The Impact of African Diplomacy in Global Politics: Where Does Liberia Stand?

In their brilliant researches and publications: “The Politics of Diplomacy” and “The Art Diplomacy”, the two American statesmen and former Secretaries of State, Mr. James A. Baker and Dr. Henry Kissinger took modern diplomacy to a higher  level through their unique works, ideas, presentations and voices. The two illustrious, Baker and Kissinger, admired and described by many renowned diplomats and scholars as the leaders of negotiations and foreign policymakers, have provided a fascinating account of diplomacy in the contemporary world.

As Secretary of State, Baker became cardinal key to bringing the Cold War in for a soft landing by working alongside the former president of the then 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. 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.

While Henry Kissinger stands out as the dominant American statesman 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 enemies, China and the Soviet Union, now Russia. This article written from the view of an analytical and empirical analysis of international relations, discusses three key issues, which among others, include the failures of African diplomats on the global stage of negotiations and crises management, depth into comparative analysis of foreign policy, discusses contemporary diplomatic practices and concludes with the reviews of modern international relations, in the context of African diplomacy.

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 analyses in international relations exclude Africa because unavailability of reliable information about the African’s diplomacy, particularly due to the failure of greater number of African diplomats to impact the world. The initial conceptual problems are 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. One of the most important functions of diplomatic mission is the protection of state’s interests that it represents and of its nationals-residents in the receiving State.

In his acclaimed book title: the Politics of Diplomacy, the 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 also generates authority and the necessary strength to defend the interests of their states. 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 are expected of those on the frontline in a diplomatic arena ( not militarism) 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 the 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 an unpredictable diversity, with obvious consequences. These include the limited ability to effectively take advantage of opportunities and to adequately address the risks posed by the new international environment.

The philosophical changes in international relations, 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. The multiplicity of simultaneous and different fora   of negotiations in the international arena is another contributing factor for the deep changes in international relations. For 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, African diplomats should be visible in their assignments and must be credible spokesmen for their countries’ foreign policy interests.

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 occasions, while their colleagues meanly from the United States, Europe and Asia become visible at major conferences or summits. Their failures, he said to make an impact at these gathering may not be intentional but the inability of most of these African diplomats to persistently develop interest in reading  and conduct research on modern issues of global politics, while inferiority, he said,  has a great part to play.

Anda’s assertion has manifested itself most visibly as I can recall am awkward situation that occurred during the official celebration of African Liberation Day in Paris. To my almost surprise and dismay, a senior ambassador of the Mano River Union States abandoned his prestigious status and reduced himself to a mere 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 this country?, He said and said: this is unacceptable.  For Henry Serrano Villard, a former African ambassador and author of twelve books, 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 unqualified, incompetent,  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 some of the major causes for the low level of performance.

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 out but managed to beat the system fraudulently to get appointed by forging their credentials to reach this level while others in some instances have to bribe in return for preferential treatment.

While Serrano Villard may have sufficient grounds for his avowal, let me bid disagree on ground that while it is true  that every profession has its own downsize situation, African has produced some of the world well respected diplomats that positively impacted t global politics, with Dr. Kofi Annan being the example.

Another incompetency came to light in 2013 when a certain flamboyant ambassador was quizzed by a group of secondary school students during a certain occasion. I was embarrassed that I wished the grounds that I was standing would open so that I could have plunged beneath and disappeared.  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, this guy became a laughing-showcase and not far from being ‘dumb-ridden cattle among his peers and the students. For every time he tries to escape the question, he was reminded to address the students’ questions and provide answer. After his ineptness became broad, and vivid, the monitor requested the students to give the ambassador breathing space. The intervention of the monitor was geared towards rescuing the trapped ambassador from further exposing his ignorance in the global art and craft of diplomacy.

Other factor responsible for the low productivity of African diplomacy is the serious issue of diplomats negotiating which missions to be assigned, instead of getting posted to counties by those with the appointing powers. It is common for these so-called influential diplomats to lobby for posting to prestigious diplomatic missions in Europe, Asia, America and multilateral organizations, as greater numbers are not willing to be posted to African missions, especially the underdeveloped ones.

Another problem of concern is the existence of too many diplomatic missions abroad, which places a heavy financial burden on the scarce resources of these poor African Countries, decisively maintaining more contacts with non-African states. Studies have shown that Washington, Paris, London or Beijing wouldn’t post diplomats to countries of their choice or where diplomats do not have command over the language of the host state. In the words of Warren Christopher, diplomat is a crisis manager and must possess: A good knowledge of international relations, 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 acknowledged 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 topic 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 rather a profound added advantage. In order for a Foreign Service officer especially an ambassador to gain respect on the global stage, one appointed as ambassador should have a taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research; must be cognoscente that contemporary diplomacy goes beyond curtails red wine and swanky banquets or being restricted in office, instead contemporary diplomacy has moved to the next level of networking and holdig discussions with other colleagues.

Others may argued that interpreter or translator will play to 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. While some are very good in interpretation, others do not have the academic intellect and are educational weaklings or dwarfs to meet up with the demanding tasks that go with the job but will seek for the job solely to make their living at the detriment of these diplomatic missions where the heads and his officers do not have commend over the host state languages.
In contemporary diplomacy, the issues of economic interests, trade, protection of nationals, and security  have become much more difficult, with major challenges affecting the practices of diplomacy being influenced by major actors and powerful states, and some time the continued experiment 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.

Vividly I can remember the famous words of my professor during my studies in Paris, France when he stressed that diplomat should be fully aware of every day work and new profound changes in international relations and be able to partner major institutions and multi-million companies in host country to enhance economic growth, trade and investment back home of a sending state.

That is why those tasked with economic and political activities at embassies must be sharp, cognizant of global prevailing wheeling and dealing; keep check of the financial and political movers and shakers, be well-schooled and knowledgeable of dynamics of economic diplomacy which encourages greater cooperation and relations that protects investment and bilateral ties between two states or among companies.

In order for a diplomat to gain respect on the global stage, one appointed at the level of an ambassador should have taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research; must be cognoscente that contemporary diplomacy goes beyond curtails red wine and swanky banquets, should go beyond arm chair diplomacy (being restricted to office). As great man of letters once stated: “reading makes a ready man.”

Former American 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 especial ambassador may not always tell the truth, but to be effective the diplomat must be credible to attract the confidence of the government to which he is accredited and be a person of high esteem with unquestionable integrity.

A diplomat, according to acceptable practices, should be acknowledgeable of other states, regions, and of the mechanisms and procedures of international intercourse which involves a deep knowledge of the world network of diplomatic missions and consular posts, their functions, their practice and structure. As an added advantage, a diplomat should be crafty in crisis management and damage control and as far as possible without surrender, be well-rounded in performance.  

A diplomat should also possess specialist qualities such as: political awareness, economic and trade knowledge, personal acceptability, education, intellectual curiosity and intellectual versatility, and not just sit and wait to be teleguided.  A diplomat  should level up fully to the new trends of diplomatic behavior and challenge should not come as a surprise, but for others it does, taking into consideration contemporary complexities of the international system, in which a multiplicity of major actors operates, which demand new approaches and solutions for a new demanding challenges.
In order for a Foreign Service officer including ambassador to gain respect on the global stage, one appointed to a key diplomatic post should have taste and desire to seek new knowledge by reading and conducting research about the host country; must be cognoscente that contemporary diplomacy goes beyond curtails red wine, swanky banquets and money making business to enrich himself and family against the greater good of the sending country

Another area of diplomacy which has brought great development to other nations is economic and trade diplomacy, as well as economic and commercial diplomacy. 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 the Western, European and Asia diplomats who are very effective and sufficient in the practices most African diplomats are far below the belt, leading to the underdevelopment of their countries.

Undoubtedly, economic, trade and commercial diplomacy should be a key State project 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, in his widely read prestigious book detailed that in the formulation of foreign policy, it is obvious that the economic and trade diplomacy has become an inseparable element of conventional diplomacy, particularly in its professional management.  The book detailed Dr. Kissinger’s experiences and works as Secretary of State; I never get tire reading the book which contain over six hundred pages, it is a unique class of works on diplomacy.

However, other books read have recognized diplomacy that specializes in economic promotion, while lacking a strong background in this field, runs the risk of having devalued its role in the modern State. While in the execution and advance of economic and commercial diplomacy, often a key state project should be consistent. Its executors must be up-to-date with international economic and trade issues and must be prepared to constantly update their knowledge and the rapidly evolving technical procedures in international trade and its parallel negotiations.

In the field of a contemporary diplomacy, Economic and trade diplomacy is gaining greater momentum internationally. For a State, its economic power, the dynamism of its trade and its presence in global markets. But the political benefit of active trade diplomacy is not instantaneous, nor does its economic strength guarantee lasting political friendship with other States. The political force of a State does not rest solely and directly on its economic parameters. It is necessary to combine the ability to consistently trade with the operation in other fields, and all this must be coupled with greater social cohesion.

Their specialized work, to be effective, requires constant updating of knowledge and techniques and procedures. It is also essential for them in this exercise to ensure appropriate consistency in the identification of sustained national economic interests abroad in order to allow for effective economic diplomacy outside of the State.

This is one of the major problems for African countries, some of these people assigned to these tasks in most of the African embassies are unproductive and insufficient, but they are given the responsibility; the question is how does the government expect them to perform? A friend has confided in me that he was shocked when he learnt that a 4th grade dropped out female was appointed as a commercial counselor to an African mission in the Euro Zone. If this is true, what the sending state expect to gain result as relates economic and commercial diplomacy?

What it does is that such a bad decision to appoint such a low level person to a strategic demanding position in a diplomatic arena goes with greater consequences on the sending state. People occupying these positions necessarily do not have to come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather from other specialized agencies and ministries of government where experience and education in the field is the core value, and not preferential treatment.
In accordance with contemporary requirements, economic issues and trade have been established in the external actions of states as consistently growing objectives which are now given greater priority. They also are regarded as key factors in the current dynamics of international politics.  Cooperation and the maintenance and strengthening of international peace and security have traditionally been, and remain today, essential goals of diplomacy.

However, it is clear that economic and commercial aspects, particularly those related to investment, exports, protection and assistance are essential aspects of the diplomatic activities of a considerable number of countries. Actually, economic and trade diplomacy involves joint 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, develop a model that can effectively ensure a safety pin to guide economic diplomacy in carrying out external economic action by appointing people who are intellectually efficient and knowledgably in the field of the studies, diplomats who are “push and start” should be given another assignment in their missions where they can be effective, and not overnight transformed into arm chair diplomats and sleep through a great revolution like a day in the life of Rip Van Winkle. What out for part two.

By: Josephus Moses Gray
Email: graymoses@yahoo.com

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