The Unorthodox of Contemporary African Diplomacy in World Politics: The Analysis

By: Josephus Moses Gray/Email:

J. Moses Gray
J. Moses Gray

The early years of independence of African countries were marked with a kind of general euphoria of the people and young political class. It was also naturally and legitimately an era of great dreams and high hopes: a time when the African unity projects were confronted with much less ambitious aspirations based, in particular, on the control of some geographical areas inherited from colonial masters in the form of States.

Some leaders of these delimited areas rejoiced as they replaced colonial administrators who were coming to the end of their stay on what appeared to be a terra nullius without stories, and to which we had to give one, by the benevolent favors of colonization. These days, national frontiers are becoming less relevant in determining the flow of ideas, information, goods, services, capital, labor, and technology. The speed of modern communications makes borders increasingly porous, while the volume of cross-border flows threatens to overwhelm the capacity of states to manage them.

The main purpose of this is to analyze in-depth the importance of diplomacy along with its attendant capacity for adaptation. It then discusses the nature and meaning of diplomacy, its emerging patterns of practice, and its relevance for not only policy-makers but also a wider cast of actors and set of social interaction. The diplomacy over the century has expanded, from the high politics of war and peace to health, environment, development, science and technology, education, law, and the arts. It also discusses the role of African diplomats in the context of failures and challenges confronted them.

Far from retreating, complex interdependence and globalization have increased the scope and volume of negotiations, especially in multilateral forums, the growth in the number of participants taking part in the negotiations, the number of issues that are now the subject of international negotiations, the diversity of negotiating styles of officials coming from vastly different political cultures and levels of development, and the technical complexity of the subject matters up for negotiation have combined to make the process of negotiation more elaborate, highly technical, and more protracted.

In the middle Ages diplomacy was typically engaged in by kings and princes of neighboring states directly at summit level, the practice fell out of favor partly because of the inherent risk to the personal safety and security of the royals, and partly owing to the paucity of results. The ease and speed of international travel, combined with an explosion in the range of issues that diplomacy now covers, is responsible for a proliferation of diplomatic summits with a resulting convergence between foreign policy-makers and the practice of diplomacy.

The 21st century diplomacy should begin to operate in two different spheres—the traditional ‘club’, dominated by hierarchy and strict gatekeepers, and the emerging ‘network’, made up of actors of global stage and economic powers including state actors of the host country, the practice of diplomacy in this modern era go further than arm chairs diplomacy which some time disgracefully called “push and start diplomacy”; meaning an ambassador or foreign service officer being restricted in office instead the new paradigm shifts of the modern practice of diplomacy highly considered interactions and communicating messages precisely.

In the wake of a new paradigm shifts, diplomacy goes far beyond sparkling red and white wines, champagne, ceremonial dinner and soliciting financial and other hand-outs for personal enrichment. The revolutionary changes in the nature of relations between sovereign states and even non state actors with international reputation and other civil societies have changed the responsibilities of today’s diplomacy which is basically that of mediation and communication of international issues between countries, civil international societies and the public.

The landscape of diplomacy and its practices have changed from the old practices to a modern system; beginning with the advancement of technology and education that makes it imperative to adapt to the demands stemming from continuing transformations of the international system. The gradual collapse of a long-established hegemonies and the re-emergence of long-neglected enmities have placed a high premium on the work of those well-trained and skilled in mediation, negotiation and representation.

The word diplomat has been used in a rather general sense to include all members of the foreign services of all nations, and particularly those acting as chiefs of mission. The practice of sending official envoys to foreign political jurisdictions to represent a sovereign political entity is very ancient, it was practiced by exchanged of messages and gifts, negotiated treaties and alliances, signed peace agreements, and sometimes mediated disputes between neighboring sovereigns.

Modern diplomacy in terms of practice may have lost some of its image of exceptional ingredients, in the sense that it has to compete and interact with a much wider dynamic of agency, conduct itself in a more time-sensitive manner, and be applied with a greater technical orientation. Additionally, to a far greater extent than in the past, diplomacy is wrapped up with domestic policy-making and political/societal demands about governance across an extended spectrum of issue areas.

The practice of diplomacy in the contemporary world as relates the new world order and international relations, the ancient practice of diplomacy has under goes several transformations to the new effectual and dynamics ones, moving at a greater speech that requires one to precisely understand foreign politics, culture, trade and commerce, and the intellectual facility and linguistic agility to network and intelligently contribute meaningfully at major gathering where issues are brought forth and discussed.

In certain cases, diplomats also give occasional speeches to members of the community of their host country. It is admirable profession of integrate, intelligent, honesty, political and edification elegance, free of corrupt and other unwholesome practices especially greed for financial gains.   But, now new issues such as technical matters are coming to the forefront. Out of this sphere of unfolding developments and uncertainties a diplomat, in this modern era, should obtain the ‘requisite tools’ of education, skills, and a marketable reputation.

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, among others have greatly affected the international system. These new issues not only reflect the wider interests and responsibilities of government but also narrowly focus on non-state actors (Mohammad Tariqul, 2005). These trends have consequently changed the diplomatic agenda, techniques and practice of diplomatic relations, the rapid growth in the operational activities of international organizations, and changes in the style of negotiating diplomatic matters.

An Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, Dr. Richard Rosecrance in his well-researched text argues that diplomatic techniques have undergone considerable metamorphosis in the modern era, while in his book titled: The Rise of the Trading State”, Rosecrance propounded that the extensive use of propaganda, subversion on a wide scale, and the manipulation of national economic instruments for foreign policy purposes have greatly enlarged the range of multilateral dealings on the world scene.

But in this modern and advanced technically era, where does Africa stand in the practice? What are the challenges and failures of African diplomats? This is an unanswered inquiry which this write out written from a broader perspective with references and illustrations hoped to address. The philosophical changes in international relations, evident in its orientation, design and implementation, are often the result of the speed and intensity of the 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 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 gatherings 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.

Diplomacy is not an end but a means; not a purpose but a method. It seeks, by the use of reason, conciliation and the exchange of interests to prevent major conflicts arising between sovereign states and other civil organizations. It is an activity which aims to promote the national interest of a country and also a technique for accommodating conflicting interest. But it could also be construed that apart from representing national interests the role of a diplomat includes the bringing about compromises to ensure a greater peace in an age when conflict has more dire consequences.

A nation’s diplomat required function as his or her country’s eyes, ears, and voice abroad, must be aware of national interests and values while being able to understand foreign politics and cultures. At the same time, the skills required of professional diplomats include intelligence, tact, discretion, circumspection, patience, self-control, teamwork, adaptability, creative imagination, the ability to signal and communicate messages precisely to the target audience.

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, 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 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.

Without an argument, this is a common practice by some individuals in the diplomatic field. While it is true that every profession has its own downsize situation, Africa has produced some of the world well respected diplomats that positively impacted the global politics, with Dr. Kofi Annan being the example while on the other side, some of the continent’s diplomats are disappointing.

Another 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 place 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 or uninformed diplomats to countries of strategic importance in a particular region or continent.

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, should be well informed, smart, bridge and possess the ingredients of contemporary diplomatic know how.

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 official 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 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 sometime 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.

Several publications on modern diplomatic practices explained the importance of a diplomats being 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 countries to enhance economic growth, trade and investment back home of a sending state. But dozens of researches conducted in 45 out of the 53 countries in South Sahara Africa show that about eighty-five percent of African diplomats lacked the requisite knowledge and skills to understand emerging worldwide issues while inefficient and the lacked of skills are some of the factors that negatively impact African diplomacy.

The study further points to corruption, low education, greed for monetary interests, lack of the requisite education and qualification, political preferment and failures to understand new dynamics of the new world order; understanding the host country language is one of the greatest deficiency of African diplomats.  But in most instances especially for under-developed nations, inept and half-baked individuals are appointed under the influence of gifts and bribery. It is so shameful that some of these people do not know the different between Micro-economic and macro-economic or fiscal policy from monitory policy either can they distinguish economy and economics.

In an advanced technically era, diplomats sometimes are merely the messengers of their governments rather than important advisers and policy makers, since technology has brought about a psychological warfare and propaganda that has become a powerful weapon to diplomacy and foreign policy. At present, diplomats are engaged in an expanding range of functions, from negotiation, communication, consular, representation, and reporting to observation, merchandise trade and services promotion, cultural exchange, and public relations. Diplomats restrict their interactions and deal solely with other members of an exclusive club, comprised of governmental officials, fellow diplomats, and, occasionally, members of the business community.

Diplomacy today takes place among multiple sites of authority, power, and influence;   at its essence is the conduct of relationships, using peaceful means, by and among international actors, at least one of whom is usually governmental. The typical international actors are states and the bulk of diplomacy involves relations between states directly, or between states, international organizations, and other international actors.

The growing number and diversity of actors engaged in diplomacy, the proliferating number and variety of issues covered by diplomacy, the expanding range of functions served by diplomacy, and the increasingly specialized and technical nature of the discussions and negotiations in turn mean that a diplomats need to be highly multitalented and should engaged in an expanding range of functions. The development of instant communications and the advance of science and technology have increased the depth and scope of diplomacy in this contemporary world of civilization, especially with the emergence of new states, nuclear weapons, conflict resolution, terrorism and bad governance.

Contemporary diplomacy in terms of practice is carry out through several processes such Shuttle diplomacy, Multilateral diplomacy, Public diplomacy, Economics diplomacy, Hi-Tech diplomacy, Conference diplomacy, Instant Media diplomacy and Resident diplomacy which is also called Track diplomacy; Track One refers to the standard form of diplomacy involving negotiations between officials of two or more.

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. Not only do the ‘newcomers’ who are educated in the practices emulate states’ behavior, but they also develop new mechanisms and instruments of reading materials of diplomatic conduct and practices, this usually afford them the opportunities to make impact on the world stage of  recognized diplomatic practices.

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 nations, ability to capture successful negotiations, have aspirations in the negotiations, great moral and intellectual sensitivity, perception, imagination and courage, the ability to make parties feel convincing and grateful for successful negotiation.

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 for the sending state.

Today, the role of “hi-tech conference diplomacy” in most cases downgrade the role of diplomats especially Ambassadors. In this hi-tech era of advancement, in some cases diplomats are secondary important, while in a crisis situation, they act merely as messengers. In an advanced technically era, diplomats sometimes are merely the messengers of their governments rather than important advisers and policy makers, since technology has brought about a psychological warfare and propaganda that has become a powerful weapon to diplomacy and foreign policy.

According to a leading twentieth-century figure in the study of international politics, Hans Morgenthau, diplomacy will naturally decline with the onset of modern communication technologies such as the telephone, telegraph, cable and communication satellite. For example, following the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Washington and Moscow set up a teletype system that delivered printed copy from one capital to the other.

Furthermore, leader’s willingness to use hi-tech telephone to reach their counterparts across the globe has carried communication a step further. Research shows that in the Persian Gulf crisis of 1991, former President George H. Bush, and former President Mikhail Gorbachev conducted an unprecedented 75 minutes telephone conversation. Also in recent times the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu made a telephone call to the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon dissuading him not to go to Iran, former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell conducted an unprecedented about 95 telephone calls under the rubric of diplomacy to his colleagues around the world.

The former Foreign Minister of Liberia, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan on one occasion took advantage of this modern system of tech-diplomacy by speaking to his Turkey counterpart on the shooting of Liberians in that country. Occasionally, telephone diplomacy some time experiences problem due to tech-glitch, on a largest scale hi-tech diplomacy is wildly used by world leaders to get a quick result (Gray, Josephus Moses, 2014, The Practices of Hi-Tech Diplomacy in an Advanced Technically World).

The Hi-Tech diplomacy is used mainly by presidents and foreign ministers to by-passed their ambassadors to put their calls through directly to their counterparts or other high ranking officials of another states to discuss issues. This form of diplomacy, unlike the traditional one, is very effective, it gives instant results.

Study shows that technology has rendered the difference in time, space and distance irrelevant and meaningless in contemporary diplomatic intercourse. And now the almighty internet with its many sophisticated features including the e-mail segment cannot be denied center-stage in the community of diplomacy (US State Department report 2003), while Multilateral diplomacy has also brought in its wake new forms of diplomatic activity like public debates, extensive committee work, parliamentary procedures that back in the home country are the provenance of politicians.

Intranet” systems allow, among other benefits, a comprehensive and effective communication between the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions in their country. “Instant media” have a significant role in this area, especially the “chats” and social media networks like Face book, Skype and Twitter, which are used both by the foreign ministries and diplomatic missions to disseminate and receive data. This form of diplomacy was very effective during the recent US elections, although seventy-five percent of news on the Facebook as misleading or false.

Another effective form of diplomacy is Public diplomacy which has grown in the world and in the age of reality TV. It is used to mobilize public support, to sustain momentum in negotiations, or to sabotage negotiations by leaking details of concessions contrary to individual preferences. This practice also include Conference diplomacy has its antecedents in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 4th century. The nature of diplomacy in the 21st century revolves around complexity management and given the involvement of an increasingly diverse cast of actors, diplomats must reach out beyond their peers and tap into civil society.

Diplomat should be fully aware of work every day to be able to partner with local businesses and companies in host country to enhance economic growth back home in his country. That is why those tasked with economic activities at embassy must be sharp, cognizant of global prevailing wheeling and dealing; keep check of the financial movers and shakers, be well-schooled and knowledgeable of economic diplomacy which encourages greater cooperation and relations that protect investment and bilateral ties between two states or among companies.

Evidently, diplomat presents his or her government’s policies to the foreign and domestic publics in a persuasive and persuading tone, not a demanding one, as such; a diplomat always represents the interest of the nation but at the same time cannot ignore the public opinion on national and international issues that go beyond defined borders.

However, not all diplomacy is carried out by diplomats. In a sense, every citizen of a state who travels to another country is a diplomat, sometimes not a very good or skillful one. However, in a professional sense, diplomats include two main groups: diplomatic officers and consular officers. Diplomatic officials specialize in representation and negotiation, whereas consular official are particularly concerned with the protection of the interests of the nationals of their country. The diplomat in this modern world faces challenges from the global distribution of power.

A diplomat, is not one whose focus is deeply rooted in money, materialism, curtail red wine and swanky banquets much more than that should have the ability and knowledge to sense what is especially politically or other obtaining in the environment where he or she is accredited and relates same to the sending government. In the much quoted definition of a renowned Liberian author and former diplomat, Dr. Joseph Saye Guanua, he defined a diplomat as an honest Man sent abroad to lie for the good of his country.  In contract to Dr. Guanua’s definition of diplomat, this author (Gray, Josephus) argued that it is most dangerous for ambassador to tell lies, saying sooner or later the lies will be exposed due to new advancement of diplomacy.

While in his recent book: Liberian Emerging Democracy, Josephus Gray, (2013) reiterated that beyond representation, a diplomat is expected to possess a good knowledge and understanding of his own country; its geography, history and culture, its economy, political, social and its demographic structure, natural resources, its industry and the determinants of its foreign policy priorities..

Diplomacy serves states in three useful channels of communication including means of negotiating agreements between states, a source of information about what is happening in host states and representing the interest of the sending state. A diplomat should be acknowledgeable of other states, regions, and of the mechanism 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, personal acceptability, education, intellectual curiosity and intellectual versatility, and not just.An ambassador 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.

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 dynamic of economic diplomacy which encourages greater cooperation and relations that protects investment and bilateral ties between two states or among companies.

Another area of diplomacy, which has brought great development to other nations is economic and trade diplomacy, as well as economic and commercial diplomacy. Nowadays, economic diplomacy and trade are now being given greater priority; these areas are now the 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.

By the same token, 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. In the field of a contemporary diplomacy, economics and trade diplomacy are gaining greater momentum internationally. For a State, its economic power, the dynamism of its trade and its presence in global markets are cardinal. But the political benefit of active trade, diplomacy is not instantaneous, nor does its economic strength guarantee lasting political friendship with other States.

One of the major problems for African countries, some of these people assigned to these tasks in most of the African embassies are unproductive, not innovative 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 an elementary dropped out was appointed as a commercial counselor to an African mission in the Euro Zone. If this is true, what the sending state expects to gain in term of dividends as it relates to 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 to 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 are the core value, and not preferential treatment.  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.

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 where they can be effective, and not to be overnight transformed into arm-chair diplomats or a sleeping diplomat.

The author, Josephus Moses Gray is a native born Liberian, hails from the Southeastern Village of Kayken, Barclayville in Grand Kru County. He is an author, diplomat and scholar with a wealth of rich credentials, including a doctoral studies completion in International Relations and Diplomacy from France, MA in International Relations and BA in Communication and Journalism, from Liberia. He formally practiced as a journalist for 18 years with devotion. He has written extensively and published over 40 articles on variety of contemporary issues.

By: Josephus Moses Gray


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