Traditional diplomacy, practised by many countries in the pre- and post-Cold War era has been in rapid decline over the past several years. The end of the bi-polar world coupled with the simultaneous rise of what international political commentator Fareed Zakaria refers to as “the rest” has led to a change of international agendas and with that, a change in the character and tone of diplomacy. Over the past decades developing countries have grown rapidly, and today account more for global economic output than a few decades ago. It is projected that by the year 2050, with the exception of the United States of America, none of the current group of 7 industrialized economies will be in the top 5 largest economies. Some have already lost their economic rankings to China and India. In Africa, there has been change in relative positions of economic strength with South Africa losing pole position to Nigeria in the last few years.
The evolution of communication technology has led to redundancy of traditional diplomats. Gone are the days of cumbersome and dated reports. In today’s world of social media and twenty-four hour news cycles, diplomats are expected to be up to date and technology savvy to ensure that any information he/she generates has relevant context.
In his book titled History and the Evolution of Diplomacy, Richard Langhorne explains this point by stating, “A serious part of the atmosphere which this quotation catches was caused by the steadily increasing sense that the gathering and assessment of information about foreign societies and governments which had been the principal purpose of diplomacy since the emergence of the Resident Ambassador had been overtaken by other and more efficient means of communication.”
Modern day diplomacy involves a kaleidoscope of actors. These days, it is not strange to see Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as Multinational Corporations and even individuals, such as Bill and Melinda Gates acting as important stakeholders in the world of diplomacy. It is all about credibility, knowledge and the ability to process information at breath-taking speeds. Modern-day diplomats are expected to be knowledgeable in various fields such as finance, economics, energy, environment, health and security.
Terrorism has also impacted the modern-day diplomat as terror threats have fundamentally changed diplomatic intercourse. In this regard, we condemn the persistent terror attacks throughout the world and express our heartfelt sympathies to nations and people who suffer the abomination of dastardly terror attacks. This modern-day evil has become a barbaric and unacceptable form of articulating discontent with the modern world. As former freedom fighters, we are prone to believe that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. We however can find no justification to defend flying a passenger plane into the Twin Towers in New York, driving a truck into crowds of innocent people in Nice or walking into the Brussels airport with guns, bombs and murderous intent. These indiscriminate, senseless and barbaric attacks are an attack on all of us as they can happen anywhere, anytime, to anybody and have nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with hatred. As diplomats, we need to closely examine the root causes of the hate and hopelessness that drive these terror attacks and which provide fertile ground for our young people to subscribe to the message of terror as opposed to diplomacy. War starts where diplomacy fails. Where have we failed? These are the difficult questions today’s diplomats must grapple with.
Globally, many countries have moved away from the traditional diplomacy characterised by niceties and subtle cajoling. The countries these days use diplomacy as a tool to carry out and execute their political and economic agendas. If we should redefine our International Relations Policy, it would be that it is an extension of our Domestic Policy. Therefore, our Policy on International Relations must serve our domestic interests.
Times are changing quickly and we need to adapt to these changes with the same speed. These days, as Africans, we are talking of the second phase of the struggle; the struggle for economic emancipation. Our diplomacy must also enter this second phase. Diplomacy should not only reflect our fears, but also our aspirations. The new world is indeed a scary place but it’s also a place where there are many opportunities. We need to understand what those opportunites are for a small country like Namibia and utilize modern tools to facilitate our developmental aspirations.
Namibia has made significant progress in terms of development since gaining independence 26 years ago. Our arrival at this stage was due to the culmination of the armed struggle for national liberation. This was made possible by the relentless efforts and sacrifices of our sons and daughters, augmented by the support of our African brothers and sisters, the progressive international community and our friends and sympathizers. It is for this reason that Namibia is known as a child of international solidarity because our independence was conceived by the unity of international support and midwifed by the United Nations.
Given this fact, Namibia has adopted the central tenet of its International Relations Policy the slogan that “we are a friend to all and an enemy to none”. We support multilateralism.
Given the fact that many friendly nations and organizations stood by us during the time of apartheid colonialism, Namibia will continue to express solidarity with those who are denied self-determination. These include our brothers and sisters in Palestine and Western Sahara. As we enjoy our freedom and democracy, so should others as we believe freedom is indivisible. Democracy is indivisible.
The Namibian House should also be seen in the context of a neighbourhood. If there is instability in the neighbourhood, the Namibian House cannot be stable. As part of our international responsibilities, to the extent feasible, Namibia will continue to contribute to peace-making and peacekeeping operations under the umbrella of the United Nations, the African Union and regional alliances.
As pan-Africanists, it goes without saying that our African brothers and sisters will always be welcome in Namibia. As a first step we have recently abolished visa requirements into Namibia for diplomatic and official African passport holders. We are committed to extend this privilege to all-African passport holders by initially issuing visas on arrival and eventually abolishing visa requirements.
Our Policy on International Relations and Cooperation should, therefore, be embedded in the doctrine of Pan-Africanism as espoused by some of the great founding pan Africanist philosophers such as Sylvester Williams, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere and Sam Nujoma.
Our Policy on International Relations and Cooperation should also take into consideration what I refer to as the New Africa. The New Africa is a Africa where coups d’état are no longer tolerated, where leaders retire in dignity, and an Africa that reflects its true narrative. In essence, the New Africa is the Africa We Want, as espoused in Agenda 2063 of the African Union.
In relation to coups, please permit me to condemn the coup attempt in Turkey as it goes against the grain of electoral democratic norms and practices.
As Africans, it is important that we remain intellectually honest about our challenges while resisting the temptation of persistent Afro-pessimism.
It has become common to read international magazines and journals writing glowing articles about Namibia. It is heart warming to note how well the outside world regards Namibia as a role model and tells our story in a positive light. It is ironic that as Namibians, we are not so good at telling our own story. Ambassadors and High Commissioners, we need to take charge of the narrative and remind the world of this small country with big aspirations called Namibia.
Over the past year, we have revived the Namibian narrative through concepts such as One Namibia One Nation, the Namibian House, No-One Should Feel Left Out and the War Against Poverty and Corruption. These concepts were formulated into the Harambee Prosperity Plan which is aimed at helping Namibians to unite for a common cause.
Over the past two decades, Namibia, the Child of International Solidarity, has grown into a mature nation, with a strong democracy, built on the foundations of peace, the rule of law and strong institutions. Through sound electoral processes, we have ensured the peaceful transition of power in leadership, starting with the Founding President of the Nation, Comrade Sam Shafiishuuna Nujoma, an icon of Namibia’s struggle for independence, who led us through the liberation struggle and the process of nation-building after independence, followed by the former President, Comrade Hifikepunye Pohamba, under whose able leadership, peace and stability was consolidated and finally, Yours Truly, tasked with ushering in an era of prosperity.