Breaking the ice: First Africa-US Public Diplomacy Conference
March 10, 2018
Co-hosted by Wits African Centre for the Study of the USA (ACSUS) and Centre on Public Diplomacy (CPD), University of Southern California (USC)
Report of Part I of the Proceedings
Gloria Ooko and Bob Wekesa
Appreciation to Bongiwe Tutu for video editing
Note: This report captures the morning session of the PD conference held on March 10, 2018 and will be followed by the afternoon session.
1.0 About the Speakers
Prof Nicholas J. Cull
Prof Cull is the founding director of the Master of Public Diplomacy program at USC. He has made major contribution to public diplomacy focusing on the role of media, culture and propaganda in international history where he has published extensively. He has had lectureship stints at the universities of Birmingham and Leicester in the UK. He is the editor of the journal Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, President of the International Association for Media and History, and a member of the Public Diplomacy Council.
Prof Tawana Kupe
Prof Kupe is acting Vice Chancellor and Vice-Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). He is the Chairman of ACSUS and previously held the following positions at Wits: Deputy Vice-Chancellor; Dean, Faculty of Humanities; Head of the School of Literature and Language Studies and Head of the Media Studies department. He previously lectured at the universities of Rhodes and Zimbabwe. Prof Kupe is widely published in the field of media, journalism and literary studies, serves of many editorial boards and is involved in a number of advocacy initiatives.
Dr Carlton McLellan
Dr McLellan is a Founding Director of Global Ties South Africa and Senior Advisor at Global Ties U.S. based in Washington, DC. He has 20-years’ research and leadership experience in citizen diplomacy. He has worked with US entities the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV), the Academy for Educational Development (AED), the Department of State, USAID, the World Bank among others. In South Africa, he has worked with the University of Pretoria, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), among others.
Ms Elizabeth McKay
Ms McKay is the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission as well as the Minister Counsellor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Mission in, Pretoria, South Africa. Based in Pretoria, she has overall responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the U.S. Mission to South Africa, which includes the Embassy in Pretoria, and our Consulates in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. As the Public Affairs Officer for the Mission, she oversees all Press and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy as well as at the Consulates.
Mr Adam Clayton Powell III
Mr Powell III is President of the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) of the United States, University Fellow at the USC Centre on Public Diplomacy and Director of Washington DC Programs for the USC’s Centre on Communication Leadership and Policy. He holds various positions in US media organisations, has published widely in academic, professional and media platforms. Powell has won numerous awards, including the 1999 World Technology Award for Media and Journalism and the Overseas Press Club Award for international reporting for a series of broadcasts on Iran.
Dr Jian (Jay) Wang
Dr Jian (Jay) Wang is Director of the USC’s CPD and an Associate Professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He previously worked as communication strategy advisor for the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company. He has worked on partnership projects involving the BBC, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the European Union Delegation to the U.S., Global Affairs Canada, Global Ties U.S., the Japan Foundation, NATO, the United Nations Foundation and the U.S. Department of State.
It is through public diplomacy (PD) that governments around the world are able to engage with other foreign governments and publics. The importance of public diplomacy can therefore not be gainsaid. The newly established African Centre for the Study of United States (ACSUS), partnering with the Centre of Public Diplomacy (CPD) at University of Southern California (USC) co-hosted the first Africa-US Public Diplomacy Conference at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg on March 10 2018. ACSUS serves as an interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary ‘intellectual base for the study of the US and Africa (see ACSUS’ website at http://www.wits.ac.za/acsus/). The launch conference dubbed ‘breaking the ice’ was the first of its kind in Africa, bringing together PD stakeholders from Africa and the USA. The participants included African and American global practitioners and academics. Significantly this was also the first conference in PD with ACSUS’ first programmatic partner, The USC Centre for Public Diplomacy (CPD) (hereafter CPD). The PD project is one of the major initiatives of ACSUS which include researching and sharing of knowledge and interaction between Africa and the US, providing opportunity for cultural and intellectual exchange and serving as a hub for visiting scholars in relevant fields. The topics discussed during the conference included; the history and conceptual understanding of PD, the trends and developments in PD at the CPD and lessons for the Wits African diplomacy initiative, prospects for Africa-US partnerships in PD, discussions on corporate, cultural and media dimensions of PD in Africa and the USA and the role of PD in peace and security in Africa. In a nutshell, the conference was an incubator of ideas of not only how Africa can come up with novel PD projects but also of how it can implement them.
3.0 Setting the stage: Opening remarks by Professor Tawana Kupe.
Prof Tawana Kupe issued the opening remarks in two capacities; the Acting Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg and as the chairman of the African Centre for the study of the United States (ACSUS). He highlighted the strategies, mission, and the vision of the centre with a special focus on its major programme, PD. The centre aims to fill the existing gaps in the study, teaching and research in public diplomacy. This is a task that ACSUS is well equipped to achieve given its unique niche as an interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary and institute setting it apart from other centres in Africa for instance, the American Research Centre in Egypt. Prof Tawana further stated that the conference was a learning experience for ACSUS from the well-established PD organizations and intellectuals in the US. The intention is not to copy what is done in the US but use the experiences from US ‘as a means of fetching our own African approaches and producing new knowledge in the study of public diplomacy given the unique geopolitical agenda, interest and location of Africa in the world.’ He mentioned some of the milestones in PD that Wits University and ACSUS have already achieved. The institutions had already partnered with the CPD specifically and the University of Southern California (USC) generally, a leading intellectual institution ranked in the first position globally in the study of PD. The centre plans to forge more partnerships and collaborations that will be discussed in (section 4.0) of this report.
Dr Jay Wang also gave an opening statement emphasizing the importance of PD and the contribution of the CPD to the practice. He indicated that CPD welcomes the partnership with ACSUS.
Ms Elizabeth McKay, the Deputy Head of Mission of US Embassy in South Africa in her opening speech expressed confidence in the Centre’s ability to ‘become the go-to-place for African academics with an interest in international relations and in particular for those interested in the role played by the United States.’ She congratulated USC and PDC in successfully organizing the conference and for the work their respective centres are doing in PD. She also congratulated Wits Vice Chancellor, Prof Adam Habib, Prof Tawana Kupe and Mr Molestian Mbeki (representing the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)) on the establishment of ACSUS. It is worthy to note that the US Embassy in South Africa provided the seed funding for the establishment of ACSUS. Like the previous two speakers, she reiterated the importance of PD in forging beneficial collaborations and relationships between governments and citizens of different countries. In addition, she demonstrated US commitment to Africa by mentioning some of the PD activities US engages with Africa including the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). In particular for South Africa, the US offers resources for the Nelson Mandela Foundation which runs an exchange programme for young leaders, taking them to the US universities for six weeks of intense academic coursework and leadership training. Currently the Foundation has 270 South African Alumni including the successful young comedian, Trevor Noah. She acknowledged that the world is only moving into the age of PD and Africa must take advantage of this to engage with the rest of the world through partnership as opposed to just receiving aid. In conclusion she emphasized US commitment to Africa and the missions’ continued support of ACSUS.
3.1 “Public diplomacies”: Conceptual understanding, history and global practice by Prof Nicholas Cull.
Prof Nicholas Cull traced the evolution of the concept of PD from propaganda to the ‘new public diplomacy’ highlighting the various ways in which the concept has been misconstrued throughout history. One of the major misconceptions about what PD is its association with propaganda and espionage. It was especially so during the Cold War when foreign policy efforts by some countries were geared towards dispelling opponents’ propaganda by advancing their own propaganda. One such agency is the United States Information Agency (USIA) whose key mission was to deal with Soviet propaganda and the spread of communism (Nakamura & Weed, 2009). In fact the term PD was not even in use then. It was Ed Gullion, a distinguished retired Foreign Service officer, who coined the term ‘Public Diplomacy’ though as a euphemism for propaganda and not the signification the term has today. PD, as it used today, is different from propaganda. PD is a two-way communication and based on ‘truth’ while propaganda is seldom two-way and selects ‘truth’. This reiterates the importance of transparency in PD. According to Prof Cull, to define PD one has to first understand what diplomacy is. Prof Cull said diplomacy ‘is what an international actor does to manage a foreign environment by engaging with a foreign actor.’ Further PD being a new term can be understood by analysing its components which have a great bearing on how the concept is perceived. The components include listening, which sets apart the inclusive manner in which neo-public diplomacy is practised as compared to the old methods of carrying out PD activities. To listen to the target audience of our PD initiatives is important as only then can we have a clear picture of what the specific problematic issues are and how to tackle them in ways agreeable to all actors involved. In this information age, what audiences think can no longer be ignored. They have to tell their narratives through their own perspectives. Public diplomacy practitioners have to resist the urge to talk down to their target audiences if their initiatives are to succeed. Moreover there are various available ways through which one can listen, for instance through electronic media, polls, studies and dialogue with various actors including academics. The second component of PD is advocacy which is for most countries what PD is all about dating back to the ancient Greek era where advocacy was done through military action. Methods of advocacy today include online social media presence and press conferences. The other components are cultural diplomacy, exchange between countries be they artistic, scientific or student exchange programmes. Finally, international broadcasting where for instance, Britain communicates to the world through British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) while China does so through China Global Television Network (CGTN), formerly Central Television (CCTV). There are differences in the components of PD with respect to time and credibility. For instance, while listening operates continuously, advocacy is a short term activity; cultural diplomacy is medium term; exchange has a long term effect while international broadcasting is continuous has a surge value. For the latter it means there is more focus on an issue when it is ‘hot’ and unfolding. With respect to credibility, listening gains credibility from action, from how far the communicator is from the centre of power; cultural diplomacy through the quality of art involved. On the other hand, international broadcasting, like any other media practice, gains credibility from how well it adheres to the journalistic ethics of accuracy and objectivity. Time and credibility therefore determine how well these components contribute to effectiveness of public diplomacy efforts.
As expected, countries have different focus and approaches to PD and therefore not only refer to the concept differently but also practice PD in unique ways. For instance while Britain refers to PD as strategic communication, Kosovo calls it national branding. While US is happy with centralizing all its PD initiatives with one agency; the Department of State (DoS), for Germany, listening and advocacy components are handled by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cultural diplomacy by Goethe institute, exchanges by DAAD and International broadcasting by Deutsche Welle (DW). In the US, international broadcasting is the only component handled by a different entity, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).
Then comes neo-PD that brings with it a new context, post Cold War context, new players and a move from hard power to a new theory of soft power (See Nye, 2008). Similarly, methods and tools of PD have changed from closed boardroom meetings to public internet based communication. The US President, Donald Trump, uses twitter extensively. PD also takes a new horizontal communication direction as opposed to the previous vertical one where one party talked down on another. Instead, PD efforts by various countries strive for collaboration, cooperation and listening to each other. So what does the future hold for public diplomacy? The new PD calls for a new morality of sustainability of PD efforts and a new theory of practice.
3.2 Pathways for the research and teaching of public diplomacy in Africa: Lessons from the Centre on Public Diplomacy (CPD) by Dr Jay Wang
Drawing insights from CPD’s work and experience, Dr Wang addressed the disruptions and mega trends that have contributed to the conceptualization of new PD. PD is a communication based practice and consequently has been affected by the continued major advancements in Information Communication Technology (ICT). PD practices, platforms and communication tools have all evolved. With ICT increasingly becoming cheaper through widespread use of mobile phones and increase in access to information, audiences are more informed, interactive and have a global connection. Publics are therefore more involved in PD and actively participate in both local and global issues. Moreover, players and issues have also changed in the face of a more competitive context.
Another trend impacting PD is the demographic shift in population. As the population in the developed world ages, the developing economies are experiencing a youth bulge which has an impact on the evolving target audience for PD. There is a shift from focus on PD from just the national level to the local level. Moreover, actors in the PD process have also evolved. PD is no longer a preserve of state actors but also a function of cities, multinational corporations and individuals who have realized that they have to engage with the rest of the world to be relevant.
Geopolitical uncertainties and resurgent nationalism, transnational agendas like climate change, increase in demand of basic needs and energy are also some of the trends impacting PD. CPD recognizes these disruptions and therefore engages in robust research, engagement and training of PD students and practitioners in order to equip them with capacity, capabilities and skills required to fit in the changing context of PD.
The complex context of new PD is such that one cannot go it alone. A lot of resources be it financial, time, research, skills is required for PD efforts to be successful. Cognisant of this, CPD has partnered and continue to forge collaborations with various institutions and corporations globally including the Korean Foundation, BBC, Canadian Embassy, Global Ties US and most recently ACSUS to create new knowledge relevant to the practice of new PD.
Prof Wang concluded this insightful session by calling for the adoption of a ‘new theory of change’ to make PD more strategic in a new geopolitical and information age context.
3.3 Perspectives on Africa-US engagements in public diplomacy: past, present and future by Mr Adam Clayton Powell III
Mr Powell III fleshed out emerging research areas in PD which the centre could explore. Highlighting what the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) does in Washington DC, and globally, he underscored the need for Africa to take advantage of the gaps that exist in PD and engage the world on equal terms. He pointed out that most people around the world are unaware of the cultures of Africans, their achievements or even the rapid growth of some African economies in the recent years. This gap opens unique pathways through which ACSUS can explore through the PD programme. The areas of interest mentioned are: science diplomacy, business diplomacy and cultural exchange. Through cultural exchange, ACSUS can showcase one word to the world, the rich art, especially music, of the South African people. Science diplomacy is an opportunity for Africa to showcase its innovations that often go unnoticed in the international arena. The USC offers a short course on engineering-diplomacy which demonstrates the renewed role of science in foreign policy. ACSUS is well placed in Africa to engage in such innovative programmes since it is a transdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary hub. In summary, the PDC is a U.S. based non-profit organization committed to the academic study, professional practice, and responsible advocacy of public diplomacy. It presents PD forums in Washington DC every month; convenes monthly meetings for junior and mid-career Foreign Service officers to discuss issues they have identified as crucial in their work in Washington and globally among many other activities.
3.4 The place of citizens and digital technologies in diplomacy by Dr. Carlton McIellan
Dr McLellan summarizes what citizen diplomacy is and its contribution to the foreign policy of a country:
“As tax-paying citizens of our respective countries, we each have the right and responsibility to make sure our country is viewed in the best possible light; to positively impact our nations’ relations with other nations and their people; and, to make the world a better place for us all. We should all be Citizen Diplomats!”
Citizen diplomacy refers to the engagement of ordinary citizens with diplomats of another or foreign programmes either inadvertently or deliberately. The revolution of information and communication technology increasingly interconnects people and issues providing the impetus for citizens to communicate with others across the borders. By so doing, citizens participate in advancing PD through the creation and deepening of ties between foreign individuals and communities at large (Bhandari & Belyavina, 2011). In fact, in the 21st century, the citizen has proven to be more effective than some traditional forms of public diplomacy such as, the military. Citizen diplomacy covers what is referred to as track two diplomacy which refers to PD efforts that are non-governmental, citizen-citizen and informal. It includes some of the activities already discussed in the other sections above; for instance student exchange programmes.
Dr Mclellan mentioned ways through which Global Ties U.S where he is a senior advisor is supporting citizen diplomacy. He is also the founding director of Global Ties South Africa. As stipulated on their website, Global Ties U.S. supports and sustains the network (of organisations) that designs and administers international exchange programs in the U.S. and around the world. The network consists of over 120 member organizations. It advocates on behalf of members and international exchanges, designs innovative international exchange programs that utilize their strengths and helps them develop new capacities, offers? small grant programs for staff support, organizational development, and program administration.
4.0 Brainstorming joint Africa-U.S. public diplomacy projects, strategies, and partnerships
This session was moderated by Prof Nicholas Cull. The panellists included Mr Clayton Monyela, Head of Public Diplomacy, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa; Prof Adam Clayton Powell III, President, Public Diplomacy Council; Prof Jay Wang, Director, USC Centre on Public Diplomacy and Dr Bob Wekesa, Journalism and media Studies Department, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Apart from pointing out the partnerships ACSUS has already made, it gave direction on prospective partners and areas of research ACSUS could explore to achieve to curve out a unique niche for itself as a centre of Public Diplomacy in Africa.
4.1 ACSUS’ current partnerships.
• The South African intellectual and Deputy Chairman of the Southern African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) which is based at Wits provided some of the initial funding that went into the establishment of the Centre
• The centre received a start-up funding form the US Embassy in South Africa which was represented by Ms Elizabeth McKay, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in South Africa.
• Partnered with the University of South California to offer short courses on Public Diplomacy
• Collaboration with PDC on online programmes. ACSUS will collaborate (through video-conferencing) in the upcoming “Nelson Mandela Centennial” event in Washington DC.
4.2 Prospective partnerships
• Intends to partner with CPD in hosting the first Public Diplomacy project in Africa
• Hoping to partner and engage more with PDC, the US embassy and Global Ties US in ACSUS’ Public Diplomacy programme.
• In talks for funding with the Ford Foundation
• Engage with African public diplomats through the African Union (AU) and sub regional blocks like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) and East African Community (EAC) among others in the formulation of their countries’ foreign policies.
• In talks with three other prospective funding partners and corporate businesses including and Wits Alumni Chairman, Stanley Berkman, based in the US.
• In further talks with CPD, USC and PDC to brainstorm projects that ACSUS can partner with them on.
4.3 Interesting areas of academic research ACSUS could explore through partnerships
Emerging areas of research include; financial PD, applying soft power PD in a conflict environment where there is hard power, how to ensure implementation of research findings on PD and evaluation of the same, how to integrate traditional methods and new digital of practicing PD, the role of science in Public diplomacy among many others. ACSUS can partner with CPD, USC and PDC through:
• Coordinating research agenda; for instance collaborating with the other institutions to document case studies of African actors and their engagement in Public diplomacy and carrying out comparative PD research.
• Using a Public Diplomacy lens to research how post-Apartheid South Africa is managing ‘victim narratives’ in their foreign policy.
• Contributing African political theory to research in new Public diplomacy especially on emerging actors like city diplomacy; that is dominated by Western political theory.
• Connecting ACSUS scholars with CPD alumni for exchange in experience and partnering through research.
• To place USC students at ACSUS through the sponsored USC student exchange programme.
Although the conference was meant to mark the end of a series of events aimed at enhancing Africa’s understanding of the US, it most certainly marked the beginning of a robust PD programme at ACSUS. It also heralded an optimistic future for ACSUS based on successful partnerships and projects which will enable it to remain true to its unique niche as an Interdisciplinary, Transdisciplinary and Multi-disciplinary Centre in Africa for the study of the US.
Bhandari, Rajika, and Raisa Belyavina. “Evaluating and measuring the impact of citizen diplomacy: Current status and future directions.” New York: Institute of International Education (2011).
Cull, N. J. “Public diplomacy before Gullion: the evolution of a phrase. CPD Blog April 18.” (2006).Nakamura, Kennon H., and Matthew C. Weed. “US public diplomacy: Background and current issues.” Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2009.
Bhandari, Rajika, and Raisa Belyavina. “Evaluating and measuring the impact of citizen diplomacy: Current status and future directions.” New York: Institute of International Education (2011).