The Impact of African Diplomacy in Global Politics

By J Moses Gray

Modern diplomacy today is in much more demand, because the art has grown exponentially, since there continue to be crisis one after the other especially the last century which saw two world wars fought and a long and costly cold war. But more than that Africa has been a hotspot with varied conflicts in almost every geopolitical zone of the continent, hence, nations continually depend on the practice to foster both domestic and foreign relations in the spheres of conflict and crisis resolutions so much so that, without diplomacy the global world order as we know it, might grind to a halt. In this endeavor, we must draw inspiration from two notable Americans.

In their well-researched publications: “The Politics of Diplomacy” and “The Art of Diplomacy”, Mr. James A. Baker and Dr. Henry Kissinger took contemporary diplomacy to another level through their ideas, presentations and voices. The two diplomats have been described by their peers as leaders in the art of negotiation and foreign policy, hence they have provided a fascinating account of diplomacy in the contemporary world, and thus as a guide for those who have interests in the field.

For example, Secretary of State, Baker became instrumental in bringing the Cold War in from the dark — for a soft landing by working alongside the former head USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev and the former de facto leader of Soviet Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze to maintain stability in Eastern Europe. Almost simultaneously, he put together the unprecedented coalition of nations that fought the first Gulf War also. On the heels of that success, he organized the Madrid Peace Conference that brought Arab nations and Israel to the peace table for the first time in modern history. On the other hand and especially during the Richard Nixon administration and the succeeding years, Henry Kissinger today stands out as one of United States well respected statesmen and foreign policymaker of the late 20th century. With his intellectual prowess and tough, skillful negotiating style, Kissinger ended the Vietnam War and greatly improved American relations with its former two primary Cold War adversaries: China and the Soviet Union.

This article is written therefore from the viewpoint to provide an analytical and empirical analysis of international relations in so far as diplomacy and Africa is concerned. It discusses three key issues, which among others, includes the failures of African diplomats on the global stage of negotiations and crises management, depth into comparative analysis of foreign policy, and contemporary diplomatic practices and hence concludes with the review of modern international relations, in the context of the African experience.

As societies develop, new scenarios and equations arise in international relations and the formulation of foreign policy with very little concerns about insufficiency on Africa. Studies have shown that much quantitative analysis in international relations exclude Africa because of the unavailability of reliable information and data about the Africa’s diplomatic success, particularly due to the failure of greater number of African diplomats to make significant impact. The initial conceptual problems are therefore reduced to four specific areas which are discussed in this article.

The current system of diplomatic relations has managed to adapt traditional core functions to contemporary requirements, supported by the modern international affairs. Therefore, accordingly, one of the most important functions of diplomatic mission is the protection and representation of state’s interests and that of its nationals [residents] in the receiving State.
In his acclaimed book titled: the Politics of Diplomacy, former Secretary of State, James A. Baker revealed that the international prestige of any country depends increasingly on the consistency of its foreign policy, international relations and the effectiveness of its officials in the Foreign Service, particularly their loyalty and their ability and talents to safeguard and promote the interests of their nations.

It is clear that a thorough knowledge of international relations coupled with prudence and consistency, a diplomat generates authority and the necessary strength to defend the interests of his/her state. Since new international relations call for a multidisciplinary approach to address contemporary challenges where coordination problems require diplomacy and strategy underpinned by internal consensus, much is therefore expected of those on the frontline in a diplomatic arena to protect their countries’ images. In his thesis on modern diplomacy, former Secretary Baker further explained that an effective diplomacy requires clear and precise goals, in addition to the skillful use of modern means of communication and objective perception of current international issues. In practical terms, for a diplomat to perform his tasks properly, the individual should be properly informed about the state of relations between the State he represents and the receiving State, and the results his State intends to derive from such relationships as a whole. Without a duly established professional diplomacy, the diplomatic staff of a foreign mission tends to be at unpredictable adversity, with obvious consequences. These include the limited ability to effectively take advantage of opportunities and to adequately address the risks posed by a new international environment.

The philosophical changes in international relations, as evident in its orientation, design and implementation, are often the result of the speed and intensity of changes from the globalization process and the increasing inclusion and participation of world leaders and the key elements or individuals who continue to influence global affairs. The multiplicity of simultaneousness and different fora of negotiations in the international arena is another contributing factor for the deep changes in global relations. For example, a Ghanaian retired diplomat and statesman, Michael Anda, in his book titled “Contemporary Diplomacy in Africa”, argued that if diplomatic functions are to be conducted properly, then African diplomats should be visible in their assignments and must be credible spokesmen for their countries’ foreign policy interests and initiatives. In his admired work, Anda detailed that some of these African Missions do not perform demanding diplomatic tasks sufficiently and effectively, most often taking a back seats during major conferences, while their colleagues meanly from the United States, Europe and Asia become visible at major sessions or summits. Their failures, he said to make an impact at these gatherings may not be intentional but the inability of most of these African diplomats to not persistently develop interest in reading and to conduct research on modern issues of global politics, he said, has a great part to play, further limiting their scope of understanding of the art and hence their ability to influence decisions.

Anda’s assertion has manifested itself most visibly as I can recall, in an awkward situation that occurred during the official celebration of African Liberation Day in Paris. To my almost surprise and dismay, a senior ambassador of one of the Mano River Union [MRU] States abandoned his prestigious status and reduced himself to a journalist by putting microphone to his colleagues’ mouths as they delivered stimulating speeches.

An Egyptian ambassador who was also at the occasion, said to me: this is very disappointing, our colleague has reduced himself and his country, what is happening to him, does he know the disgrace, causes and consequences of his action on his country?, He then said: this is unacceptable. For Henry Serrano Villard, a former African ambassador and author of twelve books; he took the argument of African diplomats performances on the global stage to another dimension, by alleging that it is clear that the deficiency of African diplomats include serious weaknesses such as qualification, incompetence, and above all the failures to, for most of them, take their responsibilities very seriously, while the appointment of politicians and others with no experience, knowledge, acceptable education and training in international relations and diplomacy are appointed to missions, which accounts for some of the major causes for the low level of performance seen over the last years.

In his book, Diplomacy and the World, Villard argued that while there are other African diplomats with unique education and respectable characters, some are either elementary or high school dropped outs who managed to beat the system fraudulently to get appointed by forging their credentials to reach highest levels in the field, while others in some instances have bribed their ways to the top in return for preferential treatment and appointments. While Serrano Villard may have sufficient grounds for this avowal, let me disagree with him on the grounds that while it is true that every profession has its own downsize situation, Africans have produced some of the world well respected diplomats that positively impacted t global politics, with Dr. Kofi Annan, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim etc being prime examples, however though, there remain constraints. Another default came to light in 2013 when a certain flamboyant ambassador was quizzed by a group of secondary school students during a certain occasion. The diplomat couldn’t distinguish foreign policy from international relations and the new world order on one hand and the doctrines of President Obama and former president George W. Bush on the order hand. On the stage, the so-called diplomat became a laughing-showcase.

For every time he tried to escape the question, he was reminded to address the students’ questions and provide answers. After his clumsiness became clear for all to see the moderator requested the students to give the ambassador some breathing space. The intervention of the moderator was geared towards rescuing the trapped ambassador from further embarrassment.

Other factors responsible for the low productivity of African diplomacy are the serious issues of diplomats negotiating with the powers that be, as to which missions they want to be posted abroad to, instead of getting despatched to counties by authorities based on their requisite qualifications. It is common for these so-called influential diplomats to lobby for posting to prestigious diplomatic missions in Europe, Asia, America and prestigious African countries and multilateral organizations, as greater numbers are not willing to be posted to poor countries, especially the underdeveloped ones. Another problem of concern is the existence of too many diplomatic missions abroad, which places heavy financial burden on the scarce resources of these poor sending countries. Studies have shown that Washington, Paris, London or Beijing wouldn’t post diplomats to countries of their choice or choosing where diplomats do not have command over the language and knowledge of the host states. In the words of Warren Christopher [a former U.S. Sec of state], a diplomat is a crisis manager and must possess: A good knowledge of international relations, and a good understanding of how international relations function between states.

This is another major deficiency for African countries which post diplomats to countries without being knowledgeable of the host state’s language. The smart ones take less time to learn the language while others spent years without being able to communicate through the medium of both spoken and written language of the host state. Let me remind those at the top of decision making that the use of effective communication is important in diplomacy as such, understanding the host country’s language is not just key in the process but rather a profound added advantage.

In order for a Foreign Service officer especially an ambassador to gain respect on the global stage, he should have a taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research; must be aware that modern diplomacy goes beyond curtails red wine and swanky banquets and not being restricted to an office, instead, contemporary diplomacy has moved to the next level of networking and holding discussions with other colleagues. Others may argue that an interpreter or translator will play a key role in the process, but let us not forget that the interpreter will not always say the precise words-either there will be addition or reduction in the interpretation that finally comes out. While some are very good in interpreting, others may not have the academic intellect, hence, to meet up with the demanding task that goes with the job. But might seek the job solely to make a living at the detriment of these diplomatic missions, where heads of governments and his crops do not have commend over the host state languages.

In contemporary diplomacy, the issues of economic interests, trade, protection of nationals, and security have all become much more difficult, with major challenges affecting the practices of diplomacy being influenced by major actors and powerful states, and sometimes at the continued loss of global, continental and regional groupings. Other factors such as bad political decisions in domestic politics, economic growth, and technological development, corruption among others have greatly affected African diplomacy in time past, even so now today!

Vividly, I can remember the famous words of my professor during my studies in Paris, France when he stressed that diplomats should be fully aware of the new insightful changes in international relations and be able to partner major institutions and influential businesses [companies] in the host countries to enhance economic growth, trade and investment back home. That is why those tasked with economic and political activities at embassies must be sharp, cognizant of global prevailing dynamics and the wheelings and dealings meant to shape policy and bring about the desire results; keep check of the financial and political movers and shakers, be well-schooled and knowledgeable of the subtleties of economic diplomacy which encourages greater cooperation and relations that protects investment and bilateral ties between two states or among multinational conglomerates.

Therefore, In order for a diplomat to gain respect on the global stage, one appointed at the level of an ambassadorial level should have taste and desire to seek new avenues and knowledge by following varied developments in the field of Foreign Service and hence the global dynamics politically speaking that continue to shape today’s world.

Former Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright in her book: New American Diplomacy, (2000), pinpointed that Diplomacy is the art and practice of negotiation between nations, conducted mostly through private conversations and the exchange of confidential documents. While it is true that a diplomat and especially an ambassador may tell the truth as it fits his country’s policy and goals, he also must be an effective diplomat and must be seen to be credible to attract the confidence of the government to which he is accredited.

A diplomat, according to customary norms, should be acknowledgeable of other states, regions, and of the mechanisms and procedures of international intercourses which involves knowledge of the world network of diplomatic missions and consular posts, their functions, their practices and structures. As an added advantage, a diplomat should be verse in crisis management and damage control and, as far as possible as well must be rounded in his duties.

A diplomat should also possess specialist qualities such as: political awareness, economic and trade knowledge, personal acceptability, education, intellectual curiosity and flexibility, and not just sit and wait to be tele-guided. A diplomat should level up fully to the new trends of diplomatic behaviors and challenges, taking into consideration the contemporary complexities of the international system, in which multiplicity of major actors operate, which stresses new approaches and solutions for a new demanding world order.

Hence, The Liberian experience cannot be discounted in these narratives. Astute diplomacy for example was needed and still continue to in the post Ebola and war Western African country. In relations to what has already been said; that after the Liberian civil war, as warlord turned president, Charles Taylor had balkanized and ran the country into the ground, and more so diplomatically, given his mischievous political and military adventurism especially in the sub region. President Sirleaf and her foreign relations team acted quickly and were able to, since 2005, use the international order to rebrand Liberia’s image, both economically and tactfully to garner foreign and international goodwill and investments, hence pivoting the country on the international stage as Liberia transitioned from war to peace. Post Ebola, also presents an challenge for affected countries such as Liberia to put its diplomats to work, as it seeks international partners as the country emerges from an idle and desperate economic situation which has been paralysed due to the scourge.

Liberia would not have received the worldwide benevolence it got if not for apt diplomatic initiatives and had serious negotiations not taken place sometimes long hours into the night, as perceptively as possible with grinding efforts, employing the the tools of diplomacy for national advancement. In order for a Foreign Service officer including ambassadors to gain respect on the global stage also, there must be a taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research about the host country to which he is assigned; he must also be aware that contemporary diplomacy goes beyond mere curtails and red wine. Hence, diplomacy must not be seen as a money making venture to enrich oneself and family against the greater good of society.

Diplomacy has brought development to other nations for example as already enumerated and economic and trade values as seen in varied negotiations with bilateral and multilateral bodies, as the Liberian case illustrates, as well as increased economic and commercial activity. As part of the State’s foreign policy, economic diplomacy and trade are now being given greater priority; these areas are now key factors in the development of contemporary international politics. Unlike European and Asia diplomats who have been described by some as effective and sufficient in these practices, African diplomats some have said have catching ups to do, and with most African countries enjoying impressive growth rates the last decade, there are hopes that diplomats representing African countries will recalibrate and get up to par by training and replacement so that qualify personnel occupy their well deserve posts.

Undoubtedly, economic, trade and commercial diplomacy should be paramount to a State’s project and that requires a strong background of the diplomats from a multidisciplinary perspective. Professional diplomacy is an appropriate instrument to perform this synthesis, to the extent that it can use its persuasive techniques in favor of businesses and investments and, simultaneously, prove to be politically and economically profitable to the sending state. The former Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Henry Kissinger, have written in detailed, that in the formulation of foreign policy, it is obvious that the economic and trade diplomacy are inseparable elements of conventional diplomacy, particularly in its professional management. Dr. Kissinger’s experiences and works are certainly a recommended readings for foreign policy students.

However, it is clear that economic and commercial interests, particularly those related to investment, exports, protection and assistance could be essential aspects of the diplomatic activities of a considerable number of countries. Actually, economic and trade diplomacy involves joint and just efforts through cooperation between governments and the private and public business sectors with respect to external actions to achieving economic goals linked to the national interests.

It is also essential to ensure greater consistency in the identification of sustained national economic interests abroad and, through careful analysis, developed model that can effectively ensure a safety pin to guide economic diplomacy in carrying out external economic relations by appointing people who are intellectually efficient and knowledgeable in the field of their calling, hence, diplomats should be appointed to assignments or missions where they can be operatively successful, as they serve the interest efficiently of their respective countries.

Josephus Moses Gray Email: graymoses@yahoo.com

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