This publication should be cited as: Bilal, S. 2014. Thematic focus: New diplomacy and development. GREAT Insights, Volume 3, Issue 3. March 2014.
Contrary to its traditional image, international diplomacy is a dynamic field. The question, however, is whether diplomacy can adapt fast enough to follow, let alone anticipate, the rapidly changing international relations context. In a globalised world, with multidimensional interconnections and information channels, diplomats have to constantly expand and refine their roles.
This is the case for Africa as for Europe. In Africa, the regional and continental integration agenda, combined with the increasing importance of a range of emerging partners, are putting new requirements on diplomatic activities. Coordination and innovation must take a more prominent role. The recurrent security crises and political instability that have plagued parts of Africa for so long, now more than ever call for international as well as pan-African actions, and hence fast and well coordinated diplomatic responses. Perhaps even more prominently, the rapid economic growth experienced by the Continent over the last decade should more radically transform the traditional role of African diplomats. The active promotion of commercial interests and economic relations should thus take a more central place in the training and activities of new African diplomats. Similarly, they must give greater recognition to the role of private and civil society actors in international relations, and thus engage more constructively with them.
Adaptation is not only required from Africa. Europe is also facing its own set of challenges. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union (EU) is tentatively putting in place its own diplomacy with the European External Action Service. Whether the glass is half full or half empty is a matter of perception. While the focus of most debates has been on the growing pains of EU diplomacy and its coherence, it is by now clear that it will have to play an increasingly important role, in synergy with EU member states. Security and development cooperation issues seem to have attracted most of the attention so far. The challenge for Europe is to establish a more comprehensive and mature relationship with its African partners. In spite of its goodwill, the EU is suffering from an image problem in many African corners, where it is commonly described as an important, yet often patronising partner, slow to respond to African concerns. The challenge for the EU diplomacy is thus to better harness its (development) programme management and diplomatic roles, now too often confined to political affairs diplomats. This implies to see Africa less as a problem basket case, and more and more as a land of opportunity. Concretely, this means putting more explicit emphasis on win-win economic relations with Africa, to better accompany and take advantage of the rapid growth and economic transformation in Africa. It also means dedicating more effort to addressing development challenges in a more encompassing and coherent way, beyond aid. In the donors jargon, this has been referred to as policy coherence for development, a notion that has unfortunately remained confined so far to restricted development circles, and should be embraced by diplomats.
Some EU member states, such as The Netherlands (read for instance Minister Ploumen’s article in GREAT of November 2013), the UK, France, German, Denmark or Finland, are more explicitly articulating their economic interests to engage with Africa, to be pursued in a coherent manner with development objectives. Such “enlightened self-interest” is not without its own challenges, notably in terms of potential conflicting interests, or at least priorities, between European and African partners. But it has the merit to move beyond a benevolent agenda for development partners, and build on private sector dynamics. It also contributes to call for a different approach to development cooperation as a catalyst or accompanying instrument to development and transformative objectives.
This issue of GREAT Insights offers an initial range of reflections on the diversity of changes and adaptations that are required from a modern diplomacy to more coherently contribute to better international relations and development.
San Bilal (Editor), Head of Economic Transformation Programme, ECDPM.
Paul Engel (Guest editor), Director, ECDPM.
Jean Bossuyt (Guest editor), Head of Strategy, ECDPM.