Africa Day @ The South African Consulate: Engaging Non-State Actors

AU - 50 Years

I was fortunate to spend Africa Day 2013, the celebration of the founding of the OAU, at the South African Consulate in Los Angeles. This year had special meaning as it was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the precursor to today’s African Union and was an opportunity for the African community to come together to hear from a distinguished line up that spoke of the potential of the next 50 years. Congresswomen Maxine Waters spoke, drawing significant applause; Councilman Mike Gipson from the City of Carson awarded certificates, Consulates from Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa sent representatives; and two professors from CSU-Dominguez Hills gave mini-lectures.

I went without knowing much of what to expect of the rhetoric. With South Africa gaining the AU Commission’s chairpersonship of the last year, the Republic has much to gain through the promotion of the AU if Dlamini-Zuma is able to ‘clean up’ the organization and help it flex its muscle on the continent. That also may have been reflected in one of the themes of Africa Day 2013: African Renaissance (the other Pan-Africanism). This was a major theme of Thabo Mbeki’s foreign policy but one that hasn’t been pushed forward since NEPAD has faded.


The day’s news coverage was generally positive about the AU, but there are many who are writing about the gap between the AU’s promise and its action (see links at the end). Among the critiques is the organization’s inability to solve the latest conflicts on its own: Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, and Mali all required international intervention (notably led by the French) to bring about stability. But the organization has had success in Somalia, with signifcant foriegn backing. Furthermore, with South African forces headed to DR Congo with a more aggressive posture than a simple peace keeping role, this may be the beginning of a more active AU. Still, there are political problems in places like Madagascar, Guinea Bissau, and the Central African Republic that will require the AU’s non-military attention if it is to gain a reputation as a leader in conflict resolution.

What I listened for in all the Africa Day speeches were the statements on engaging civil society and the youth. Continue reading


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

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The Case for Sanctions in Syria – Lessons from Africa

Sanctions are a hard form of economic power that Joseph Nye discusses in chapter three of his new book, The Future of Power, and a topic that is discussed widely today in relation to Syria. Many policy makers are pondering whether sanctions will be useful in convincing President al-Assad to stop killing his people. No doubt some in the camp that support sanctions would point to the smart sanctions that Rose Gottemoeller discusses in her article, The Evolution of Sanctions. She claims this progress has taken place after the world noted the failure of the blanket use of the measure against the Iraq regime that lead to suffering by the target population as a whole, and the corruption it bred. Gottemoeller suggests that smart sanctions “have been honed through the ‘war on terror’, and sanctions are hitting their targets among corrupt elites more often” (109). Many argue that sanctions are better than doing nothing, and a step below military engagement. This enables countries with public opinions that do not support the sacrifice of blood and treasure to still make their preference known in a forceful way. However, despite the near constant stream of sanctions and their intellectually enhanced offspring in the past decade, where do we see successes? Nye explains where economic power can be seen in the world today, but doesn’t place it fully into a country’s diplomatic toolkit. For example, many of the United States’ links with China are symbiotic and the circular relationship requires both sides to make policy changes in order to move forward. Certainly sanctions, as a piece of the arsenal of power could not solve this problem. Thus sanctions as a mode of influence have a fairly limited scope of use, even the ‘smart’ kind.

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Calls for Action in Zimbabwe – Will Anyone Actually Give a Realistic Plan of Action?

Today’s Washington Post Opinion page featured a piece appropriately named as it was penned by two physicians, In Zimbabwe, a Cancer Called Mugabe, which like many governments and other advocay groups called on the help to be made available to Zimbabweans. Unfortunately, they don’t go into spcifics about what kind of ‘help’ should be given other than that under the wide ‘humanitarian’ banner, nor do they even give any guidance to Barack Obama for what he should actually DO.

This seems to be the theme of most op-ed articles, opinion pieces, and major world instituions who have been calling for ‘change’. Everyone seems to agree that Mugabe must step down (1, 2, 3), but since Mugabe could obviously care little for world sanctions or condemnations (much less any empathy for the citizens of his country), how do these writes and politicians actually envision Mugabe being removed from power? Certainly no military action is considered by Western nations, and it is even more ridiculous to assume it will come from any African Union member at this point. Freezing of his monetary resources, along with the rest of his ‘cronies’ seems to have done little to result in change.

The world does not seem to recognize that they are dealing with a stubborn, old, and proud African man. Do leaders and journalists think that simply writing about his rule and his iron-fisted ways will bring about real change to the regime? If they do not, then why bring any attention to the situation at all? Is it a good topic to fill up the the ‘holier than thou’ part of the newspaper? Saying, look at us, we’re looking out for our fellow citizens of the world by writing about their blights, but don’t ask us to actually implement, much less create a feasible plan of action. 

The Zimbabwean currency lost is value some time ago (I actually have Zim dollars that are expired), the opposition party is being ruthlessly beaten and jailed by the ruling party seemingly attempting a MLK-approach to Mugabe’s rule, and citizens of the neighboring countries have called on their governments to act, but have seen only half-hearted plans for a unitary government, a sole organizer for regional meetings on the topics and rebukes of ZANU-PF from no one of note other Botswana.

Though calls for Mugabe to step down have grown steadily from African leaders, no one seems to ever say ‘or else’. They all call on him to end the suffering of his people. HIS people? Does any one think that Mugabe actually sympathizes with the rural people of Zimbabwe? He cares about keeping his inner cirlce happy, and he has done that to such a degree that all he has to do is set them loose on the farms, and they’re perfectly content with his rule.

How does change come to Zimbabwe, real change, real development, and the return of simple government services? Next week, The African File will present a 5-piece plan of action to bring about actual change, that will not just yell ‘do something’, but will say ‘do this‘.