happened there in the last 20 years has been very, very interesting.”
The country impressed him so much, he reached out to the embassy where he found no interest. Undeterred, Lee then contacted the Chicago consulate where he found more receptive ears.
“Very quickly, I found myself appointed.”
That was in 2009. To date, he’s visited South Africa on eleven different occasions, both for business and pleasure.
Now, Shultz is a member of the Consular Corps of Greater Kansas City. It’s a group of 24 honorary and 2 career consuls, representing 23 different countries. The two career consuls come from Mexico, who has had a consulate in Kansas City since 2002, and Paraguay. The Paraguayan representative is a consul emeritus, having retired from his diplomatic career while retaining his title. A full list of the countries with consuls in Kansas City can be found at the end.
“The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is a general guide as to your functions and what you should be doing,” says Shultz.
The treaty he’s referring to is the international agreement on what constitutes consular functions, which has been ratified in 179 countries. While it doesn’t lay out many specifics on how these functions are accomplished, it does provide a framework.
Career consuls and honorary consuls perform many of the same functions. They do a lot of boots-on-the-ground work to promote trade and commercial ties, like arranging a tour of Wichita aircraft manufacturers for the South African Ambassador.
Honorary Consul of South Africa Lee Shultz promotes trade between Americans and South Africa.
Credit Lebert Shultz / Consular Corps
“I think when he looked at the map originally he thought ‘Good heavens what can be in Wichita?’” says Shultz. “At the end of the day … his head was spinning realizing what was here.”
As the title suggests, career consuls are professional diplomats, employed directly by their native government. They travel the world on behalf of their nation to promote and protect its interests and citizens around the globe, all the while gathering a vast array of government and business contacts. They’re separate from ambassadors in that they are not as high-ranking, and work out of consulates, not embassies.
Honorary consuls have a career outside of diplomatic relations, are rarely paid for their work and are typically residents of the country they work in. They have a wide-ranging field of contacts that they gather from their professional lives.
Cyprienne Simchowitz is the honorary consul of the French Republic to Western Missouri and Kansas. Even though honorary consuls aren’t always from the country they represent, it certainly helps get the ball rolling. Simchowitz is a good example.
“I’m from East of here, across the big pond.”
The Parisian attended law school in France before immigrating to the U.S. Here in Kansas City, she became president of the Alliance Française de Kansas City, a French cultural organization.
“I had already been helping the general consulate,” she says. “So when time came to appoint a new person, they asked me and of course I said yes.”
One of her responsibilities is helping nationals who get in legal trouble in the US.
“One of the calls I got was regarding a person who had gotten arrested and detained by the immigration authority as well as by the criminal authority of the state,” she says. “Usually they ask me for a list of criminal lawyers in the area.”
And although the position is honorary, Simchowitz says it does carry some weight.
“We are in a way considered diplomats. We have a card from the U.S. State Department, and it says diplomat.”
While there are no actual requirements to be an honorary consul in international law, governments usually want people who have some sort of international skill set. Simchowitz is an immigration attorney who was promoting French culture to KC before her appointment, and Shultz has more than 40 years experience around international trade law.
But, you don’t necessarily need to have the title to promote your favorite foreign country.
“Like when ordering a wine in a restaurant you ask, ‘Do you have some South African wine?’” Shultz says.
Countries with Honorary Consuls in Kansas City Registered with the U.S. State Dept.:
Belgium, Austria, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Morocco, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey
This list was compiled from the Foreign Consular Offices in the United States, published by the US Department of State revised April 25, 2016. The full document can be found here.