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Public Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation as tools of generating Soft Power: The Scandinavian example

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The recent trends indicate that with wide spread use of social and mass media, public diplomacy has emerged as a main tool for governments worldwide to brand global views of their given nation. It is well documented that public diplomacy facilities governments to achieve country specific foreign policy goals through generating international bonds, enhancing understanding level, improving mutual trust and eliminating prejudices and stereotypes. Leading professionals and policy analysts are of the view that public diplomacy is one of the powerful instruments for soft power through which a country can increase its attraction, reputation and recognition abroad. The positive perception and image of a country among foreigners helps to take many tangible benefits such as enhanced foreign direct investment, improved international trade, free or relaxed visa policy for boosting tourism and enhance mutual cooperation in natural calamities.

Small and medium size states are frequenting using soft power as a tool for projecting their image and building their reputation at international level and taking maximum benefits. It is evident from the remarks of Jozef Batora when he states that for this group of states, public diplomacy represents “an opportunity to gain influence and shape the international agenda in ways that go beyond their limited hard power resources—related to size, and military and economic strength.”[1] He further argued that this is well-illustrated in the example of the Scandinavian states: Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Soft Power Survey, 2012 ranked these four countries into the top thirteen most powerful states in the world. The secret of their success is the adoption of individualized public diplomacy strategies with an ability to use regional cooperation as a tool for advancing foreign policy goals.[2]

In line with such belief that “it is sometimes possible for a country to do very well by doing good,”[3] these four Scandinavian states took following steps to gain worldwide recognition and acceptance: Norway using niche diplomacy played significant role in peace mediation process, Sweden focused on a dialogue with foreign communities on human rights’ protection, including women’s rights, Denmark and Finland adopted openness of society which attracted immigrants and high-tech companies seeking to invest overseas. Such innovative and attractive steps enabled states to improve their recognition and acceptance internationally which resulted in strengthening their soft power and ability to influence international agendas. These countries also used tactics of regional cooperation for spreading their message across international publics.

These states adopted policy to priorities their engagement in international peace through supporting international organizations and strengthening agenda of United Nation and playing leading role as a peacemaker in the area of international security, global welfare and environmental policy. They are consistently providing aid and assistance to under developed countries on humanitarian basis which is enhancing their reputation and recognition at international level.[4] The Scandinavian countries have a special cultural basis on which to facilitate cultural dialogue for the purpose of preventing and terminating conflicts, strengthening human rights and increasing social stability globally. For example, Norwegian Literature Abroad, Fiction and Non-fiction (NORLA) is effective in providing information on Norwegian literature and Norwegian authors of fiction and non-fiction. It helps to promote contact between Norwegian authors and publishers, translators, universities and others concerned about Norwegian literature abroad.

The Swedish government focused on the development of a country and decided to adopt the Policy of Global Development (PGD). They believe that through this way different policy areas would be able to work together for a positive global development. They further decided to play role in poverty reduction at world level through Swedish development cooperation strategy which would play an important role in boosting the economic and social development of less developed society in general and poor countries in particular.[5] Such cooperation will contribute significantly in strengthening democratic norms and creates conditions which would help people to get rid on issue of poverty. The overall aim of Swedish development cooperation strategy is to help people living under below poverty line to improve their living status by overcoming poor economic conditions.

Their historic legacy of non-involvement and non-engagement in international conflicts and Socialist internationalism has significant positive effects on their foreign policies’ discourse. Such tailor- made public diplomatic strategies with consistent regional cooperation initiatives are playing significant role in enhancing the creditability and   respect of such states at international community. Last but not least a clear “Scandinavian brand” is used not only to attract tourism or foreign investment, but to channel important foreign policy messages embedded in shared Scandinavian values and ideas for the future of the world.

[1]Joseph S. Nye Jr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs Books, 2004), p.6.
[2]The Soft Power Survey ranks nations according to their standard of government, diplomatic infrastructure, cultural output, capacity for education and appeal to business. The list is calculated using around 50 factors that indicate the use of soft power, including the number of cultural missions, Olympic medals, and the quality of a country’s architecture and business brands. For more see:http://monocle.com/film/affairs/soft-power-survey-2012/
[3]Alan K. Henrikson, ‘Niche Diplomacy in the World Public Arena: the Global “Corners” of Canada and Norway’, in: Jan Melissen, the New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations, (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2005), p. 68.
[4]Mary Hilson, the Nordic Model: Scandinavia since 1945, Reaktion Books, London 2006, p. 116 – 147.
[5]Astghik Sahakya, ‘Swedish Foreign Aid Policy’, http://www.oecd.org/dac/sweden.htm, accessed June 10, 2017

Department of Defense and Diplomatic Studies (Session: 2014-2018), Fatima Jinnah Women University, THE MALL, Rawalpindi

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Feminist Foreign Policy: A moment of introspection

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Those who are aware of Feminism would understand that it is not just a cozy club of women, where only conversation related to women’s issues talks place. Some would even contest that it is a club, feminism is like a school with a different department, focusing on a different area of research. Liberal, Radical, Ecofeminism, Standpoint, Structural, and Black feminism are a just few schools within feminism that approach issues from different perspectives. On the one hand, the diversity within Feminism is its strength. But this can also become a challenge if not handled properly. However, in today’s geopolitical climate where we see rising insecurities due to global challenges like migration, climate change, populism, inflation, and threat to women’s autonomy, we need an approach that addresses these complex challenges through a contextual, incremental, and culturally based perspective. We need a global approach with local solutions that deal with both domestic and international simultaneously. Hence, Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) is likely to play an important role in the contemporary uncertain political atmosphere, by creating a sense of solidarity, sisterhood, and inclusiveness among global citizens.

Feminist Foreign Policy

FFP is not just a foreign policy that aligns itself with selective feminist values, but a way of conducting foreign policy via diplomatic relations that respects feminist principles such as human rights, diversity, inclusive governance, non-discrimination, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, indigenous rights, climate justice, and anti-militarization. It is not just about representation, but equally about principles of equity and agency, which unfortunately is neglected in the practice of contemporary foreign policy.

But before addressing the dilemma associated with the questions, it’s vital to explain one major issue that will essentially come when we talk about Foreign Policy, that is ‘National Interest’. Many conversations become redundant about foreign policy when National interest comes into the picture, it is the bottom line or the only religion that states are allowed to follow. Heresy is not an option that states are privileged enough to practice in what they see as an anarchic international system. Many scholars have debunked the masculine perspective of international politics. Feminist scholar like J. Ann Tickner have argued in favor of the feminist narrative in International Relations for ‘constructing an ungendered or human science of international politics which is sensitive to but goes beyond both masculine and feminine perspectives.’ FFP shifts the idea of national interests by emphasizing what feminist scholar like Soumita basu states ‘gender as a national interest’. This essentially brings forth the inequalities that different gender experience during conflict and war. FFP had redefined how peace, security, and power are perceived by challenging existing perspectives in foreign policy and diplomacy, such as the domination of patriarchy via skewed gender representation, and values that privileges masculinity over feminine characteristics. Focusing on positive peace, human security, and power as a social good is how feminists have challenged the status quo, at all levels; society, national, and international. This becomes possible by working closely with activists, academia, and INGO networks.

FFP in practice: Focusing on representation, resources and rights

We have seen FFP making some progress in the field of Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferations which are heavily dominated by men propagating statist-discourse of Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). Scholars like Conway and Minami have argued for adopting FFP because it deconstructs the notion of masculinity like strength, violence, and aggression from the field of Nuclear security. Due to this, the process of nuclear disarmament has been seen as feminine, weak, and emasculated for the norms and ideals it upholds. FFP here helps to promote gender perspective in multilateral forums, where negotiations and discussions takes place. It focuses on the issue of nuclear disarmament by emphasizing increasing women’s representation, and norms mainstreaming. Women diplomats try to influence the process, be it in the form of better negotiations, essential deals, more checks, or even creating an environment of trust. This was seen during the JCPOA deal with Iran, where women representatives were involved. One prominent example was the role of women diplomats like Wendy Sherman for the U.S., Helga Schmid, and Federica Mogherini from Europe in finalizing the JCPOA deal with Iran, adding to the work of their successor Catherine Ashton from the EU. This was a case of women trying to get the best deal to ensure sustainable peace. Furthermore, FFP also emphasizes on ‘inclusion’ of small states, particularly Non-Nuclear Weapons states(NNWS) and Civil society organizations(CSO) which stresses on the gendered impact of nuclear weapons, and the humanitarian perspective, influenced by feminist characteristics. A treaty like the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been used by NNWS to maximize their interests at forums, for them, these forums act as a resource. Butale emphasizes that treaties such as TPNW is more gender-sensitive as compared to Nuclear Ban Treaty, NPT, and other nuclear policies. Since the TPNW entered into force on 22 January 2022, it has been ratified by 91 states, and 68 state parties. It adds to the existential nuclear disarmament regime but without the existing P5 states, and helps to delegitimize nuclear weapons through moral and political means. This is a long struggle of activists and NGOs where feminists worked together, and now through FFP, we have a renewed focus on women’s representation not only in diplomatic negotiations, but even in INGOs and civil society to ensure gender equality, equity, and diversity in social and political movements. Representations among CSO has seen progress, where out of 143 CSOs, we see equal representation in 17 CSO, more female than men in 42 CSOs, and 29 CSOs with all female.   

On the one hand, we have seen encouraging signs with increasing countries following FFP or adopting feminist perspectives, mainly countries from the global north, and some in the global south such as Mexico adopting FFP. However, we have also seen the pioneer of the FFP, Sweden under its right-wing government scraping FFP. There still remains many contradictions while pursuing FFP, the recent abstention of Mexico from the vote on the expulsion of Iran from Commission on the Status of Women points towards a dissonance when it comes to following the policy to the words. Challenges will rise with the current global scenario becoming more polarised, where we would see culture, and politics intermingling together both at the domestic and international level. This trend has already manifested itself on social media leading to exaggerated and accelerated clash between conservatives and feminist values, between political parties and interests groups domestically, and liberal-democratic and conservatives government across the world. Any movement across the globe now is seen threatening the stability of a regime. The revolution led by the brave women of Iran against the Hijab and supported by governments of democratic states is now seen as a symbol of destabilising countries, rather than solidarity.

The way forward

There exist some negatives within FFP that needs to be addressed to make it more acceptable without compromising its basic principles. Taking a skewed approach, essentializing gender as the category of prominence and institutionalizing this category at the center of policy and decision-making has not been marketed well. The current approach projects a reality of binaries between men and women, which essentially creates a backlash. FFP must move beyond this binary, towards greater inclusion.  Unfortunately, it brings the existing problems that feminists have faced in ‘Peacebuilding’ with the domination of western narratives, funding, and implementation of liberal values bereft of indigenous connection. To address this FFP need to engage with local and indigenous culture’s knowledge systems that give agency to local actors and stakeholders, and avoid imposing ‘North’s’ FFP framework as a template for the Global south. FFP can work on sharing best practices, funding, and giving a platform to marginal voices at International Institutions. Mainstreaming voices in diplomacy and foreign policy that are traditionally neglected, focusing on two E’s and one ‘D’ and ‘I’ should be the focus going forward; Equity, Equality, Diversity, and Intersectionality. This will help bridge the existing conversation and create a foreign policy-making process holistic and fair.

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Commercial Brands as a Soft Power Tool

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A state’s international image is its main “soft power” attribute. By developing this well-known concept, countries can create prospects for national investment, and therefore wealth for their country. Nowadays, commercial brands may constitute a powerful tool in the hands of diplomats, who bet on using soft power as a means to exert their nation’s ideological influence onto other states and their people.

The concept of soft power is often used today in the sphere of international relations as a public policy tool. The term was coined by American researcher Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Nye claims that culture plays an important role in foreign policy, which is not surprising because while it is possible to change the economy and political course of a country, it is quite difficult to change its culture. The cultural nature of conflict is a source of global contradictions. In “The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order”, renowned political scientist Samuel Huntington concludes that the clash of civilizations will be the main cause of international confrontations based on differences in culture, religion and traditional values.

Through the concept of soft power, an “attractive” image of a secular and prosperous state is promoted in order to “tactically” influence other countries and their people. As Joseph Nye simply explained, soft power is the ability “to make others want what you want.”

An engaged and educated society, advanced technology, developed infrastructure, protected cultural heritage, high level of social support for the state, and active country involvement in tackling global issues on the sustainable development agenda are the strongest elements of a country’s soft power.

The commercial sector is heavily influenced by this concept, and corporations and states have the potential to control the masses through major brands as leverage.

Not Everyone Benefits from Globalization

The phenomenon that is “globalization” can also be used by some governments as an excuse to violate the sovereignty of other states. They play the “globalization” card and use it as an argument against any country that is not prepared to cooperate on an issue in their unipolar sphere of interest.

Countries interested in spreading their production without considering the national needs and values of other cultures and perceive the world as a “one featureless market”, are the first to benefit from globalization and the blurring of cultural boundaries. Many countries therefore limit the impact this has on their citizens, trying to protect them from an imposed value system that wipes out historical memory and cultural identity, that is so emphatically defended by UNESCO as “living heritage”. China’s internet policy, “The Great Firewall of China”, is a clear example of such protection measures in practice. Considering the uncomfortable technological sophistication that China has achieved for several countries, internet policy has become primarily a matter of security.

Additionally, Chinese national television focuses on broadcasting picturesque landscapes and the beauty of its great culture, encouraging the Chinese population to value nature, as well as domestic tourism, rather than simply showing endless commercials for industrial products. China is the only civilization in the world that has not interrupted its development by succumbing to other, notably Western, soft power influences. Today, China strives to carefully pass down its world-view ideas across generations, one of which being “āntǔ-zhòngqiān (or love of homeland and unwillingness to leave it).

Almost Everyone Today is a customer

Today, the big commercial brands are geared towards a global community in which almost everyone has purchasing power. Year after year, despite a myriad of global challenges, the world population is making tremendous progress in terms of living standards.

In April 2022, the World Bank updated its global poverty estimates for 2018 (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) on the new Poverty and Inequality Platform (PIP), showing that global poverty rates (those living below a daily income of $1.90) was 8.6%, down from 2017’s 9.1%. In other words, this is equivalent to 28 million people pulled out of poverty in over two years. Comparing earlier periods, the global poverty rate fell by 4.3% between 2012 and 2018.

People today live better than have before, which means they buy more. However, the impact commercial brands play in shopper purchases goes far beyond the numbers.

Brand with a Human Face

Today we are witnessing brand humanization with 24/7 customer feedback. No longer is the aim of big trading companies to enter into a money-for-good relationship with its customers, but rather it is to gain customer loyalty and, if necessary, change political and social attitudes.

According to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs, people need to belong to a social group through which they can feel valued. Commercial brands don’t miss a chance to take advantage of that.

Major sportswear companies are offering free membership to a community of brand enthusiasts, encouraging them to become a part of a global community that is recreating the future of sport. But beyond this noble goal, there is a purely commercial one: successful sales are the foundation of any company’s development.

What’s more important is that every major brand has digital platforms. Brand social media pages are turning into full-fledged media outlets, engaging major magazines that produce news and set the agenda for the brand. Commercial brands are trying to focus on sensitive global issues in a bid to appeal to different social groups, from exclusively female audiences to devout environmentalists.

For example, the American brand “Dove” is developing a “Self-Esteem Project” with the slogan “Stop the Beauty Test”, which works with issues of self-perception and anxiety reduction that cannot but find support among today’s women.

Major retail chains are creating clothing lines out of recycled plastic. Certainly, some companies are keen to contribute to the environment, but commercial brands exist on sales and by creating a line based on recycled plastic, brands mentally reinforce customers the belief that they are not just consuming a good, but saving the planet, even if the recycled plastic makes up 5% of the item; that matter takes a back seat.

Commercial Brands Polish the Soft Power of States

It is not so much the products that the big commercial brands are capturing audiences with, but rather the lifestyle; they offer comfortable terms of purchase, instant delivery and generous discounts, which is difficult for local businesses and local manufacturers to compete with, affecting the country’s economy. The authentic “made in” products of a strong brand produce positive perceptions of the country and vice versa. When we buy water, food, a car, or clothes from a country, we create an association with the country where they are produced.

In this way, big brands turn the country itself into a brand, attracting investors, businessmen, and immigrants, among them promising scientists and young minds, whose work shapes the country’s economy and its status as a world active leader, desirable partner, and ally.

Additionally, company websites collect user data in thematic surveys that are used to analyze the lifestyles and purchasing power levels of people in other countries in order to subsequently adapt products. Public demand influences import and export policies of states, and commercial brands play into that.

The international image of any state is the main attribute of its “soft power”. The market research company “FutureBrand”, a brand-transforming business, developed the “FutureBrand Country Index”, which measures the “attractiveness” quotient of a country in terms of public perception, examining consumer or corporate brands through surveys and scientific data analysis techniques. The top three in 2020 are Japan, Switzerland and Norway. According to respondent country brand associations, the top performers in Japan were “Toyota” and “Uniqlo”; “Tissot”, “Rolex”, and “Swatch” in Switzerland; and “Neutrogena” and “Statoil” in Norway.

Country as a Brand

The UN’s 2022 annual World Happiness Report, Denmark earned second place for home to the world’s happiest people, with Finland taking first. Human happiness cannot be measured by quantitative methods, but Mike Wiking from Denmark founded the Happiness Research Institute, which studies people’s quality of life and satisfaction with their daily lives using scientific methods. According to the Institute, governments and civil society organizations are eager to collaborate in order to apply collected data to public policy, and make the lives of their citizens better.

A few years ago, the world seemed obsessed with the Danish concept of “Hygge” (happiness in Danish), which became the basis for many business ideas for Danish decor, furniture, and clothing brands. The country even became an attractive destination for potential immigration. This is just one example of how people do not buy a product, but a lifestyle.

National Branding Can Help Developing Economies

The pandemic has particularly weakened the economies of countries with tourism as their main source of income. Turning a country into a brand can help countries with dwindling economic potential and save jobs at a time of crisis, as digital technology allows countries to create successful PR campaigns.

At the “World Conference on Tourism Cooperation and Development”, organized by the World Tourism Cities Federation as part of the “China International Fair for Trade in Services” forums in September 2022, representatives from Africa and the Caribbean outlined strategies for recovering tourism after the pandemic. One successful example of country branding were the Seychelles Islands, which during lockdown created a platform with the slogan “Dream Now and Experience Later.” The resource contained high-quality photos and videos introducing the country online and, once the lockdown was over, the creators invited people to visit the islands to experience the real thing.

Power Is Also Like Love

As Joseph Nye puts it, “Power is also like love, easier to experience than to define or measure, but no less real for that.” Nowadays, corporations and brands boost economies and attract investment, cultivating the potential for that very soft power that countries will continue to work hard for, to attract financial flows and initiate various forms of intercultural cooperation.

When you hear about Switzerland, even if you have never been there, you get an image of a safe country with amazing natural beauty and a strong economy; a place where you can confidently keep your savings, which is why it attracted the world’s wealthy elite.

However, in today’s world, sanctions show quite well how fragile and politicized the commercial sector is, and the notion of a “free market” is a highly idealized concept.

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Russia’s Cultural Diplomacy in Multipolar World. Africa’s Role, Challenges and Benefits

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After a careful research to find the meaning and implications of the term “multipolar world” often used these days, the freedictionary and englopedia offer insights as a system of world order in which the majority of global leading powers coordinate and commonly agree on economic, political and cultural influence and acceptable directions. 

Both dictionaries further explain that countries have multipolar approaches to foreign policy. Participating countries necessarily conceive multiple centers of power or influence in the world, have a multipolar approach to foreign policy. Multipolar world could mean the various differences in thoughts, views and ideas regarding anything in particular which different people desire to do across the world.

It appears from several reports that China and Russia intend to lead the new world order. Speeches from both sides are extremely critical on “based rules and regulations” given by the United States and Europe. The United States global dictatorship might end, so that the unipolar would then become a multi-polar world, in which democracy could actually thrive.

In practical terms and in order to lead multipolar system requires outward, broad and integrative approach. While China, to a large extent, has portrayed this practical approach which is readily seen around the world, Russia’s method is full of slogans, highly limited. With the emerging new global order, China appears more open and integrative than Russia. Despite the fact that it madly advocates for creating and ultimate establishment of this multipolar world, Russia exits significantly from the global stage, thus isolating itself and further contributing towards its own “cancel culture” instead of the opposite.

Whether people like it or not, the United States will conveniently operate within the emerging multipolar system. It has the instruments to operate within the framework of multilateralism and integrative multicultural environment. The United States is and remains as an “indispensable” power. Russia and a few of its allies in this evolutionary process, without adopting cautious steps and strategic approach, will definitely remain “dispensable” in the end.

In order to deepen our understanding of the emerging multipolar world, it is useful to make comparisons. The United States new strategy acknowledges that Africa will shape the future – not just the future of the African people, but of the world. And as such deals with the civil society, women and the youth which it refers to as the megaphone of governance. These have influence on policies and processes engaging policy-makers. 

It further works in various directions closely with the African Union, and one more new direction is the African diaspora. The United States has the largest African diaspora which has social inroads and business inter-linkages and a huge significant impact of developments inside Africa. These compared, Russia has grossly ignored African diaspora and even those African professional specialists it has indeed trained from Soviet times and currently. In the emerging new multipolar world, to overlook these would be a sad mistake from policy perspectives.

Russians seriously brush aside the relevance and the role of culture, for that matter soft power in foreign policy while advocating for this emerging new order. Examining, in broad terms, all aspects of culture that basically includes continuing the struggle for self-determination, for creating the grounded opportunity to live in peace and preserving one’s valuable traditions. Language, of course, plays its unifying role.

Some contradictions and different interpretations might exist. On the other hand, there are divergent views and different perceptions relating to the current geopolitical changes, but frankly speaking the study of foreign languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and the emerging interest in the Chinese and Russian languages, has been a long part of people’s lives, especially those who hope to move across borders and dream to have smooth interactions with other nationals from different countries around the world.

For the past three decades since the collapse of the Soviet era, Russian language studies has been low, for example among the African population primarily due to lack of overwhelming interest and adequate motivation, and lack of consistent interactive cultural activities by Russian authorities, experts at the Africa Studies Institute frequently say, and warmheartedly admit that things have slow with Russia’s return to Africa.

Most Africans prefer to study foreign languages to ensure smooth participation in interstate activities such as trade and in order to maintain relationship with people abroad. Foreign countries, for example Britain, the United States, European countries and now China are their traditional favorites. There are always interactive programmes and cultural activities throughout the year operated by foreign missions and NGOs.

Interpreted from different perspectives, Russia has not been a major economic giant in Africa compared to Western and European countries and China. Due to this historical truth, Africans have little interest in studying Russian language and its culture. The Russian language itself does not sound attractive in terms of its economic opportunity and therefore Africans prefer to study languages that readily offer opportunities. China is making huge contributions in the continent and this has made Africans see the need to understand the language in order to have better interaction with them.

The obvious worse-case scenario is that the Russian government has not created necessary conditions and reasons to study the language simply because it has little influence in the continent. Besides that, the trade and commercial links between Russia and Africa are quite negligible so there is no desperate demand for the Russian language for businessmen. Admittedly, Russia is not a welcoming holiday destination for African elites and the middle-class which twice the total population of Russia, and constitutes 40% of 1.3 billion population of Africa. Travel and tourism is an increasingly huge business, the unique geographical landscapes and changing attractiveness of Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi – these are unknown to the African elite and the growing middle-class.

With the current evolving political and cultural processes, the West and Europe will still have a strong classical grip on Africa, influencing everything first from culture and tourism, and moving onward to politics and economics. Perhaps, Russia has to play correct strategic openness and welcome African travellers, tourists and visitors. Closing doors, in these critical times, might negatively distract Africa’s support for Russia.

The worrying tendency is that Rossotrudnichestvo, an agency under Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, pays little attention to educational and cultural questions in Africa, compared to its assertive counterparts – USAID, Alliance Française de France, The Goethe Institute, British Council, Instituto Cervantes that operate throughout the world.

Another Russian organization – Russkiy Mir Foundation, which is directly responsible for promoting Russian language and culture abroad, does extremely little in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, cultural officers work in all the 38 Russian embassies in Africa.

Russia appears quite removed from Africa’s development issues, it is only mentioned in limited areas like weapons and military equipment supplies to French-speaking West Africa. Nowadays, China is being viewed as a strong strategic partner in Africa given its (China’s) strong footprints in diverse economic sectors. China has more than 20 Confucius Centers, and a party school in Africa. Western and European, and China support civil society, youth programmes and women’s issues, – these are completely not on the Russia’s radar.

Russia allegedly allows its own ‘cancel culture’ and significantly not by the United States and its European allies. In practical terms, creating a multipolar system deals largely with cultural and social orientation, it deals with public perceptions through openness and friendliness. At this new historical reawakening stage, Russia has review itself and try to focus on building relations, both with substance, trustful and refined approach, and strategically engage with civil society, youth organizations and non-state institutions in Africa.

By and large, Russia has to intensify its people-to-people connections soft power and cultural diplomacy with Africa. There is a huge cultural gap of new thinking, working with young professionals and associations to promote people-to-people diplomacy through business links, cultural exchanges and competitions. As Russia charts loudly for multipolar system, this has to reflect in its current foreign policy and approach especially towards the developing world, in Latin America, Asia and Africa. 

Late October, during the final plenary session of the 19th meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, the focus was on matters related to the changing geopolitics and civilisation diversity, the new world order and its future developments. Under the theme – “A Post-Hegemonic World: Justice and Security for Everyone” – the four day-long interactive meeting brought academic experts and researchers, politicians, diplomats and economists from Russia and 40 foreign countries.

President Vladimir Putin discussed, at considerable length, so many controversial questions. According to him, classic liberal ideology itself today has changed beyond recognition. Predicted the end of United States global dominance, but fell short in proposing an appropriate Russia’s template – the principles and mechanisms – for realizing the lofty idea and approach to establishing multipolar world.

Putin did not say anything about Russia becoming a power, but awarded that position to China. Giants like China, India and Indonesia with large population are showing economic growth; in Africa large countries – some of them with a population of 200 million – are emerging and making progress, as well as countries in Latin America.

According to him, Russia still have friends around the world. He mentioned that in Central America and Africa, the Russian flags are flying everywhere. “There are flags in European countries and in the United States too, we have many supporters there. By the way, a large proportion of the US population adhere to traditional values, and they are with us, we know this,” he added in his assertive conversation at the Valdai gathering.

Putin, along the line argued that the support for multipolar order largely exists in the global south. Russia is not the enemy and has never had any evil intentions as regards the European countries and the United States. He appreciated Africa’s struggle for independence and against colonialism. These absolutely unique relations were forged during the years when the Soviet Union and Russia supported African countries in their fight for freedom. 

In this context and in relation to Africa, Natalia Zaiser, Founder of the African Business Initiative Union, apparently talked about the new historical stage, need to establish new or different institutions of international partnership.

Her series of questions to Putin: “Mr President, what is your vision of a new international partnership institution? Which basis of parities is Russia ready to offer at the international level? Which mechanisms, tools and personalities are needed to acquire new allies, partners and friends, not at a declarative level but at the level of unquestionable responsibility in terms of agreements? Do you think we should also change or build up other approaches within the future international partnership?”

Putin’s answer was: “We must and we can focus on cooperation, primarily, with countries which have sovereignty in taking fundamental decisions. This is my first point. My second point is that we need to reach a consensus on each of these decisions. Third, we need to secure a balance of interests. As part of which institutions can we do this? Of course, these are primarily universal international organizations, and number one is with the United Nations.”

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