African Digital Diplomacy in the era of COVID-19

Report of a Seminar for African Diplomats held 24 June to 12 August 2020

Compiled and Edited by Dr Bob Wekesa, African Centre for the Study of the United States and Mr Sean Pike, Department of International Relations and Cooperation

Published by the African Centre for the Study of the United States and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, June 2021

Table of Contents
Broad Introductions and Opening Ceremony
Theme 1: Foundational Skills and Competencies
Session 2: Setting up Hardware and Examples of Digital Diplomacy in Action
Session 3: Social Media Methods and Tactics
Theme 2: Navigating Challenges
Session 4: Identifying and Fighting Disinformation on Social Media
Session 5: The African Context of Conspiracy Theories, Manipulation, Misinformation, Disinformation, and Sharp Power
Session 6: Fact Checking Skills, Tools and Fact Checking Resources for African Diplomats
Theme 3: The Policy Sphere
Session 7: Initiating, Developing, and Implementing Digital Diplomacy Policies, Strategies, and Action Plans
Session 8: The Challenges and Opportunities of African Digital Diplomacy
Theme 4: Digital Economy and Branding
Theme 5: Communicating with Impact
Session 13: Introduction to Digital Storytelling
Session 14: Leveraging Digital Diplomacy for Humanitarian and Crisis Communication
Session 15: Media-based and Journalism Driven Digital Diplomacy
Theme 6: Africa in a Global Setting and Training Agenda
Session 16: Leadership and Reputational Security in the era of COVID-19
Session 17: Key Skills and Capabilities for the 21st Century African Diplomat
Theme 7: The Way Forward
Session 18: Thinking Ahead: Strategies for the Next Wave of Innovations on Diplomacy and What the Future Portends
Session 19: Lessons from European Digital Diplomacy for African Digital Diplomacy
Session 20: Closing Session and Next Steps
This report is about one of the first ever digital diplomacy seminar in Africa organized in 2020. It is intended to not only provide an overall view of the initiative, but also to serve as reference point for African diplomats to understand, appreciate and value digital diplomacy as concept and practice. It is also aimed at informing future training programmes. The seminar from which the report is derived was co-hosted online from 24th June 2020 to August 21st, 2020, by the University of the Witwatersrand’s (Wits University) African Centre for the Study of the United States (ACSUS), the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), and the Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) at the University of Southern California (USC). It is entitled “African Digital Diplomacy in the era of COVID-19” in view of the diplomacy-changing phenomenon.
The objective of the seminar was to empower African diplomats to make use of digital and social media platforms and tools of the modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to promote their foreign and development policies globally. The seminar was delivered virtually over a nine-week duration, with sessions held on Wednesday afternoons covering eighteen diverse topics summarized below. The seminar provided African diplomats with the concepts, theories, and methods in the field of digital diplomacy. It discussed the current global best practices, and appropriate tools to empower African diplomats to make the best use of digital tools in their engagement with domestic and global publics. It also provided insights into emerging digital practices and possible innovations that diplomats could potentially utilise to undertake their work efficiently and effectively.
Throughout the planning and roll out, the seminar was delivered as a government-academia-practitioner partnership. Wits University’s ACSUS oversaw the off and online logistical arrangements and lined up the speakers while DIRCO was responsible for identifying and inviting participants from across the continent, moderating, and delivering some of the presentations. DIRCO sent out invitations to all African missions based in South Africa and those accredited to South Africa from third countries. In addition, DIRCO invited the African diplomatic academies to also participate in the seminar. SAIIA provided a moderator and publicity while University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) provided speakers. The US embassy in South Africa also provided speakers.
The rest of the report details the themes and sessions throughout the seminar, capturing some of the key points made during specific presentations.
Session 1: Broad Introductions and Opening Ceremony, Wednesday, 24 June 2020.
The opening ceremony consisted of introductory remarks by the representatives of Wits University, DIRCO and SAIIA. First off was Professor Gilbert M. Khadiagala, Director, ACSUS. He commenced his comments by noting that the seminar had been planned many months prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic highlighted the significance and imperative of digital diplomacy for African countries necessitating the hosting of the seminar regardless of the technological challenges at the time. He observed that African states live in a digital and digitised world making it imperative for statecraft to understand the intricacies of digital diplomacy as a field of study that has relevance to both diplomatic scholars and practitioners. The training programme, he observed, would impart essential skills for navigating the complex world of digital diplomacy and the increasingly interrelated area of the fourth industrial revolution.
Professor Khadiagala was followed by Mr Yarik Turianskyi, Deputy Program Head of African Governance and Diplomacy at SAIIA. He pointed out that COVID-19 had quickly panned out into a period of cyber-fatigue which was further complicated by lockdowns. Despite the fatigue, he was hopeful that African diplomats would be able to gainfully use the disruptive potential of digital diplomacy as a practice to enhance their foreign policy mandates. While viewing technology as a game changer, he nonetheless reminded that digital diplomacy was not a totally new concept. He pointed out for example that the United States’ State Department pioneered the use of digital diplomacy over a decade before the pandemic and its success encouraged other governments to establish similar programmes.
Mr Turianskyi observed that one of the important aspects of eDiplomacy is to promote the soft power of states. In these respects, he noted that today, social media is used by governments, foreign ministries, embassies, and diplomats as a soft power tool. He noted that digital diplomacy had become more acceptable as a tool of diplomacy as presidents and ministers adopted and used it to communicate directly with the domestic and foreign publics as well as leaders in other states. Explaining that some of the key components of digital diplomacy is about disaster planning and management and consular matters, he also included the explanation of foreign and investment policies and strategies as the other areas in which the practice was being used. He noted that one advantage of digital diplomacy was that communication is now more immediate, and audiences can receive the information they want or need rapidly.
While appreciating the significance of digital diplomacy, Mr Turianskyi also pointed out the challenges that it creates. He observed that it can lead to hasty announcements and that it can also be mimicked by those with nefarious intentions. Further, he explained, digital diplomacy can also be used for propaganda purposes and that some leaders had even taken to issuing threats through their social media communication. He further explained that it had also created online groups (some of whom are state-supported) like the wolf-warrior “diplomats” who can be very aggressive and insulting to those persons and countries they choose to target. This, he argued, is a challenge that needs to be navigated and managed by those engaged in digital diplomacy.
Mr Turianskyi reiterated that digital diplomacy can be used for positive purposes by African diplomats. Today, he said, there are African Presidents whose social media accounts are in the top 50 range of popularity globally. On the other hand, he observed, there are risks to digital diplomacy within the African context. He gave the example of illiberal regimes that pursue policies intolerant to democracy and that have implemented internet shutdowns and argued that it was important for African communities to speak out against illiberal internet practices.
In closing he suggested that African diplomats should try to enhance the use of digital diplomacy in their diplomatic toolsets. This would require a focus on enhancing information and communications systems within the ministries and government units responsible for diplomacy and foreign policy. At the same time, he advised African diplomats to partner with like-minded states and seek to develop a rules and frameworks for digital diplomacy on the continent.
Ms Jenifer Bullock, Public Affairs Officer, then Acting Consul-General, United States Consulate-General, Johannesburg followed. She started by noting that the lockdowns had necessitated the consulate to move all its programmes online. This had meant that programmes such as interviewing candidates for exchange programmes, speaker programmes, youth and book clubs and the hackathons which normally took place in-person had moved to online formats. Moving online, she narrated, allowed the consulate to coordinate its virtual activities between the US Missions in South Africa with US missions in other countries; for example, the Consulate had recently held a joint discussion on entrepreneurship with exchange alumni in South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire. The virtual environment was a testament to the program that the Department of State had been running since 2003 when the US eDiplomacy Office was established.
Expounding on the eDiplomacy program at the State Department, she noted that in 2003, the eDiplomacy Office was established under the Information Resource Management Bureau. That office focused on promoting knowledge management and developing ways to facilitate connection and collaboration both within and outside of the State Department. To date, she continued, the office directly manages initiatives and programs for knowledge leadership, interagency collaboration, and public outreach by American embassies and missions abroad. She explained that the office has three divisions, namely:
• The Diplomatic Innovation Division which facilitates engagement and collaboration externally – for example with other diplomatic corps, civil society, the private sector, and academia.
• The Knowledge Leadership Division which uses technology to help the State Department staff find and share knowledge internally.
• The third division focuses on Customer Service, a public-facing innovation.
To illustrate her points, she gave two examples of the products of the office of eDiplomacy as, Diplopedia, which is an internal online “wikipedia” for the State Department personnel, and Communities@State which are internal blogs that promote inter-agency dialogue. She explained that these are online communities which permit State Department personnel to form groups to share information, connect with others, and discuss issues of concern to their communities. She shared a video in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the importance of digital diplomacy in the 21st Century.
Ms Bullock said that back then (in the early 2000s), there was a recognition of the need to have an overarching office or bureau that could organize the digital diplomacy engagement. She gave the example of the 2015 comment by the then State Department’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Richard Stengel, that “few parts of the Department’s social media apparatus operate(d) under a formal management structure and no shared organization-wide strategy exist(ed) to effectively coordinate digital action”. Hence, explained Ms Bullock, a Digital Diplomacy Unit was established within the Office of Policy, Planning and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
She stated that the Digital Diplomacy Unit was intended to:
• Develop department-wide policies and processes to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to effective digital engagement.
• Improve the Department’s capability to convey policy messages worldwide rapidly and comprehensively and to measure the impact of these messages.
• Develop a comprehensive digital engagement strategy for the Department.
• Improve technology capabilities available to all public diplomacy practitioners.
She went on to recognize that the impacts of these initiatives had provided a more uniform and organised approach to social media products and interactions. Hootsuite Enterprise was one tool which served as a content library from which Public Affairs Sections could select and adapt content for audiences, she exemplified. Hootsuite also allowed State Department headquarters to control all the overseas social media posts and websites. In a crisis, she pointed out, this could be very important as a diplomatic post may not have bandwidth to run their own websites and social media to be able to get information out to the public. The unit was never formally established within the State Department, but it still exists and partners with a unit named the Global Public Affairs office.
Ms Tinyiko Kumalo, Chief Director at the Diplomatic Academy at DIRCO followed Ms Bullock with a speech that served to officially open the seminar. She welcomed all participants to the online course pointing out that the course was important for two reasons. Firstly, she said, it would provide an understanding of the context, tools, and operations of digital diplomacy all of which are critical to the advancement of African foreign and trade policies. Secondly, the seminar came at a time when the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, had recently signed the Foreign Service Act positioning the Diplomatic Academy as a centre of excellence to deliver training opportunities that would benefit not only South Africa, but the African continent at large.
She acknowledged that DIRCO’s partnership with ACSUS and other institutions had created the opportunity for the Diplomatic Academy’s first online seminar. The seminar would benefit not only DIRCO, but also participants from Africa, she pointed out.
Ms Kumalo observed that the seminar participants continually heard from global media and research institutions that the post-COVID-19 world would create a new way of working. She however noted that the “new way” that was being propounded was often ill-defined. Yet, she went on, governments, companies, and institutions would have to change their approaches, models, and interactions during and after the lockdowns. She urged that in a world underpinned by rising costs and budget constraints, all the new methods and tools provided by ICT, the internet, smart phones, big data, and metrics, must be used to drive diplomatic engagement.
Echoing earlier sentiments, Ms Kumalo observed that developments in digital diplomacy were not new to diplomacy as diplomatic practice had always been affected by new actors, new tools, and new processes. She pointed out that the point of departure was that the tools must be mastered and used if diplomats are to remain effective. She noted that although many of the African ministries of foreign affairs and many individual diplomats had social media accounts; these were not always used to the best advantage. She encouraged participants to consider the fact that digital diplomacy was more than just having a social media presence as it was more holistic, integrating the usage of ICTs to achieve national objectives. She further argued that the achievement of national objectives involved consistent messaging, continued updating of critical processes in terms of coordination, and the correct timing of messages. This, she explained, was needed to address the new problem of disinformation and misinformation and to provide honest and rational responses to deliberate efforts to undermine diplomacy.
She suggested that to effectively implement digital diplomacy, some of the questions that must be asked are:
• Are we achieving our desired results? Is there a more effective way?
• Is our engagement overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information in the world? Are we even being heard?
• How do we make sure we are effectively heard?
• What is the best way to create our content, manage it, and ensure that we are heard?
In answering the above questions, she urged participants to take cognisance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which was placing technologies in the hands of diplomats that could be used to promote Africa generally and individual countries more specifically. Because of this, she pointed out, digital diplomacy should be part and parcel of the current and future tools of diplomacy, thus necessitating mastery through training.
She observed that beyond the practical use of digital tools, the course had been designed by ACSUS, DIRCO, SAIIA and CPD to provide the necessary knowledge of theory and practice to build the appropriate skills and capacities of African diplomats. She concluded by saying that providing an understanding of the context of digital diplomacy, and the challenges facing consistent, effective messaging aimed at audiences, would empower participants to design their own digital diplomacy programmes thereby enabling the achievement of their national objectives.
In the final segment of the introduction to the seminar, Dr Bob Wekesa, Research and Partnership Director, ACSUS made a presentation outlining course expectations.
He noted that the concept and practice of digital diplomacy, also referred to as virtual diplomacy, e-diplomacy, mobile diplomacy, cyber diplomacy, and networked diplomacy, was already becoming standard practice before the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic. He observed that most diplomats had already engaged in digital diplomacy as ICTs had become ubiquitous. He explained that some scholars traced the formative forms of digital diplomacy to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 when ‘green’ activists mobilised via email to lobby for the reduction of carbon emissions, then as now, depleting the ozone layer.
He recalled that in the same year (1992), the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, in Malta, established a “Unit for Computer Applications in Diplomacy” in one of the earliest co-option of ICT into diplomatic training. Thus, he reminded, digital diplomacy had been around for three decades already. He however identified the late 1990s as a period when countries started developing websites for the purpose of diplomatic communication, citing the cases of Singapore and Hong Kong. Further, he said, the Swedish, British, and American diplomats were blogging before the end of the 2000s. Recalling the decade of the 2000s, he pointed out that countries such as Maldives, Sweden, Philippines, Estonia, Serbia, Columbia, Macedonia, and Albania had virtual embassies. He noted that South Africa was one of the few countries in Africa with a public diplomacy unit which came with the development of digital means of communication. Briefly giving the examples of South Africa’s digital platforms, he identified the launch of the Ubuntu magazine in 2012 which was available in print and web versions and the launch Ubuntu radio in 2013 as an Internet based broadcasting platform.
He noted that alongside the development of these foreign policy programmes, institutions had to formulate, implement, and institutionalise diplomatic diplomacy policies, strategies, and guidelines. He however noted that the bulk of African countries had not yet moved to the stage of devising policies and strategies explicitly focused on digital diplomacy.
Even with the challenges, Dr Wekesa was optimistic that the pandemic had shown that Africa was beginning to take note of the opportunities offered by digital diplomacy. Africa, he argued, had leapfrogged into the era of virtual diplomacy, and was now starting to use virtual meetings as common practice. He gave the example of the contest for the non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council which was concluded in early June 2020 was conducted through virtual means. One of the challenges that he identified was that while Africa had been eager to adopt technologies, the skills, knowledge, the policy architecture, were not in place in many countries.
Dr Wekesa was also optimistic about the fact that the pandemic had triggered the necessity for training programmes for African diplomats to meet the demands of multifaceted diplomatic duties and responsibility. This opportunity, he argued, meant that African diplomats may be able to avoid the mistakes that others have made in the past. This, he went on, would allow Africa to leapfrog into the present and make use of cutting-edge technologies without going through the learning curves that early adopting countries had had to grapple with. He concluded by saying that it was with the training of the next generation of African diplomats that the first course in Digital Diplomacy on the African Continent had been designed.
Wednesday, 1st July 2020: Foundational Skills and Competencies
The sessions on this first day were aimed at gently leading the participants in the digital diplomacy world. In this and subsequent sessions, the report adopts a style of capturing the key talking points gleaned from the presentations.
Theme 1: Foundational Skills and Competencies.
Session 2: Setting up Hardware and Examples of Digital Diplomacy in Action
Mr Loren Hurst, Senior Consultant and New Media Producer, Techniarts Engineering, LLC:
• Build your technology around your strategic objectives, not the strategic objectives around technologies.
• Often strategies begin with people. Think thus about your audience.
• In digital diplomacy more technology is not necessarily better … revert to strategic objectives as the guiding light.
• Technology advances and changes constantly and you need to act accordingly. Sometimes skillsets (yours and your audiences’) matter much more than the technology at hand.
• Africa’s digital divide is a key issue to consider for local/audience-facing diplomacy; investment in sophisticated technologies is worth considering if your strategic objective is outward-facing.
Session 3: Social Media Methods and Tactics
Prof Corneliu Bjola, Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group:
• In the digital age, the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences is blurred.
• Digital diplomacy should be treated as a new language, and diplomats need to master communications in this new language (like a training on the A-Z of terminologies): #tags, influencers, virality (look up dictionary of digital media, social media), disruption, visualization, etc.
• The building blocks of this communication medium are data, visuals, emotion, algorithms, and personalisation.
• “… data is the new oil” and “data never sleeps”.
• The information overload online means you should always try to stand out.
• Research has shown that having visuals and images in communications is incredibly valuable.
• People predominantly share pictures on social networks rather than text.
• Emotions help messages travel.
• Anger travels faster than other emotions such as happiness.
• The danger of algorithms embedded in online massages: you get what you want.
• Messaging must be personalized and interactive otherwise it will be lost in the morass.
• “Echo chambers” on social media: either useful to your message (when they help spread it) or not (when you quickly saturate the message within the chamber) … get out of the echo chamber.
Wednesday, 8 July 2020: Navigating Challenges
Session 4: Identifying and Fighting Disinformation on Social Media
Mr. Thomas Kent, Columbia University
• Distinctions between misinformation and disinformation, the former unintentional, the latter intentional
• Disinformation specialists such as hackers are out there, some being guns for hire
• EDiplomacy can take the form of misinformation and disinformation or sharp power as opposed to soft power
• The technologies of misinformation and disinformation include sophisticated automated robots also simply known as bots
• Social media networks such as Facebook often take down Facebook bots
• Credibility and openness are key to overcoming misinformation and disinformation
• Digital media literacy is a major strategy for undoing the ills of misinformation and disinformation
• Setting up tech company-government engagement and partnerships structures is another strategy for redressing the impact of misinformation and disinformation
• Installation of tools to detect malevolent information (internal or external) is yet another strategy that diplomats can use to overcome misinformation and disinformation
• Respond to challenges in creative ways such as using memes and short videos
• Governments are slow to respond to disinformation due to bureaucracy. One alternative is to instead use citizens/influencers
Session 5: The African Context of Conspiracy Theories, Manipulation, Misinformation, Disinformation, and Sharp Power.
Dr Patrick Maluki, Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi
• There are many potential propaganda dimensions of digital diplomacy
• Digital propaganda can be divided into black (very malicious), grey (less malicious) and white (benign) versions.
• Conspiracy theories are used for the creation of believe systems
• Conspiracy theories and geopolitics on digital platforms: China and the US (see French doctor Raoul on Facebook about Coronavirus as a conspiracy against African people)
• The election of Donald Trump led to the rise of twiplomacy and the notion of post-truth
• Mainstream and alternative media perspectives – all have gone digital
• The rise of digital media as an alternative: the potential to destabilise countries/societies e.g., Arab Spring
• The transnationality phenomenon: the global information warfare is the new normal
• WHO and the idea of an infodemic: the pandemic as both a health and information pandemic
Session 6: Fact Checking Skills, Tools and Fact Checking Resources for African diplomats.
Mr. Lee Mwiti, Africa Check:
• Factchecking as verification of information relying on experts, e.g., diplomats
• The dangers of false information: physical harm, unnecessary panic, ill-health, discrimination, xenophobia, financial harm to economies, erodes trust in governments, environmental degradation, etc
• How false information works: cloned social media accounts, closed conspiracy groups, manipulation of information and digital technologies
• Key fact checking skills: pause before sharing, ascertain source credible, evaluate content/visual/audio elements, beware of personal bias
• Fact checking organizations of note: Africa Check, AFP Africa, the BBC misinformation hub, PesaCheck, Dubawa
Wednesday, 15 July 2020: The Policy Sphere
Session 7: Initiating, Developing, and Implementing Digital Diplomacy Policies, Strategies, and Action Plans.
Ambassador David Bruce-Wharton, former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
• Digital diplomacy is an extension of traditional diplomacy even in policy terms
• Face-to-face diplomacy remains the gold standard, irreplaceable in certain contexts
• Certain forms of diplomacy are more secure and cheaper via digital means
• It is better to convert printed materials and audio-visual material into digital formats: migration to digital
• Digital media allows for creativity: consider content produced by target audiences themselves
• Like traditional diplomacy digital diplomacy requires a strategic approach
• Always consider the link between digital strategies and national strategic interest
• Define the purpose and therefore messaging and audience, device measurement parameters
• Identify key audiences in the foreign country since you cannot reach everyone
• The force multipliers are journalists, scholars, cultural figures, businesspeople, politicians, and leaders within different communities, etc
Session 8: The Challenges and Opportunities of African Digital Diplomacy
Dr Floribert Endong, Calabar University:
• Digital diplomacy understudied and under-practiced in Africa
• Africans have a low and/or non-existent footprint in the digital sphere and cyberspace
• A poor policy environment and a negative attitude towards digital diplomacy
• African governments lack flexibility and dynamism needed to keep pace with digital cultures
• African diplomats are slow, unsure, and even phobic to sophisticated forms of digital diplomacy
• African diplomacies are simply absent in online platforms while many that have online platforms are inactive
• Non-existent or insufficient core training in digital diplomacy
• The problem of the digital divide in Africa
• Lack of strategy seen in top down rather than multi-directional digital approaches
• Opportunities: COVID-19 led to increased use of social media where internet penetration is possible
Session 9: Approaches to Developing a Digital Diplomacy Training Strategy
Mr William Stevens, US Consulate-General, Cape Town:
• Public and digital diplomacy defined as “understanding, informing and influencing foreign audiences with the objective of achieving foreign policy results”
• Digital diplomacy allows for engagements with everyday people, beyond elite circles.
• Social media platforms as sources of data for diplomats: topics, audiences, intelligence, etc
• Old media approaches such as press statements are no longer effective for mass audiences; you need targeted audiences with targeted messages
• Strategies are today drawn from civil society and political campaigning rather than government communications
• Digital diplomacy training needs to cover all areas: economic tradecraft, political tradecraft, public diplomacy tradecraft, etc
• There really is no such thing as digital diplomacy anymore, it is all diplomacy is digital
Wednesday, 22nd July 2020: Digital Economy and Branding
Session 10: The Intersection of the Digital Economy and Digital Diplomacy during and after COVID-19
Mr Paul Kukubo, Partner, Ghalas technology Ltd:
• A comprehensive national digital strategy as a pillar/enabler for a digital diplomacy strategy informed by national identity
• Use digital technologies to respond to the crisis through open government approaches
• Using digital technologies in crises (COVID-19), react in the short term, resolve in the medium term, reinvent in the long term
• Digital strategies: increase access to broadband, encourage international trade in ICT services, strengthen e-government services,
• Strengthen privacy and security, promote ICT-related skills and competencies
• Use digital platforms to enhance diaspora remittances
• Future trends diplomats should consider: 5G technologies and high-speed internet, cybersecurity, smart cities/government, public participation
Session 11: Digital Diplomacy, Place, and Nation Branding during and after COVID-19
Speaker: Dr Bukola Adesina, University of Ibadan
• Digital diplomacy is incorporation of social media in diplomatic practice
• Supports diplomatic functions: Communication, Negotiation, Representation
• The five top social networks: Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat
• Social media advantages: real-time response, interactivity, attention grabbing, shaping opinion
• Social media provide platforms for nation/place branding with strategic goals in mind
• Digital diplomacy as a means of promoting a country’s soft power
• Digital diplomacy + nation branding: visuals & symbols, slogans, art & culture food, sports, architecture, etc
• For effective digital branding, develop strategy, set up campaigns, host events, use influencers/personalities as brand ambassadors, monitor and interact
• Five core e-competences (5Cs): curate, collaborate, communicate, create, critique
Session 12: A diplomatic Perspective on the Challenges and Opportunities Presented by Digital Diplomacy
Speaker: Mr Andries Oosthuizen, Director Diplomatic Training & International School
• Digital diplomacy is “institutional communication” given diplomacy is essentially communication, representation, and negotiations
• Digital diplomacy contributes to effective communication, the art of diplomacy
• Focus on sending communication, receiving communication and feedback
• Digital diplomacy is more than public diplomacy, twitter diplomacy and soft power
• Digital diplomacy cannot fully replace personal communication and functions such as demarche and declaration of disputes, etc
• Digital diplomacy is challenging rules, formats, and highly regulated environments
• Myths in digital diplomacy include exaggerated effectiveness, exaggerated ease of deployment, fear for the end of traditional communication, phobia about misuse
• Challenges for practitioners include resistance to change in communication and unnerving speed
• Diplomatic leaders should understand the multiplier effect and embrace delegation given the fact pace
• Imbalance in ICT capabilities by counterpart diplomats requires understanding and alternatives
• Training needs: at headquarters and missions, dedicated digital teams, training of trainers, use of case studies
• Budget constraints mean use of available digital platforms to popularise domestic information and for crisis communication
• Use domestic partners to amplify messages
• Diplomats are required to always respond, use correct facts and be credible
Wednesday, 29th July 2020, Communicating with Impact
Session 13: Introduction to Digital Storytelling
Prof Imani Cheers, George Washington University
• Digital storytelling is the practise of using computer-based tools to tell impactful, powerful, and compelling stories through a mixture of computer-based images, text, recorded audio narration, video clips and/or music
• The three main purposes of digital storytelling are entertainment, provision of informational purposes, and education
• Some of the key elements of the digital story process are the idea/message; characters, emotions, and places; the storyboard; dramatic effect, voice use, music, and images; research and acquisition of information, composition; editing and revision
• Infographics help with the visualization of the story making it attractive and easy to remember
• Use visual elements to enhance statistics and facts
• Digital storytelling allows us to combine the mediums which we have access to, like audio, photos, graphics, to make our story compelling
• Digital stories are of limited length, and usually between two to four minutes
• Web-based programs such as Adobe Spark are good for digital storytelling
Session 14: Leveraging Digital Diplomacy for Humanitarian and Crisis Communication
Ms Victoria Stoffberg, Senior Development and Outreach Communicator: US Agency for International Development (USAID)
• Communication is about accountability and transparency in building partnerships for sustainable development
• Accountability is targeted at domestic audience while transparency is aimed at foreign audiences
• Incorporate emotion into storytelling and avoid the challenge of numbers distracting from the message
• Focus on using individual stories, or the hero, and show the positive impacts
• In the absence of a hero – as in the early days of COVID-19, focus on programmatic themes using infographics
• Find and use third party validators, those that share the same goals, who can influence the audience
Session 15: Media-Based and Journalism Driven Digital Diplomacy
Ms Marissa D. Scott-Torres, Director: Africa Regional Media Hub, US Embassy
• In the U.S., digital storytelling early beginnings in 2000s with the former secretary of state Hillary Clinton-led social media strategy
• Public sector communication is critical because there is a need to persuade the audience towards our policy goals
• It is important to choose the right message and the right channel to connect with the audience
• The objective is to explain and provide context, colour, and texture to foreign policy
• Diplomatic communication needs to align to global industry standards in terms of research and analytics, content development, and digital and media strategies
• For local resonance, use credible citizens based in foreign nations (heroes) as voices to show the success of programs
• Twitter can be used in the same way as wire or news agency services while Facebook is good for storytelling
• Digital diplomacy comes with its own risks, like hackers such as Wikileaks, the culture of anonymity making it hard to identify critics, etc
• Diplomats ought to be always ready for risks
• When a leader makes a negative statement, point to positive facts on the ground to deflect negativity
• Digital diplomacy does not replace classical face-to-face diplomacy
Wednesday, 5th August 2020: Africa in a Global Setting and Training Agenda.
Session 16: Leadership and Reputational Security in the era of COVID-19
Prof. Nicholas Cull, University of Southern California
• As global public opinion as the only “superpower” left in the world
• Only with the public behind you can you get anything done
• New technologies usually coincide with crises e.g., the internet and terrorism
• With new technologies and crises some countries lose credibility while others gain
• The ICT revolution has weaponized of information and communications
• Reputational security has become important as a defensive mechanism in the information warfare and the battle for images
• Damaged reputations are hard to repair
• In terms of the reputational standing of countries and regions the USA is divided and seen as eccentric; China has tightened control domestically while reaching out to the rest of the world; the EU is well meaning but underperforming and struggling with the migration crisis; Russia plays a spoiler role with a diminished stake in world affairs; Africa is often forgotten but has a great potential to explain its relevance to the world
• COVID-19 presents opportunities for countries to boost their global reputational capital by genuinely tackling the pandemic at home
• The promise to manage the pandemic at home should be matched by success otherwise failed promises lead to reputational deficit
• The pandemic can lead to situations where publics seek to affirm pre-existing images for instance Africa as chaotic and disorganized, the U.S. as racial, China as totalitarian, etc.
• Giving gifts to other countries related to managing the pandemic is a reputational booster
• Countries that uphold global partnerships with regards to COVID-19 will garner global reputational capital compared to inward-looking ones
• During the pandemic, women leaders have shown capacity to be more effective than their men counterparts, particularly, strong-men-leaders
• Digital diplomats ought to be precise in framing messages during the pandemic with sensitivity towards audience responses
Session 17: Key skills and capabilities for the 21st Century African Diplomat
Prof. Jay Wang, Centre on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California
• Public diplomacy has been impacted by digital communications which have advantages over traditional media
• Digital communications are easy to access, and data analytics enable an understanding of consumer behaviour
• The disruptive change in communications will accelerate once COVID-19 is brought under control
• Strategic public diplomats need to understand the social psychological underpinnings of human behaviour
• Diplomats should grasp the techniques for trust building and counter disinformation
• Diplomats need to understand offline and online environments in terms of how audiences interact with both spaces
• Understand performance, impact and accountability through data analysis and interpretation.
• Audiences differ and therefore the need for segmented and targeted messaging
• Diversified communication platforms call for the diversified strategies through visualization, interactivity, and immersive storytelling
• Audience attributes to keep in mind are transparency, authenticity, exclusivity, and convenience
• Credibility and transparency in messaging are important because sophisticated audiences can tell when the information is authentic or inauthentic
• Because governments are not always trusted, use networked third-party validators such as individuals, corporate or civil society organizations to multiply the reach of messages
• Invest in re-skilling and up-skilling in areas including audience analysis, visual and social storytelling, integrative community management, analytics, and impact
• The need to understand the foundational and theoretical base in digital diplomacy
Wednesday, 12 August 2020:
Session 18: Thinking Ahead: Strategies for the Next Wave of Innovations on Diplomacy and What the Future Portends
Mr Brooks Spector, former US diplomat
• Diplomacy has changed from taking films to villages to the modern technology era
• Modern communications technologies amount to a “destruction of distance” enabling fast-paced diplomatic communication unlike the delays of the past
• Because of information overload diplomatic communication ought to be credible and target for it for have impact
• Speed is of the essence if the audience’s attention is to be gained
Session 19: Lessons from European Digital Diplomacy for African Digital Diplomacy
Dr Ilan Manor, Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group
• Digital diplomacy is not a subset of diplomacy as it has impacted all forms of diplomatic activity
• The digitalisation of diplomacy is a long-term process through which diplomats have utilised digital tools to achieve foreign policy goals
• Virtualization of diplomacy is aimed at translating offline activities onto the online realm
• The Arab Spring triggered increased activity by diplomats on social media
• A key digital diplomacy function is communicating and listening to online publics
• The 2016 Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Brexit referendum led to use algorithms to detect and disable fake social media accounts, fake news sites, and conspiracy theory sites
• Audiences’ perceptions can be altered through social media accounts and websites
• MFAs have created big data and open intelligence units to do diplomatic work such as monitoring social media conversations and the anticipation of events around the world
• During COVID-19, MFAs have used social media to document success stories in repatriation of citizens in what amounts to domestic digital diplomacy
• MFAs no longer monopolise the management of foreign activities as the ministries of science, energy, trade, central banks, collaborate with their foreign peers online
• Comparison of countries’ COVID-19 management has implications for national images and brands linked to economic and foreign policy reputations
• Real-time audience responses led to the development of bots where questions and inquiries, as in the case of repatriations during COVID-19, could be answered online
• A key lesson from COVID-19 is that MFAs need to create a whole-of-government approach to global crises due to the multifaceted nature of the pandemic
• Diplomats ought not have technical skills in the creation of digital tools but be aware of their existence and work with technical people to effectively use them
• Digital technologies can be used to promote nation’s cultural assets such as creating online of heritage sites and museums
Session 20: Closing session and next steps
Prof Gilbert Khadiagala, ACSUS, delivered a vote of thanks to the participants, partners, and stakeholders. He said ACSUS was committed to building the capacity of African diplomats in public diplomacy, and in engaging with the scholarship around public diplomacy. He affirmed ACSUS’ plan to continually engage with diplomats around public diplomacy, and that digital diplomacy is an interesting rubric in terms of entry into public diplomacy. He observed that it was important that the seminar, serving as an initial training in the processes of digital diplomacy, had assisted in capacitating diplomats in doing their work during a difficult and uncertain period. Noting the participation of diplomats from around Africa, he observed that the participation indicated that African diplomats took digital diplomacy seriously. He was optimistic that a good start had been made through this first training programme and that this would be built on into the years to come. It was necessary to continue with the seminars as our world becomes irreversibly digitised. He assessed the courses to have been successful in the development of the strategic partnerships between the partner organizations and the resource persons. He expressed hope that the partners would be able to broaden the new training program in digital diplomacy in view of the fast pace of developments in the ICTs world. He indicated that as the relatively new training programs are being developed, the core partners would engage with participants to determine how we take this forward. He confirmed that the Centre and its partners would develop training manuals and formal curricula and build the African knowledge base around this critical area.
In her closing remarks, Ms Tinyiko Kumalo, DIRCO, said it was with a strong sense of appreciation to the participants that the training programme was concluding. She observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the partners to move fast in using digital platforms and capabilities than it would have been possible in pre-pandemic times.
She noted that from the wide-ranging presentations and questions from participants, few doubted that digital diplomacy was here to stay, and that it would continue to be an important part of the foreign policy tools of every foreign ministry. The course, she said, had followed what had become the standard form of most virtual education courses, ensuring a grounding in the theory, understanding the technologies, processes, and platforms, and looking ahead to the implementation of digital diplomacy strategies.
Ms Kumalo proceeded to share some of the key lessons from the seminar. She said that inter alia, it was the responsibility of diplomats to promote the national and foreign policy objectives of their respective countries. Digital diplomacy is one of the tools diplomats could use to promote these objectives thereby enhancing their soft power, especially during the COVID-19 era. Although COVID-19 would not always be with us, its impact had been powerful enough to ensure that our way of doing business changed. She urged participants not to merely treat digital diplomacy as a temporary virtual replacement for the normal way of doing business, but as a critically important way of reaching out to foreign audiences and getting Africa’s story out to the world.
She pointed out that part of getting Africa’s stories across was to combat misinformation and disinformation, as well as the general misunderstanding of what was going on in Africa. She agreed with the many experts who had noted that this is the perfect time for African countries to ramp up their digital diplomacy processes to get our stories out there. She equally agreed with the perspective that while technology had become cheaper, it also did not take very much investment in equipment to have an effective and impactful digital diplomacy.
Citing some of the sessions, she observed that digital diplomacy did not start with the technology, but with the audience. One of the lessons learned, she said, was that we should not spend our time managing the technology but rather use it to develop content and get messages across. She advocated for a situation where African diplomats would recognise their audience as the greatest asset and therefore develop communities, influencers, multipliers, and validators, as well as take advantage of the incredible ability provided by networking. She urged African diplomats to move towards understanding and implementing “disinformation inoculation” to ensure that networks are regularly serviced and maintained through the provision of credible, timely and useful information.
She observed that digital diplomacy is not just “diplomacy on the cheap”, but that it is a new language that needs to be mastered. Recalling the seminars, she said digital diplomacy has its own nuances, vocabulary, and skillsets necessary for the creation, dissemination, and measurement of impact. This would require appropriate investment in training and ongoing competency development.
She concluded by informing the participants that the South African Diplomatic Academy was planning a virtual conference of African diplomatic academies and research institutions on 10 and 11 September 2020 and that ACSUS and Wits University would be a partner. The conference would be geared towards enabling a critical exchange of views between African diplomatic academies and their partners on the impact of COVID-19 on the training of African diplomats. She hoped that African diplomatic academies and training institutions would participate. Ms Kumalo wished the participants well as they use the knowledge acquired during the seminars and officially closed the seminar.