African Diplomacy: Overview of a Project

African Union MapMy latest project originally sought to understand African diplomacy from a true realist IR perspective. Of course that’s ironic, because IR realists rarely acknowledge the pull or influence that diplomacy (or Africa) has on the IR field. My goal was to understand if there could be any benefit to African nations by pooling their diplomatic representation through a body such as the African Union, rather than conducting their own individual missions abroad. Why staff a small embassy with inexperienced diplomats when a nation could leverage the power of the entire continent and have the best and brightest African diplomats representing their collective needs? Again this runs a tad contrary to realist thinking who usually dismiss the supranational organizations of the world of holding any real power. However, I’m of the believe that in the future these bodies will be the real power holders in IR theory and practice.

Of course, this idea of a African foreign service would sound very similar to the European External Action Service that has come into being with the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in the European Union. There are now two tiers of European diplomacy: national diplomats from individual countries & EU diplomats representing the organs of the supranational body. The African Union, while modeled on the EU in some circumstances (though it was mostly a recasting of the Organization of African Unity while combining the economic capabilites of the African Economic Community and taking its mandate and supplanting it with NEPAD), the AU has yet to develop a pan-African diplomatic service. Thus I was very curious if there would be a way to argue for and against such a diplomatic organ of the AU. As it turned out, predictably, there is very little research into this idea, and while I had thought to expand my comparison to ASEAN, most papers focused on the integrationist desires, not the benefits of a collaborative foreign service, that diplomats or the diplomatic corps in supranational capitals (Brussels, Addis Ababa, and Jakarta). Thus I turned to the wide ranging literature on regional integration for my project to see how the move towards integration on the continent compares to the EU and ASEAN and what impact that would have on the respective diplomatic powers.

AU Emblem

The difficulty with African regional integration is the fact that it is very much regional and not continental. While the AU has made strides since being constituted a little over a decade ago, there hasn’t been much progress towards their goals of a common currency or a free trade zone. There has been a stronger AU military presence, but that may be down to the funding by Western states who desire to have no overt military presence on the continent. Instead, most African integration is on the level of trade communities: ECOWAS, SADC, and the EAC. These organizations have been quietly successful in focusing on trade and tariffs, but have had mixed results in the political arena (see SADC’s High Court and Zimbabwe land reform and Nigeria’s intervention in Sierra Leone).

To frame my project, I took three authors and applied their ideas and frameworks to the African continent to assess the nature of African diplomacy and its implications for further integration. Geoffrey Wiseman, Mai’a Cross, and Thomas Tieku provided these frameworks, with Wiseman and Cross providing specific guidance to me in my project which I am indebted to them for their assistence.

Using Wiseman’s norms of American diplomacy, I formulated my norms of African diplomatic culture (anti-imperialism, adherence to colonial borders, and African state solidarity) combined them with Cross’ hypothesis that the epistemic community of diplomats in Brussels have had a serious role to play in further integration, and merged this with Tieku’s Africrats who shape the agenda in AU integration.

The ironic finding of this project was about the diplomats of the AU. They seem to be the handbrake on further integration, which pits them in stark contrast to the integrationist leaning European diplomats. I found that the norms of African diplomacy, will be hurdles that integrationists on the continent will have to overcome because diplomats have been the protectors of state sovereignty in Africa rather than innovators on the international stage in terms of diplomacy or regional integration.

I identified African diplomats (or Afromats to play off of Tieku’s term for African technocrats), as important gatekeepers of innovation at the supranational level and play a role that is just as important as their European counterparts. However, there current disposition is to maintain power at the nation-state level, thus preventing my original aim of determining if African states would be best served to combine their individual diplomatic strength and create a unified foreign service that could be a force-multiplyer on the world stage. As I was restricted to a stringent word count I set out where future research should be conducted: it will need to be aimed at understanding the detailed reasons and motivations that Afromats have for impeding integration, and what incentives can be presented to the African diplomats in Addis Ababa or to the national governments in order to further continental unification on the diplomatic so that African can play a greater role on the world stage.

Click Here for my Full Project

Download my first paper in epub form! (also available as a pdf)


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