Uganda: Mu­sev­eni’s ICC re­marks show how badly we need diplo­macy


While tak­ing the oath of of­fice on May 12 for the sixth time, Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni called the peo­ple at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) a bunch of knick-knacks, to put it del­i­cately.

The Pres­i­dent is per­fectly right to hold any opin­ion. Also, he’s prob­a­bly right that he and the likes of Su­dan’s pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC to an­swer some charges of com­mit­ting war crimes, have no busi­ness with ICC.

And there’s a whole bunch of other Big Men, who be­stride their countries like colossi across Africa; they too would ut­ter words sim­i­lar to - or worse than - what our Pres­i­dent said about ICC.

Still, the era of diplo­macy is not over yet. It is very much alive. There are two over-arch­ing beams that have sup­ported - and will con­tinue to sup­port - the prac­tice of diplo­macy: com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of states in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

How we com­mu­ni­cate in the re­fined world of diplo­macy speaks vol­umes about how pedes­trian or so­phis­ti­cated we are, how much of a global per­spec­tive we com­mand and what prospects we stand to win at the end­less ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble that the global arena is.

There are, of course, many other tools that can be avail­able to us in the con­duct of the busi­ness of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. How­ever, some of them, such as sanc­tions, war and im­po­si­tion of tar­iff and non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers, come into use as a di­rect re­sult of the fail­ure of diplo­macy.

In­deed, diplo­macy is var­i­ously cited as the prime cur­rency of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem. It makes up the bulk of ac­tiv­ity be­tween states. It mod­er­ates the lan­guage State rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in­clud­ing diplo­mats and heads of State are ex­pected to use. And the abil­ity to prac­tice diplo­macy is seen as one of the defin­ing el­e­ments of a na­tion­state.

Since the Euro­peans cre­ated the na­tion-state in 1648, peo­ple have been speak­ing with pride about their ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty. Yet peo­ple have not al­ways lived in sov­er­eign states.

The Greeks had their citys­tates be­tween 500BC and 100BC. Feu­dal­ism came and went. Colo­nial­ism came and went. Some schol­ars al­ready ar­gue that the na­tion-state is go­ing. A more ad­vanced form of po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion, one that can cause an in­ter­na­tional trans­for­ma­tion, is ap­proach­ing, pushed by grow­ing in­ter­de­pen­dence among ex­ist­ing states and diplo­macy.

This is the re­al­ity that should serve as an im­pe­tus for Uganda to re­view its stance on diplo­macy. We need to train and de­ploy di­plo­matic corps that can keep our so­ci­ety mov­ing with the world. We need re­fined men and women, skilled in the art and tact of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Not two-bit politi­cians sent to chant party slo­gans abroad af­ter los­ing elec­tions. Such peo­ple put our for­eign mis­sions in bad light. They ex­port medi­ocrity and witch­craft. We must de­velop a cul­ture that al­lows us to make as many new global friends as we wish with­out en­gag­ing in the kind of di­plo­matic yo-yoing that makes us re­fer to old friends in con­tempt.

Re­mem­ber, even new friends may one day be­come old friends. This fact be­came clearer af­ter the end of the Cold War, help­ing pop­u­larise a spe­cific form of diplo­macy - pub­lic diplo­macy.

Pub­lic diplo­macy is vi­tal to na­tional se­cu­rity. It calls for strate­gic long-term plan­ning, lis­ten­ing to for­eign publics to achieve strate­gic ob­jec­tives, us­ing cred­i­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tors, cre­at­ing pol­icy strate­gies that sup­port com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively, strength­en­ing the qual­ity of the strate­gic mes­sages, and us­ing solid mass me­dia to achieve de­sired re­sults with for­eign publics.

• nDr Okodan is a lec­turer at Kam­pala In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity.

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