The challenges of African diplomacy

By Remijo Lasu Peter (MP)

The African historians did not build on the historical traditions of Africa which were partly diplomatic in nature, where some glimpses of diplomacy could be traced; instead they had concentrated on the history of European traders, missionaries, explorers, conquerors and rulers and neglected African diplomatic history. Both the European diplomacy and African diplomacy are similar, both addresses the activities of human relation.

Both the Western and African diplomacy are defined as the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or States. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional or career diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics, culture, environment and human rights. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by the executive and ratified by legislation. But some African States don’t believe in profession or career, they just venture to the doom, where it may result in the collapse of the whole institutions of the ministries of foreign Affairs.

African diplomacy developed in history. In the past, there were practices of sending emissaries to open negotiations among the primitive societies and in many cases their reception and treatment were regulated in a rudimentary way, by customs or taboos. Foreigners visiting African city states, kingdoms and chieftaincies were regarded as impure and had to be subjected to ritual purification, due to fears of strangers which could easily cause harmful influence. The modern practice of African diplomacy is similar to the Western diplomacy with slight difference, in the way African diplomats solves issues of conflict, security and, economic development. For instance the “Truth and Reconciliation initiative” is African pride of conflict resolution. The west will definitely come to borrow from Africa. It was the brain of Nelson Mandela of South Africa. In costume; some Africans wear Kaunda shoots and Nigerian Traditional dressing, while others wear the Western shoots and neck ties.

The concept of International Corporation in Africa grew recently during the struggle for African Nationalism. There were two main schools of thought of African nationalism that influenced the course of African diplomacy from independence until today, championed by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa and finalized by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda in their fight for the independence of African States. President Museveni is the last guarantor of the independence of South Sudan. He worked tirelessly for peace and freedom of the people of South Sudan. Today as we talk, Museveni is soldering more than one million South Sudanese in Uganda, comprising registered refugees and self-settled civil population amongst the Ugandan communities.

Why should such big number of civil population from the whole region flock to Uganda? It is because Museveni started his rebellion with respect to human rights and human dignity. After the liberation, Museveni hurried to eliminate tribalism by building democratic institutions based on merit, through Movement system. The movement system eliminated tribalism in Uganda. Today one can see all the tribes in Uganda represented in National Resistance Movement (NRM) as well as in Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) movements, that element alone gives credit to Museveni, followed by respect for the rights and the dignity of the woman in Uganda, the way Museveni supports religious institutions including religious schools and Holy shrines, donating millions of shillings in support of such institutions and guaranteeing security. In this regard, H.E. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is a Living Political Saint, following the footsteps of Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who is on process of canonization. Uganda is left with few things to do, namely: Gazette the whole colonial Kampala town to open up roads, remove the factories in residential areas, particularly the plastic factories in Kawempe, due to their pollution of the environment with bad smell, irritating and causing itching in people’s eyes. The second thing is management of the transport system.

The first school of thought come from the English speaking nations, which believes in independence of Africa that can provide the basis for the regeneration of the continent, the actors to this school were; Kwame Nkurma of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. They wanted the whole Africa to get independence as quickly as possible, by practically forming the guiding objectives of the anti-colonial movements in Africa.

The second school of thought came from the French-speaking colonial Africa, initiated by Leopold Senghor, Houphouet-Boigny and Maurice Wamego. They were not in favor of independence of Africa. They proposed greater participation in the political process of a French Union.

At the end, the first school of thought succeeded in their objectives of decolonization of Africa. The anti-colonialism generated the sense of African unity, as it developed from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 to African Unity (AU) in 2000, championed by Muamar Ghadafi of Libya. The African Union does not mean political union, but co-operation of African states for common objectives to avoid future horrors and humiliations such as slavery, colonialism and exploitation of African resources, particularly, the raw materials exported abroad.

Ghana got its independence in March 1957, in November 1958; the Ghana-Guinea Union was formed. In April 1961, the Union was expanded to include Mali and called the Union of African States (UAS). The three independent states made a Charter committing  them to a common foreign and defense policies; defining their economic objectives, and support for other African countries waging anti-colonial struggles and building  African unity. Their union became the first body opposing the French nuclear testing in the Sahara desert, protecting African soil.

In January 1961, the UAS was widened to include Libya, Egypt, Morocco and Algerian for National Liberation. This became known as the Casablanca Group. Its Charter reiterated the objectives of the Union of African States and appealed to other independent African states to join them in the struggle for a common action of building unity, liberty, and security in Africa.

Later, the rival group of Monrovia emerged, led by: Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo. The objectives of the Monrovia group were broadly the same as those of the Casablanca group. Both stood for the promotion of understanding and unity in Africa; both were opposed to apartheid in South Africa; both aimed at promotion of economic integration; both undertook to resist threats to peace and stability in Africa, including opposition to nuclear testing and both had plans for institutes for conflict resolution between member states.

The first point of difference was that the Casablanca Group represented the school of pan-Africanism; they saw security for African states as lying only in unity and any delay in its achievement, leads to disaster and further humiliation of Africa. But the Monrovia Group, on the other hand, preferred a slow process to unity, they were not in hurry.

The second point of difference between the two groups was that the Casablanca group preferred political unity first before any need for economic development and co-operation, which may not happen. On the other hand the Monrovia group wanted to achieve unity through economic integration.

In June 1960 the most oppressive Belgian colony of the Congo became independent. There had been no meaningful preparation of the country for independence. There were no African military officers; and there were hardly any African professionals in the field of administration. As a result, the country dissolved into chaos one week after independence, without testing the first cake of independence anniversary. Prime Minister Lumumba appealed to the United Nations to restore order and to put down the secessionist forces based in the Province of Katanga and led by Tsombe. All the Independent Africa States called with one voice for the United Nations intervention, thinking that it would be a magical solution to the problem in Congo. Unfortunately, the UN peace keeping process continued in the area until today, more conflicts of different natures continued unabated. Patrice Lumumba was murdered and the country descended into civil war.

The African states looked at the United Nations for their salvation; unfortunately, the United Nations’ function is only to protect peace in the whole world. The Congo crisis was a turning point in the history of post-colonial Africa; one African country emerging into independence after another.

In May 1963, Thirty two independent African States assembled in Addis Ababa to form the Organization of African Unity (OAU).  The formation of OAU marked an end to rival ideological blocs within the continent and opened a way for pursuit of broad African foreign policy objectives. Africa would be able to speak in one voice to the International community.The primary objective of OAU was to work for achievement of African unity, liberation of those African States such as Zimbabwe still under colonial rule. The summit appointed a Liberation Committee to serve as the channel for material assistance to the liberation movements and to co-ordinate the liberation struggle. Indeed OAU contributed greatly to the independence of Africa. That was the first achievement of African Diplomacy.

But African States were yet confronted with a number of vulnerabilities which continued until today: The first was economic vulnerabilities, caused by falling export prices and the failure of investment plans, causing political repercussions. So the economic crisis became a challenge to African diplomacy.  There were efforts to strengthen international co-operation as a key factor in meeting the challenge of development in Africa. In June 1986, a special session of the UN General Assembly was convened which unanimously adopted the United Nations Program of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development. For their part, African leaders should undertake effort in structural adjustment, rehabilitation and development of agriculture, and the efficient use of human resources. The process failed, the result was a considerable worsening of human conditions. That failure marked a record of a major failure in African diplomacy.

This sends a message that nobody can relieve you from your family problem. The effort must begin at home by making the regional blocs as vehicles for economic integration. So far, the various regional groups have each pursued the implementation of their respective programs without any visible effort to build bridges between themselves in form of harmonization of policies and programs, for example South Sudan need to harmonize its policies and amend its laws in line with those of the East African member states, in order to get full membership of the community and achieve its political and economic benefits in terms of security and trade.

Apart from the economic challenge another worst enemy emerged, the issue of security caused by mainly intra-states armed conflicts. The independent African States descended to rivalry for power. The colonial masters had prepared few elites in tribal lines in both military and educated class. One tribe favored against another in education, and the worrier tribes favored for military training, which had brought about coups and counter coups, rebellions and instabilities in Africa.

After the conflict was the challenge of reconstruction, because liberation from colonial rule alone is not enough to build a nation; nation-building begins immediately after independence but in African context it means many things including eliminating the element of ethnicity which is intrinsically built in African blood, hindering development. The second vulnerability is fostering social justice through equity and fair play; any government which claims legitimacy is expected to deliver a measure of social justice. A part from the challenges of social justice, there is another challenge, known as corruption. It means fighting corruption so that society’s rewards are seen to be based on merit. Finally, nation building can only be achieved through democracy, in order to seal any claim of legitimacy of a government.

Against the odds, a good number of African States, among them Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, Egypt and Zambia just to mention but a few, have achieved growth rates of between 2 and 5 per cent per annum due to democratic orientation, rule of law and building the culture of peace and stability in their States. Unfortunately, some of the African States are descending to the pit due to bad governance and tribal conflicts. I don’t want to mention names, we hope for a change in behavior. For instance if I were a leader of certain government in Africa and I happened to make an official visit to those stable countries, will I not be feeling guilty when enjoying courtesy in those stable States? Why is mine like that behind? What caused it to be so? What shall we do to remedy the situation? And why is mine becoming a laughing stock in the community of States? Think about these questions and reflect upon them for the sake of the suffering people near you who are waiting in hardship for the dawn to arrive!


The author is a Member of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly representing Constituency no.13, Morobo County. He can be reached via email: p.lasu@yahoo.co.uk



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