Africans have started marching towards the achievement of Agenda 2063, the Vision of the African Union for the continent’s future. Agenda 2063 is more than a vision, of course; it is also an Action Plan. It is a call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa based on shared values and a common destiny. Indeed, in order to fully achieve the transformational Agenda 2063, various implementing mechanisms have already been set in motion. In these, African people are naturally key players to bring this continental vision to success, and one essential factor in this respect is the role of public diplomacy.
Today diplomacy in order to be effective has to entail the participation of the public, not least at grass roots’ level. Indeed, using public diplomacy as an additional mechanism for relationships has been steadily growing. It is now commonly referred as “the 21st century diplomacy“. Its importance in supporting formal diplomatic channels in both bilateral and multilateral engagements has become widespread. There’s a general, and sound, belief that where there are well-built people-to-people relationships, negotiations between leaders on the normal diplomatic track are likely to result in higher degrees of trust. There is awareness that different sections of society and the public at large are becoming significant players in the conduct of international relations.
In other words, implementing Agenda 2063 at national, regional and continental levels can benefit largely from employing a range of mechanisms to encourage public participation as outlined in the agenda. I strongly believe there is a need to widen the experience of some African nations in public diplomacy, giving particular emphasis on strengthening people-to-people relations. As Agenda 2063 envisions, several measures can be taken at the national level and these experiences can contribute to speeding up action, especially if shared and integrated into national planning frameworks as well as extended to regional levels.
It is worth mentioning Ethiopia’s experience in this respect. Ethiopia has recently been giving close attention to public diplomacy activities to support formal diplomatic engagement. It highly values people-to-people relations with different countries, particularly with its neighbors. The country’s foreign policy objectives stress that any problem in any one of the neighboring countries can have direct ramification on Ethiopia. Similarly, any of their achievements in peace, stability and development can have a positive impact on Ethiopia’s development and democratization process.
In this connection, the exchange of fruitful visits by public diplomacy delegations from Egypt and Ethiopia, and from Ethiopia and the Sudan, have underlined very clearly the growing role of people-to-people relationships and their value in creating common understanding and mutual trust among peoples as well as nations. The exchange of visits by Egyptian and Ethiopian public diplomacy delegations has confirmed the way that century-old mistrust and misunderstandings related to the Nile waters can be shifted to a new paradigm of “thinking”, a paradigm that shows clearly that the growth and development of one country will have a positive impact on the other. This, in fact, can spur regional growth and development because it encourages the sustainability of development and shows it can be realized in stable and secure societies. Equally, it remains important to nurture and encourage such ideas. Old-style attitudes can take some time to wither away.
Similarly, the outcome of the exchange of visits with the Sudanese public diplomacy delegation has already created a platform for more engagement among the peoples of the two countries, widening their communication on various common issues. In addition to having an impact and further deepening overall bilateral relations, this exchange of visits has also provided a lesson for the region, to encourage others to forge similar people-to-people ties to create venues in which people can interact among themselves for their common good. This kind of public diplomacy activity, if taking place across all the regions of the continent, will contribute largely to forging closer ties between different nations and peoples.
It is true that since the establishment of the Organization of African Unity and its rebirth as the African Union, Africans have registered a number of impressive achievements. Today, Africans are enlarging their efforts, scaling up previous achievements and crafting new initiatives and programs to realize the concept of “African solutions for African problems”. Agenda 2063 emphasizes the central importance of public awareness, involvement, support and ownership by the African population of the agenda and its execution. Agenda 2063 aims to be fully participatory and it will be owned by stakeholders of the entire continent. Implementing its aspirations, goals and their associated targets, requires the involvement of all African citizens working together toward collective prosperity.
In fact, the effectiveness of implementing the will of African nations, whether identified through bilateral engagements or initiatives at regional or continental levels, must be determined by how much people from different backgrounds develop the sense of ownership and forge a common understanding. One effective way of mobilizing Africans to work together is to give people across the continent the opportunity to communicate, understand and trust each other as well as allow them the opportunity to identify their common destination and understand the way to maximize their mutual benefits.
This is exactly where public diplomacy can play a major role. Exchanges of public diplomacy delegations and other forms of people-to-people relationships must be expanded across the whole of Africa. They can and should play a considerable role in expediting continental initiatives and programs like Agenda 2063, as part of the realization of the economic and political rejuvenation of Africa.
Nebiyu Meshesha is a Director for Domestic Media Relations at the Public Diplomacy and Communications Directorate General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. He can be reached via Twitter.