THE EVER CROWDING DIPLOMATIC FIELD ON THE BLACK CONTINENT, AND WHAT SHE REALLY NEEDS
The diplomatic arm/corp of nations (foreign affairs ministry) is a country’s is its image builder and projector, many countries, kingdoms, states and even alliances over the centuries have come to depend on this institution to cultivate a working relationship between cooperating nations and in so doing communicate intentions or cloud one as the case maybe based on mutual interests’ parties that are involved.
The world has undergone many eras during its long and torrid history and along the course of that journey we have recorded the rise and fall of great nations, kingdoms and alliances both peacefully and some marred in chaotic conflicts and destruction, and central to each powers rise or fall is the frantic and sleepless nights that diplomats dedicate to make possible the preservation of their state’s sustainability, survival, clout, or a continuous work towards the breaking of the hegemony that an oppressing/dominating power holds respectively. This has ushered in, different regimes of world order(s) modelled to serve the interests of the victors. But long before the first shots of a conflict are fired and long after the cessation of hostilities diplomats (bloodless warriors) still maintain a vigilant outlook and intervene where necessary to maintain or change the status quo now to this present world order.
Looking at two foreign ministries and their associated governmental MPAs (ministries, parastatals, agencies) vis a vis the operations of other such ministries and agencies entrenched in Africa and how the activities of the former can be instrumental to reshape the geopolitical landscape in the near future especially as it concerns ongoing developments on the African continent. Welcome in the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries and their diplomatic efforts around the world with special emphasis on, according to Tony Blair “the scar on the conscience of the world” Africa and their efforts for a multi polar model global order, where Africa as a pole of power can redefine its role on the global stage.
Both nations have some non-interventionist ideals in domestic issues which reinforce their respect for countries sovereignty thus staying away from their domestic politics, and absolute respect for international law and status of the UN as a guarantor of member states sovereignty and platform international relations as it concerns all member states. To achieve these, they both use a mix of both soft power (partnerships and trade deals in the economic sphere), and also hard power as a deterrent to dissuade any threat to its critical interests and their very existence.
Both have followed different paths to their present concepts to foreign policy and have pursued it with the same underlying ideologies albeit different scopes and magnitude. To sustain their drive towards their stated foreign policy goals they have made statements of intent and followed on investing billions of dollars to actualize it.
For the Chinese this was done through their president Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan where he delivered a speech in the Nazarbayev university, in September 2013 where he hinted that china and central Asia cooperate to build the silk road economic belt (a network of highways, speed trains, ports etc.), a month later October 2013 president Xi proposed building a close knit China-ASEAN community trade relations and offered guidance on constructing a 21st century maritime silk road to promote maritime cooperation, he also proposed the establishment of the Asian infrastructure bank to finance infrastructure construction and promote regional interconnectivity and economic integration. All these laid the ground work for partnerships and projects geared towards making possible the one belt one road initiative, as the project with a seeming indefinite timeline seeks to traverse the vast area of the Eurasia super continent through to Europe, and another through to the Persian Gulf and connect to Africa from the east, at this point, it is safe to say that it will grow to link up to many of China’s regional projects and initiatives across Africa to encompass the entire continent and thus solidify China’s position as Africa’s top trading partner and investor.
Russia for its own envisions a single economic continuum from Lisbon to Vladivostok which was put forth by president Vladimir Putin in 2007 during the Munich security council speech. Though the progarmme does not include Africa as a priority its stated aim in attempting to seamlessly integrate Russia with the EU, this vision in the long run will have undoubtedly brought about at some point a modicum of involvement with the African continent, as the EU is involved various economic and humanitarian efforts on the Africa continent thus the latter’s activities might have spawned a Russia-Africa on a larger Russia-EU socio-economic relations, at what scope and capacity remained unclear. Then came the 2012-14 Ukrainian maidan protest and the toppling of the party of regions government of Victor Yanukovich and the series of events that culminated with an EU sanctions on Russia, that vision then seemed a far off dream, though the latter did not officially and fully call it quits on president Putin’s vision but difficult to proceed as planned.
That gave a new impetus to Russia’s look to other directions, like its eastern neighbour and elsewhere for reliable partners, the former forming the major diplomatic push of the Russian federation today both within the framework of BRICS, OBOR-EaEU and other bilateral relations between Russia and China. The BRICS bloc having an African state on board provided an interesting opportunity to observing and assessing how the Russian federation will fare in a non-traditional Russian diplomatic front.
The principal inheritor of the Soviet Union, along which came the choice of continuing with the Soviet’s Africa’s engagement or to pursue a different path. At a time of economic turmoil of the 1990s that was not feasible and unwise for the Russian federation, thus a less of a hands on approach was in the offing resulting in a different diplomatic style and effort which looked and worked less effectively that the Soviet’s African policy but non the less important. Russia has on more than one occasion reiterated the fact that the Russian federation is not the Soviet Union and does not intend to recreate it, but instead build and maintain cordial relations with all nations based on equality, mutual respect for all partners’ interests.
It is true that the Russian federation is no Soviet Union, at least not in size or economic clout, but what is also true is that the Soviet Union did not multinational styled conglomerates both state and privately owned, nor does it have the number of individual billionaires, nor the ideological freedom to freely navigate across all spheres like religious and other NGOs (with little or no connection to government but sharing same national ideals). Therefore, the federation’s near total detachment from sub-Saharan Africa does not and will not serve the interests of the federation as it concerns the African continent, most especially sub-Saharan Africa.
Russia has immense potential to build and sustain a lasting and economically vibrant relations with sub-Saharan Africa, as against its present overtures and closer ties with north Africa and to some extent south Africa (BRICS bloc), these regions of Africa are both culturally and traditionally distinct from sub-Saharan Africa of the western, eastern and central axis. Russia can easily draw illustrations form its rich history of contact and relationship with Africans during the Soviet Union and the Russian empire before it. The former being particularly interesting with the rise to nobility and prominence of Abram Petrovich Gannibal who serve in the Russian court of queen Elizabeth and the good relations and favour he enjoyed under Peter the Great before her will undoubtedly inspire many Africans and remove the veil of monstrosity (racist comments and race inspired violence in Russia, which is very much alive, well, thriving, and ever present in western societies too) that the media has cultivated about Africans relations with the Russian state. This will dispel to a considerable extent the images imposed on African minds by Hollywood. Russia needs to as a matter of its interests tell her story loudly and decisively on how her efforts during the Soviet era has brought independence to many African countries, such as Angola, Mozambique, etc. and urgently too, along with how it built up the human capital directly and indirectly which in turn gave some African nations their most bright and selfless leaders with a vision of total independence in socialist ideals in people like Julius Nyerere etc.
Some common unknown
This is of course a huge undertaking in all ramifications as Africa is huge with an ever growing population, while Russia is almost sufficient as it relates to natural resources needs which will explain to a certain degree the reluctance to engage in Africa. But as this quest by Russia and her allies towards a more open and mutually cooperative world order based on mutual respect, equality and national interest as against pure self-interest that Africa’s colonial and neocolonial “partners” have pursed to their glory and the detriment of Africa, in so doing kept Africa on her knees. In this challenge to the unipolar order Russia and her allies need all the allies, partners they can get, in building these partnerships though I advocate respect for national sovereignty as being important but what is more important is building partnerships out of close knit personal relationships as well as socio-economic spheres with Africans, from the ground up progressively to the national level, even as diplomats strive to strengthen inter-governmental trust, through institutional co-operations of similar agencies of both parties in all areas from trade, security, culture, education and a host of other areas of cooperation through training and retraining across board to foster a multi-spectral partnership, trust, and lasting and productive relations some emphasis here should be laid on the people (personal one on one interactions).
Russia’s recent showings in the information sphere is commendable on the global scene (the EU parliament resolution branding RT and Sputnik news as threats worse than ISIS is a testament to that fact), but the same cannot be said for its work to other regions of the world especially Africa as Russia is lacking in the African information space, as the successes of RT and sputnik is not felt on the continent as it is either lacking or grossly inadequate, looking at it from the latter perspective such as the internet, with all its recorded successes around the world the African continent especially sub-Saharan Africa is behind the curve when it comes to the Russian perspective and contributions in global happenings. As a very indispensable component of foreign affairs and policy the lack of critical information has contributed in no small measure to the ill-informed unfavourable and divergence in views of Russia as a partner and or guarantor of socio-economics relations on the black continent.
Though the financial challenge of operating and maintaining an active diplomatic links beyond the traditional staffed embassy, to a more local, grassroots understanding and involvement in different spheres of everyday events of average citizens is daunting but its reward outweighs its cost and thus worth it, Russia can delegate some of these responsibilities to Russian NGOs and trust them to deliver with the necessary cost efficient support, even though the NGOs and government have their plates full and more priority given to CIS and EU countries and rightly so as they form strategic security architecture and economic/trade partners respectively. Russia should look both inward and outward to improve the capacity and scope of these organs (NGOs, media etc) for better outreach in other to expand the concept of “nashi” to cut across different divides, which also should include diverse people across the world who share the same ideals, believes, and principles as the motherland, in so doing this will be critical in building the next generation of bright, and balanced African minds on matters of global importance.
At a time when the Russian diplomatic community is at its busiest in recent times, having to grapple with and handle strategic issues and react to unforeseen sometimes provocative acts by state and non-state actors, on very important global issues, along with matters of national security with Europe, Americas, and Asia.
The appetite for an African diplomatic push is reasonably low as the foreign affairs ministry works around the clock on global hotspots of direct national security and interests implications, and opening and sealing different partnerships in both the security and economic spheres. But among the florid of all these high intensity and attention demanding diplomatic efforts, there appears a silver-lining, when all diplomatic tools appear visibly occupied and exhausted. This is where the privilege of the present provides a novel, prudent and tested and trusted means of achieving same results, as Russian NGOs, private businesses and corporations, and philanthropists etc who under the right support (technical and past experience) and oversight can and should fill the void that presently exists, which erstwhile the Russian diplomatic service would have filled, in so doing the government through the foreign ministry will unburden itself with the rigour of having to directly going full throttle requiring more resources, strength and personnel to the African diplomatic front but will still remain active and up-to-date on African scenarios and events (outside catching up on the ambassadors monthly report or evening news), along with this an added merit will come the establishment and building of relationships and partnerships on which Russian views/perspectives in Africa will evolve out of its present state of being a by-product of corporate media, rival foreign partnerships, and entertainment driven based depiction of Russia, into a more objective view of the country based on the availability of an alternate perspective on events on the global stage which undoubtedly has tremendous impacts on them.
The new African effort should be dynamic and stay true to what the Russian federation has always championed on the world stage on the basis of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust in any and all affairs between sovereign states.
I must say that to effectively actualize this Russia and Russians can borrow a leave from the many of the US’s state department’s and other western modelled African projects and approach, by following their footsteps in NGOs, multinational corporations, philanthropic gestures that engage in many projects across Africa, in areas of the provision of portable water, health service/outreach, educational and cultural exchange programmes and other sphere as can be identified and leveraged upon, not because they are bound by any obligation to do any of these, as it is and will remain in the responsibilities of African governments. But as they engage in different development and capacity building efforts on the frontlines of Africa’s dire needs and shortages, they build trust, partnerships, and friendship at the grassroots of African societies and across a wide spectrum of international relations, in the course of which they collect vast amount of data, process and analyze same to provide vital information of who, how, where, what and why a particular individual, group, region or state is right and prime for advancing a new dawn in international politics and relations as being projected by the Russian federation in both of their interests. Though Russia is a late entrant into the renewed diplomatic push for Africa, but without mincing words she will excel as diplomacy is not new to her nor is it rocket science, (Africa as other regions of the world yearn for an alternative to its present partnerships) but even if it’s the latter its surely not beyond her abilities and capabilities. What is needed is just a replication of these tried and tested methods but tailored to suit both parties in a mutually beneficial manner.