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Considering Public Diplomacy as Africa Boils

Aug 24, 2012


Americans’ attention rarely strays beyond domestic discontents these days, and when it does extend overseas it is most likely to settle on the endless war in Afghanistan or the challenging puzzle that is China.

Meanwhile, as has almost always been the case, events in Africa receive little notice. This is a particularly perilous time there. To cite just one of many hotspots, Mali, it is increasingly clear that conflict on the continent is becoming more pervasive and bloodier, with political repercussions that extend far beyond Africa. In Northern Mali, Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters impose Taliban-type rules on civilians, hold several Western hostages, and have proved so much of a regional menace that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has threatened to call for a pan-African military force that would go into Mali to battle the militants.

This intensified fighting proceeds against the backdrop of increased competition between the United States and China for the favor of African governments and access to their resources. China recently promised to provide $20 billion in loans to Africa during the next three years and dangled the prospect of moving some of their industries to Africa. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, playing on Africans’ suspicion of China’s motives, said while visiting South Africa that the United States is “working to build a partnership that adds value rather than extracts it.”

So, we have superpowers dancing their minuet and Taliban wannabes inflicting misery. Sometime soon, global and local tensions are likely to make African instability unmanageable. The last things America and the rest of the world need now are another economic crisis and another conflict requiring military intervention.

Public diplomacy cannot, by itself, solve such huge problems, but it can put in place building blocks on which larger policy initiatives can be constructed. For instance, the U.S. Embassy in Mali earlier this year offered public diplomacy grants for local programs that would do the following:

  • Encourage participation in democratic processes, especially by youth and women;
  • Promote moderate voices;
  • Reinforce mutual understanding between Mali and the United States;
  • Build communication capacities in investigative journalism, social media networking, creative use of mobile phones, and other such fields.
  • These programs would strengthen Malian society and win friends among the many Malians who want no part of the insurgency and prefer to see their country strengthen itself without becoming economically or militarily dependent on outsiders.

    Public diplomacy’s great value in such cases is that rather than relying on the grand abstractions of “policy,” it connects directly with individuals, providing tools they can use in bettering their lives. Now is the time to step up such efforts, strengthening civil society within Mali and elsewhere in Africa. Doing so will give Africans a better chance of meeting the huge challenges they face, and that is clearly in the strategic interest of the United States.


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    1 COMMENT(S)

    Nicely played, sir.

    Nicely played, sir.

    We are left with in Africa a set on nations bounded by the demarcation lines of the prior colonial powers. Thus, they have no relationship to tribal demographics on the continent. These demographics should have formed the basis for nationhood.

    I can personally hearken back to the days of the former Belgian Congo turmoil with Katanga (on advice of the raw materials corporations, rightly or wrongly) seeking independence from the tender ministrations of Mobutu. I recall the British proudly leaving Ghana and Nigeria -- parliamentary buildings in place, wigs on the stands in the Halls of Justice, only to see in their rear view mirror the terrible tribal wars. These presaged the Hutu and Tutu massacres (which made much farther to the north Serbia and Bosnia look like a walk in the park.)

    The Salafist Sunni Muslims saw this as well. Eager to recreate the First Caliphate but - -after neutralizing the west with terrorism -- spending vast sums of money building mosques, schools, in western Africa as well as the Sudan and Somalia. Of course they employed their military wing, al Qaeda. The discipline of Muhammad was to replace the corruption of the relatively small time capitalists and attract a ready audience..

    The current situation in Africa now pits the PRC marauders against the pure Salafists. The former has offered fortunes for the control of African raw materials -- raw materials control being the most important element of PRC foreign policy.

    The United State comes lately into this jambalaya. Our To Big To Fail Banks are no longer merchant banks. Our investment bankers would rather create financial assets than do the hard and more risky -- work of making profits off real assets.

    Thank goodness, sayeth I, that we are now unable to jump into the fray missionary style under the terrible rubric of R2P. -- the most recent iteration of something I thought I had left behind in 1953 at Stanford. We had carried the water for so long on the idea of "international morality" as if there was some way that nations, their populations, their family structures would all subscribe to that highly individual, highly personal set of beliefs which permitted man and woman to live together in civilized society uniquely within a single nation.

    I commend you sir, for not raising the R2P cudgel here.


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