Geopolitics, as a discursive practice, should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, sometimes we are so busy with our daily activities and work that we tend to ignore the fact that the media can, indeed, spatialize and geopoliticize a conflict by ‘labeling’ and ‘identifying’, thus creating a sense of ‘pertinence’ amongst us, the ‘audience’; in other words, creating a binary world between ‘us’ and ‘them, the ‘other.’ This said, in order to understand the power of words and images in geopolitics, we must look back and understand how geopolitical knowledge was originally produced and thought of.
Although at first glance, while difficult to prove, the true origin of geopolitical theory may revolve around Darwinism and the rules of nature—I will not delineate the rules of nature according to Darwin but rather I will keep my argument in line with that of geopolitics and discourse. For instance, Friedrich Ratzel (a notable geographer, ethnographer and biologist), the creator of Lebensraum (the need of living space), theorized and compared the state to that of a living organism, in search of augmenting its space to support the carrying capacity of its species under its physical environment. By the same token, Rudolf Kjellen—who was actually the first political scientist to coin the term ‘geopolitics’—viewed the state in a similar manner as Ratzel: as an organic living being, with its own limbs and personality, drawing his metaphors from poetry and prose. Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) and Rudolf Kjellen (1864-1922), who were the creators of the German geopolitical school of thought, had something in common: they grew up between the transition of a pre-industrial society (1750-1850) and the beginning of a new industrial society in continental Europe. Eventually, the story is widely known: their theories, alongside Mackinder’s, influenced the aggressive expansionist policies of the Nazis, pushed by Major General. Karl Haushofer.
Likewise, another important player and influencer (Sir. Halford Mackinder) was born in the 19th century, and meanwhile in 1904 published the most famous geopolitical theory of all, The Geographical Pivot of History; a theory that was taken particularly serious by the Nazi political and military elite and diffused via Haushofer’s understanding of the world. And a theory that, to this day, has been explained and argued in modern-day world affairs books, such as Robert D. Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography and the likes. Without further expanding into academic theoretical grounds, we can conclude as so: Geopolitics had a common European heritage, pioneered by Mackinder, Ratzel and Kjellen, through their biological, geographical, and civilization interpretations of European power-relations of their time.
In that sense, how was geopolitical thought diffused and brought into the Western hemisphere, specifically into the United States, the world latest superpower?
In 1890, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, while stationed in Lima, Peru, published one of the most influential books in the American Naval military psyche: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. It advocated why it was imperative for the American navy to reach total hegemony and control over the seas and oceans of the world. Another important American geographer and advisor to Woodrow Wilson was Isaiah Bowman, whose push for free trade policies vis-a-vis the creation of international institutions, would also become influential in the American neoliberalism and exceptionalism ethos. Nevertheless, although Bowman and Rear Admiral Mahan were important figures in the American geopolitical mindset, if there was any truly prominent figure in the realm of American foreign policy, it would be Yale’s Nicholas J. Spykman. His influence in shaping the American foreign policy attitude continues to maintain a foothold in the political and military establishments to this day. Amongst many of Spykman’s arguments, he claimed that geography was a leading influencer in international politics—i.e. country size and region location, climate, topography, resources, population, frontiers, and so forth—and that the exertion of power should be the true goal of the American foreign policy apparatus, whose best example is his Rimland concept of the Eurasian landmass; and needless to add, George Kennan’s The Sources of Soviet Conduct and the impact it had on US containment policy.
But under which geographical and political parameters and assumptions did Spykman, Mahan, Bowman, and Kennan view geopolitics? The answer is simple: from a European perception and understanding.
Let’s connect the dots. Mahan’s ideas and analogies aroused from the British Royal Navy’s control of maritime commerce, which catapulted them to become one of the most powerful empires in the world; Bowman’s American exceptionalism—egalitarianism, republicanism, democracy, and individualism—ideals, can be traced in the form of Franco-British (e.g. Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith) political and economic thinking; Spykman, whose origin was Dutch, based his Rimland theory out of Sir. Halford Mackinder’s, hence, we could say that, overall, he had a British influence on his geopolitical thinking; and Kennan, who prior to embarking on his Soviet adventure, was trained and educated in a pre-World War II setting, which at the time often involved the diffusion of the German geopolitical school of thought at the University of Berlin Oriental Institute, perhaps influencing the ideas of Kennan concerning the Soviet Union’s territorial expansionism. Henceforth, something is clear: modern-day geopolitical discourse, vision, and imagination was gradually diffused and transferred into the American foreign policy and military elite by European-clouted scholars. Nevertheless, the American geopolitical rationale would evolve rather drastically as opposed to their European counterparts because of their location and place in the world.
Let’s bring it back to the 21st century now. It was the year 2002, a year after one of the most devastating terrorist attacks on US soil. But also, it was the year when then-president George W. Bush, during his famous State of the Union Address, would label and identify the new “axis of evil” according to America’s world view; simply put, America’s new enemies—Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Was this speech a true act of geopolitical spatialization and the creation of a more rigid and tougher, binary world, resembling to the US—vs—Soviet Union days? “What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning,” George W. Bush said as he addressed the entire world. Indeed, we have noticed that during the last decade—and the beginning of this decade—the war against terror has been substantially expanded from Pakistan to the Sahel and from the Sahel to Somalia. Going back to the 2002 State of the Union address, we have observed the urge to spatialize, label, and create a ‘sense of belonging’ amongst different civilizations in the world, which leads to the question: How often does the media spatialize an ongoing conflict, more precisely by further polarizing and transforming the world into an are-you-with-us-or-against-us type of discourse? Is Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations more valid than ever before? How often are we indirectly influenced by popular culture, regardless of our nationalities (i.e. television series, books, images, media channels)? Moreover, what are the foundational geographical and political assumptions behind our elites? This the main reason why critical geopolitics is so important in today’s multipolar world.
Leading geographers and critical geopolitics scholars, John Agnew and Gerard Toal, in their superstar essay Practical Geopolitical Reasoning in American Foreign Policy, suggested that the definition of geopolitics should be ‘re-conceptualized’ as a “ discursive practice by which intellectuals of statecraft ‘spatialize’ in such a way as to represent it as a ‘world’ characterized by particular types of places, peoples, and dramas.” Also, according to Agnew and Toal’s understanding, “geopolitics is the spatialization of international politics by core powers and hegemonic states.” As a result, when we think of the George W. Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ classification, the definition by Agnew and Toal seems more relevant than ever before.
Furthermore, what about the movies and television series we often see for entertainment purposes? For instance, if we take note of the evolution of Liam Neeson’s hit movie Taken, we can remark that he is always fighting an enemy from the Eastern hemisphere. During the first two films, the ex-CIA SAD (Special Activity Division) retired operations officer, Bryan Mills, was fighting the Tropoja-native, northern Albanian criminal organization in Paris, which is a ‘Western’ city. And, who ends up fighting some sort of rich Arab Sheikh—an enemy from the East, moreover, the Islamic world. Also, in the second movie, Bryan Mills, once again, ends up fighting the patriarch’s northern Albanian criminal organization, however, the landscape changes when he is fighting them in an Islamic city: Istanbul. Even if there are many ways to interpret this, in my personal view, I would interpret it as how the Albanian criminal organizations will be the new antagonist stereotype across mainstream Hollywood-made action movies, replacing the Italian criminal organization, and the brave and tough ‘Western’ action hero beating the ‘unknown’ enemies from the ‘East.’ It seems that in accordance to Hollywood’s geographic imagination, the Italian criminal organizations, have been replaced by tougher groups originating in the ‘East’—in this case, more precisely from the Balkans and of Islamic affiliation (at the beginning of Taken 2, we notice an Islamic burial, somewhere around the Albanian alps-type of setting).
As a last observation, what type of antagonist does Bryan Mills battle in his latest movie, Taken 3? Again, an enemy from the Eastern hemisphere: The Russians, though this time, battling a domestic enemy as well (for those that have not seen the movie, I shall stop here). Whatever our personal interpretations might be, we all can conclude with the following statement: The media plays a bigger role in geopolitics than we can imagine, purely by labeling, identifying, and creating the ‘other’.
How much influence does popular culture (e.g. books, televisions series, movies, newspapers, news channels) hold in our geographic imagination and the creation of the ‘other’? When we think of popular American televisions series, such as Homeland, House of Cards, or movies depicting ‘anti-Western’ dictators like The Last King of Scotland and The Interview, in addition to your typical war movies (e.g. Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, American Sniper, Lone Survivor), to what extent can these movies and series further geopoliticize a group of people, moreover, an entire nation? For instance, in the case of Somalia, when we see movies like Captain Phillips, how much do we associate a whole country or diaspora as a group of either pirates or Al-Shaabab supporters? And as a last example, jumping to the other end of the spectrum, in the case of Venezuela’s media networks which are supportive of government repression like Noticias 24, Telesur and Venezolana de Television (VTV), by constantly creating stories about the big, bad and distrustful ‘American Empire’ who is, apparently, plotting a coup d’état against the Maduro regime. In reality, the pro-government Venezuelan media networks are failing to inform the population about the economic crisis and rampant insecurity common Venezuelans are experimenting in the streets of cities like Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia, thereby just like Hollywood creates the ‘other,’ the same can be said about Venezuela and other authoritarian regimes. No matter what ideological principles a pro-Western or anti-Western government holds, each elite will abide by the same process: to label a group, to identify with a similar group, and to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ discourse.
As a final remark, in order to geopoliticize through words and images, there must be a radically different entity (the ‘other); put precisely, the creation of an ‘enemy’; an entity, that does not think the same way or hold the same values and ideals like ‘us.’ For the Romans, the ‘others’ were the barbarians; For the Persians, it was the Arabs; for the British medieval kingdoms, it was the Vikings; For the Chinese, it was the Xiognu nomadic tribes; for the Austro-Hungarian empire it was the Ottomans; for the European colonial empires it was the Native Amerindians and African tribes; for the Americans, it was the Soviets; and nowadays the new Mongolian hordes of the 21st century are non-state actors like ISIS and similar groups for the rest of the civilized world. The whole point of this article was to show, how in actuality, words and images can be powerful weapons to geopoliticize entire nations, whilst additionally grasping how the political and geographical assumptions, aroused from a European mindset; when, in turn, geopolitical thinking and reasoning was nothing other than the ‘vision’ that scholars like Mackinder, Kjellen and Haushofer had in mind for the securing vital strategic resources in accordance to their countries’ needs at the time. Consequently, we can firmly state that Western identity and geopolitical discourse have a European legacy.
In his last book, World Order, Henry Kissinger quotes an old excerpt of French Travel-writer, Marquis de Custine, who describes Czarist Russia as, “a monstrous compound of the petty refinements of Byzantium, and the ferocity of the desert horde, a struggle between the etiquette of the Lower Byzantine Empire, and the savage virtues of Asia, have produced the mighty state which Europe now beholds, and the influence of which she will probably feel hereafter, without being able to understand its operation.” Now, dear reader, it is up to you to be the judge of Marquis de Custine’s words. Or in popular geopolitical terms, as Eminem would say, “My words are my weapons…”
The role of social media in authoritarian leaders’ nation branding and public diplomacy strategies
How can Erdogan’s Facebook posts of him holding a baby or shaking hands enhance Turkey diplomatic relations? Why Chechnya strongman Ramzan Kadyrov constantly share photos on Instagram while cuddling animals or working out? Scholarly literature has thoroughly addressed the democratic potential of digital diplomacy as a tool both for citizens to streamline social protest and for national diplomatic services to mediate and multiply the messages to reach the wider masses. Nonetheless, a vacuum still exists on the examination of how digital diplomacy – as Aronczyk suggests – can provide authoritarian leaders with a new tool for engaging foreign public in a “communication strategy […that] allows governments to better manage and control the image they project to the world.”(‘Nation branding’)
We will see – complementing the debate on how social media may serve as a tool of autocratic stability- how digital diplomacy may be an important tool in furthering a nation’s foreign policy”especially for non-democratic regimes by enabling direct interaction and engagement with foreign publics.
As Hanson argued, the technologic changes involving public diplomacy gave politicians and national diplomatic services (NDS) “the opportunity to influence and speak directly and more frequently to large audiences”.Nevertheless, such ability, alongside the capability to segment audiences may be a double-edged sword since it could boost ‘Digital Bonapartism’– a populist rhetoric aimed at marginalizing the opposition and manipulate public opinion in a subtler manner – of authoritarian leaders.Hence, resorting also to empirical data provided by social media analytics, we will provide a snapshot of authoritarian governments’ engagement and assertiveness in digital diplomacy.
Finally, it is worth recalling that the size and emotional preference of international online public determines to a good share the digital diplomatic strategies of non-democratic regimes.
Digital Diplomacy and Nation Branding
As Hocking and Melissen emphasized in their seminal work, “the propensity towards ‘hype’ in responding to technological change” alongside the tendency to resort to vague and amorphous conceptualizations provides little help in analysing ‘diplomacy in the digital age’.
Accordingly, to shed light on the concept,we will define ‘digital diplomacy’ as “solving foreign policy problems using the internet”, id est, as “conventional diplomacy through a different medium”.On the one hand, some critics held that ‘digital diplomacy’ is not diplomacy but ‘listening and dissemination’.Digital diplomacy is indeed a pivotal element of public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy latusensu, sharing with the latter mechanisms, networks and, most importantly, the task of promoting the States’ interests at the international level.
Firstly, the growing usage of social media is instrumental for countries to achieve foreign policy goals while proactively managing their image and reputation abroad. Furthermore – enlarging Szondi’s analysis of the relationship between public diplomacy and nation branding – we emphasize how digital diplomacy may also prove a useful tool in nation-branding without necessarily accounting for the full range of State’s activities to further its image abroad. Nation branding activities through social media involve an effort to develop and spread “a national discourse for global context”.Therefore, digital diplomacy may be deeply interweaved with ‘public diplomacy’: social media may be serve as the medium to convey messages to international audience, enhance a country’s international image in a broader public diplomacy discourse.In fact, as Fouts argued, “for social media, virtual world and physical interactions […] are part of a broader tapestry of interactions that a country should employ to manage its brand”.
Despite the capability of social media to disrupt the top-down political communication and their potential in harnessing countries’ exposure to nation brand-damaging event,their use in diplomacy could bolster the legitimacy of authoritarian regime by framing the discourse and winning credibility among foreign public.
Authoritarian digital narratives: Liars and Outliers?
Unlike the Juan Linz’s authoritarianism Idealtypus, modern ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ resort to more subtle mechanisms of repression than their counterparts in authoritarian regimes: the engagement of foreign public through social media fits in a broader strategy aimed at winning credibility on the international stage, mainstreaming ‘digital bonapartism’.
Therefore, framing the foreign policy discourse may help authoritarian regimes’ credibility and boost relationships with third countries in the long run.Whereas several studies have underscored that leaders in democratic countries are more likely to adopt social media, nonetheless no further research has been carried out on the features of autocrats’ use of social media to attain foreign policy purposes.
Moreover,the increasing involvement of Head of States’ in digital diplomacy further shrinks the role of foreign ministries as gatekeepers for other government actors.
This phenomenon is particularly evident when contrasting the digital audiences of the most followed authoritarian leaders with that of the respective MFAs. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)While MFAs are more prolific in delivering messages, their effectiveness in achieving visibility is limited. The claim that the “stimulus to centralization in foreign policy making […] is not evident in the case of digitization” may be revaluated when tackling authoritarian regimes. In this form of government strong leaders may rely on their pivotal position to convey narratives aimed at offering the international public partisan explanation of complex events.
Twitter, thanks to its brevity and its intuitive interface quickly imposed has the most widely communication tool for diplomacy, allowing world leaders to broadcast short, poignant messages to millions of followers.These inherent features of social medias give leaders an edge: being the digital realm an ‘emotional space’, the rising prominence of emotional expression may clash with the diplomatic tradition with an international public increasing demand for emotional and visual connections.
Furthermore, as clearly shown in Table 1, the ‘digital audience’ of most-followed authoritarian leaders in every region is mainly located abroad, thus increasingly the value of Twitter as a tool for convey foreign policy messages and signals.
The data gathered clearly display a massive divide in terms of the number of followers among leaders –communicating through personal accounts – and their respective MFAs.
Furthermore, through social platforms leaders may tailor messages matching contrasting narratives to target different foreign constituencies: the sheer size of messages delivered by MFA accounts -acting as simple sounding boards – may be instrumental in amplifying the leaders’ messages spreading the ‘official’ narrative set up by the Head of State/Government. Faced with the need for addressing different audiences at different levels, authoritarian leaders are enhancing their effectiveness in delivering through different social platform, resulting more effective where the message is framed in an epigrammatic or visual manner (Twitter and Instagram, respectively) than the more ‘discursive’ Facebook posts.
Conclusion: Emotional Digital Diplomacy?
Digital modes of communication provide a new dimension and challenge to ‘framing’ issues”. As Manor emphasizes, narratives may be particularly important in digital diplomacy since they offer a clear explanation of complex events.
We argued that the very issue of authoritarian leaders’ engagement in social media concerns digital diplomacy’s values as a powerful tool to expand soft power reach in public diplomacy”.
Moreover, digital diplomacy offer a whole new device to convey narratives. The centralization trend allows leaders to play a crucial role in nation branding, in which the authoritarian structure enabling– as Surowiec has illustrated in his case-study – a “commitment to unification and synergy of collective identity projection [that] is hardly viable in any democratic political field”.
Finally, the narrative storytelling framework of social media – characterised by ‘the predominance of emotional content’ – enables non-democratic leaders to resort to a full range of emotional solutions offered, exploiting the tailoring and timing of the communication.
In a radical overturn of social media promise of a more enlightened politics, as accurate information and effortless communication,digital tools represent nowadays a powerful device for spreading biased narratives and influencing the foreign public appealing to the emotional sphere. Therefore, digitally-empowered autocrats are increasingly carving themselves a niche in the ‘attention economy’ of international arena imitating and learning from digital diplomacy strategies of their democratic peers.
How national diplomatic missions are adapting to a fast-changing environment
Diplomacy at a crossroads
The impact of technology in diplomacy cannot be overstated. If “twenty years ago, telegrams from embassies would arrive in paper form”, in the past years an avalanche of technological breakthroughs forced diplomatic representations to adapt. Embassies are increasingly making use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, even if that embrace is still made with reluctance by practitioners. Moreover, the phenomenon of big data suggests that the role of diplomatic missions as ‘gatherers’ of information will be enhanced, provided national diplomatic systems make good use of the ever increasing amount of data available.
Even if it is still looked with suspicion by diplomats, the role of digital diplomacy paves the way for another important shift in diplomacy, which is the rise of non-state actors that “present a formidable challenge to state primacy in the diplomatic world”. These new digital platforms give non-state actors a much easier way to reach and influence bothlocal and global audiences. Indeed, as Shaun Riordan puts it, “the sheer range of new actors – governmental and non-governmental – in international relations is truly staggering, as is their exponential growth”.
All this comes at a time when domestic circumstances are also undergoing deep change. MFAs are increasinglypressuredto cut expenditure as many countries, particularly across Europe, seek to balance their public budgets. This has led to a rationalisation of costs where possible, often with allied countries deciding to pool their resources together. This has in turn set the scene for the rise of commercial diplomacy. Increasingly “governments encourage home firms to trade, as well as seeking to make their countries an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), research and development (R&D) and knowledge”.
One example that seems to have attempted to meet all these new challenges was the period that Tom Fletcher spent as British Ambassador to Lebanon. The Ambassador chose to adopt a direct and informal communication style to reach out to his host country that included tweeting and blogging frequently. During his tenure, Mr Fletcher actively promoted trade between the United Kingdom and Lebanon by sponsoring several trade fairs and showcases of British products, while facilitating defence trade deals between the UK and Lebanon.
The impact seems to be have been highly positive. UK-Lebanon business doubled in the space of three years and the “Lebanese Armed Forces are now using British-supplied vehicles and a string of British-built watchtowers”. The period of Mr Fletcher as UK Ambassador seems to suggest a new way of diplomacy-making, with added roles for the Ambassador: perhaps more informal in style, but undoubtedly with greater public exposure and a vocal promoter of the country on cultural and commercial terms.
“The news of my death have been greatly exaggerated”: Diplomacy lives on
Despite all the changes and the lively discussion around the changes-in-waiting in the diplomatic world, it is worth pondering whether the excitement over the future of diplomatic missions is not without some hyperbole. After all, many of the novelties discussed are but means to the primary goals diplomatic missions have since time immemorial served: the advancement of a country’s interests and the protection of its citizens abroad.
Moreover, as ‘digital’ as diplomatic representations may eventually become, the role of the embassy as a building is and will remain a potentially key instrument of a country’s foreign policy. Here, the exile of Julius Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 provides a clear – if unlikely – example. After being accused of crimes of sexual nature in Sweden and declaring himself a political prisoner, Mr Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador. As at the time he was in London, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, which he has not left since. Even if this is an admittedly unusual example, it nonetheless shows that embassies remain irreplaceable; indeed, diplomacy can never be fully uploaded onto a ‘cloud’. When Tom Fletcher writes that the model diplomat in 2025 will not “see the embassy as a building, but as an idea”, that idea cannot in any case be disassociated from the building itself.
Embassies will remain essential assets of a country’s national diplomatic system. They retain replaceable function in terms of a country’s power projection worldwide and in protecting its citizens abroad in emergency situations.
However, the tectonic shifts we are witnessing will force the structure of embassies to change radically. There is a multiplication of available information due to issues such as big data and the emergence of new digital platforms and social media networks. Thus, embassies are likely to be, in the words of Tom Fletcher, “managers” instead of “creators” of information when communicating with their national Foreign Offices.
Naturally, this is not a model that will necessarily fit the realities of all states in the world. First of all, there is a high degree of agency in the diplomacy envisioned by Mr Fletcher. Not all diplomats are or will ever be “authentic, flexible, connected and influential”. Moreover, the economic, social and cultural particularities of each country will always define the priorities it sets out for its diplomatic representations to achieve. It thus follows that national diplomatic systems were always highly asymmetric among each other and will undoubtedly remain so – in number, size and scope. For instance, the United Kingdom has 226 diplomatic missions abroad; Estonia, at 45, has far less. Nevertheless, both countries have issues they will want their diplomatic missions to tackle, and both have political, economic and cultural agendas they will seek to project abroad. Those topics will often interact: Portugal’s economy diplomacy agency AICEP’s work in projecting the country as being at the forefront of digital innovation was certainly a key factor in convincing Egypt to buy Portugal’s public administration innovation technologies. In this kind of synergies lies the key to overcoming the challenges diplomatic representation will face in the future.
Kofi Annan: A Humane Diplomat
I was deeply shocked whenever I heard that Kofi Annan is no more. A noble peace laureate, a visionary leader, an intellectual and scholar, a ‘global statesman’who led the United Nations two times as Secretary General will never be forgotten by the world. Especially, I cannot forget him. When I taught the United Nations to my students, his works always motivated me. I was a great fan of him. I regularly followed his write-ups, published in LinkedIn. I deeply admired his thoughts for the voiceless, marginalized people in theworld. Today, tens of thousands voiceless, powerless people in the world lost their ambassador.Its an irreparable loss to the world, particularly to the poor.In fact, there are very few people in the world, who talks, thinks about the poor. Annan is well known as a UN Secretary-General. I will not focus his works as Secretary General. RatherI intend to remember him through his writingsand speeches delivered around the world for a better, peaceful world.
Towards A Fairer, Peaceful World
If one goes through the writings of Kofi Annan, he always wrote and spoke for a fairer, for a more peaceful world. According to him, there are three pillars of a fairer, more peaceful world, i.e. sustainable development, peace and human rights. He contends that ‘these pillars are interconnected and interdependent, for there can be no long-term security without development, and there can be no long-term development without security. And no society can long remain prosperous without the rule of law and respect for human rights’ (Annan, May 13, 2015).He believed that if everyone comes forward in one way or another, then this fairer and peaceful world is possible to establish for everyone. In this regard, in a speech at Columbia University in 2015, Annan urged that ‘I encourage each and every one of you, in your own way, to join our struggle for a fairer and more peaceful world’.He believed in cooperation rather than competition, believed in engagement rather than separation. He writes that ‘My long experience has taught me that, whatever our background, what unites us is far greater than what divides us’.
Writings for the Poor, Voiceless People& Their Everyday Challenges
The last article that Annan published in LinkedIn was about Snakebiteon June 28, 2018. Annan urged that snakebites need to be addressed seriously by the world community as a public health crisis which is highly neglected in the world arena. He mentioned that it is poor people who become affected by snakebites and thus it is still neglected by the world community. But in terms of significance, in the piece, he mentions that ‘snakebite kills between 81,000 and 138,000 people globally every year, with many more suffering lasting mental and physical impairments. By comparison, the mosquito-borne Dengue fever claims roughly 20,000 lives annually worldwide. Despite its huge impact, snakebite is the biggest public health crisis you have likely never heard of. To date, it has been largely overlooked’. He concludes his piece by urging that ‘By working together to tackle snakebite, we can save the lives of tens of thousands of our fellow human beings in some of the poorest and most marginalised parts of our world’.
He strongly raised his voice against the genocide of Rohingyas. Notably, if the Myanmar government would follow the suggestions given by the Kofi Annan commission led by him, then, the world would not witness today’s Rohingya genocide. To resolve the global refugee crisis, Annan questioned that why are only poor countries taking refugees? Why not the developed one? He identifies that ‘Yet the sad truth is that for many, especially in the prosperous Global North, refugees have slipped from the minds of citizens. When they do appear, it’s often because of irresponsible political rhetoric designed to stoke fears rather than foster genuine debate. Quasi-populist politicians have all too often exploited these fears — when what is needed is responsible leadership shaped by facts, principles and values’ (Annan, June 27, 2017).
In a speech given on 25 June 2018 at the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland, Annan talks about the water challenge that the world faces and its solutions. Annan points out that ‘Water scarcity currently affects more than 40% of the global population, and this figure is projected to rise. Millions of people, most of them children, die every year from diseases linked to poor hygiene and unsafe water. Climate change is adding to these pressures: in water-scarce regions, the increasing and competing demands for water are leading to instability, forced migration and conflict’. Against this backdrop, he urges the worldto take effective actions immediately. In the speech, he emphasizes that ‘Water is critical for human health, food security, the environment, stability and prosperity; we therefore have to put water at the core of all of our peace and development efforts’ (Annan, June 25, 2018).
Dreaming for poverty, hunger and malnutrition free world
Kofi Annan dreamed for a hunger-free world. Notably, he significantly contributed to the UN Millennium Development Goals, consisting of eight ambitious goals. He writes that ‘[t]he first goal — to cut extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015 — was especially important to me, because it was crucial to achieving all the others. Talk led to action, and action to results. Between 2000 and 2015, nearly every African country improved childhood nutrition, especially in reducing stunted growth caused by malnutrition’ (Annan, March 20, 2018).
Annan links stability and peace with food security. He writes that ‘we need to recognise that stability and peace are necessary conditions for agricultural development, food security and the long-term sustainability of food systems.In parts of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, millions of people are at risk of starvation due to violent conflict, radical extremism and insecurity’ (Annan, April 20, 2018). Thus, he reiterates on peace and stability in the world to achieve sustainable food security for all.In addition, Annan focuses on the nutritional aspects of food security which is very often overlooked by the policy world. According to him, ‘Nutrition is one of the best drivers of development: it sparks a virtuous cycle of socio-economic improvements, such as increasing access to education and employment. Eradicating malnutrition is crucial to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals’ promise of “leaving no one behind” (Annan, March 20, 2018).
On January 29, 2018 he published an article on malnutrition in Africa in LinkedIn, titled ‘Five Steps to End Malnutrition in Africa’.These steps are: ‘both the public and private sector need to champion nutrition and mobilise more financial commitments on nutrition to deliver socio-economic and health returns; governments have to adopt a nutrition-sensitive lens to new policies; need to create new partnerships and promote solutions that come from all sectors – governments, the private sector, and civil society; need to make sure that we put in place a nutrition accountability mechanism; and finally a focus on data is critical to helping countries reduce malnutrition. Timely, relevant, and reliable data are essential to defining problems, diagnosing root causes, and making informed policy decisions’ (Annan, January 29, 2018).In fact, he is quite optimistic to end malnutrition if ‘sustained and bold leadership from every sector can be ensured’.
Annan emphasized the transformation of our food systems through delivering healthy diets in all communities and countries across the world (November 6, 2017). He warns to the world that ‘Famines are the most visible signs of today’s global nutrition emergency, but child stunting is an even bigger – and hidden – crisis that will stunt entire societies in the long term if not addressed’ (November 6, 2017).
Creating positive changes in the world
Kofi Annan believed that it is possible to bring positive changes in the world though there are complex challenges like climate change, growing inequalities. For a positive change in the world, he makes three recommendations, i.e. to make sure that business does not forget the poorest; to build alliances and partnerships to increase equitable growth and opportunity for all; businesses need to ensure the decisions they make will deliver sustainable and ethical development (Annan, November 10, 2017). In this context, Annan writes: ‘There are many challenges to overcome, but I am confident that through leadership, partnership, and vision, positive change is possible. So let us all start living up to this responsibility today and lay the foundation for a brighter tomorrow’ (Annan, November 10, 2017).
Finally, it can be said that from politicians to practitioners, teachers to students, writers to journalists, businessman to general masses, all need to study Kofi Annan and his philosophy to make a fairer and a more peaceful world.In fact, a humane world is a crying need which needs to be realized by all stakeholders and materialized. And for the materialization, leadership crisis needs to be addressed as Annan has argued ‘the world has a leadership crisis, not a knowledge crisis’. There is in fact, enough food for thought for the world.
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