Public Diplomacy- a reality or myth?

As a final year Diplomacy and IR student I have been exposed to how public diplomacy is conducted from the confinements of a nation state territory through visits to various Embassies and use of other mediums such as social media, newspapers, television and radio. The question that sprung to my mind was, what exactly is public diplomacy? How does it work? What is the purpose of public diplomacy? Does it have an impact in how the targeted public thinks or acts? Is there any difference between this form of activity and that one, churned out by governments or organisations’ information departments and termed by others as propaganda?

It appears there is not an agreeable definition of what public diplomacy actually is among academics of repute, with many agreeing more on how it is conducted and to an extent its objectives than the definition of what it actually is. The Centre on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California defines public diplomacy as, ” the public, interactive dimension of diplomacy which is not only global in nature, but also involves a multitude of actors and networks. It is a key mechanism through which nations foster mutual trust and productive relationships and has become crucial to building a secure global environment”, ( What it means is that they are many activities that a done on a daily basis such as eating which can be an act of public diplomacy depending on the context. Thus we end up with terms such as culinary or gastro-diplomacy.Image result for images of culinary diplomacy

However some academics such as Berridge (2015:198) takes the view that public diplomacy is a form of propaganda, aimed at manipulating public attitudes through the use of all forms of media, with more recently social media, for political ends. He argues that the target maybe foreign or domestic public, and for benefits which maybe long or short term, but crucially, the information churned out maybe honest in some instances but could also be governments or organisations presenting information which may be contrary to the truth to give a certain perception.

The idea of public diplomacy being propaganda is supported by Pigman (2010:122-123) who cites Jacques Ellul who has defined propaganda as, ‘ a communication practised by an organised group with the intention of triggering an active or passive participation of masses of people, who get psyched up through psychological manipulation and are incorporated into the organisation’s beliefs. The matter of ‘target’ informs how Rana (2011:77-79) provides his definition of public diplomacy as a measure of activities taken by various non state actors as well as governments to reach out to members of the public on a variety of issues, with the reverse also being true. The reverse being when the public get galvanised to raise discontent against governments or multinational companies. This is usually true when powerful nations such as western countries seek to influence a change of government or democratisation of a sovereign state. They may influence or ‘speak’ to the other nation’s citizens through films, university scholarships, schools exchange programmes and development aid programmes run by their countries such as USAID. These are subtle and less contentious ways of seeking to influence public perceptions of other states’ citizen without full diplomatic or political confrontation, which Joseph Nye describes as ‘soft power’. Jan Melissen concurs with Nye, arguing that public diplomacy is beyond manipulation of foreign publics, rather he says it in increasingly becoming a standard but key component of diplomatic practice and more than a form of diplomatic propaganda, Melissen (2005:11). With this thinking of his, it is unsurprising that he is in unison with Paul Sharp and Hans Tuch’s definitions of public diplomacy who both put advancement of values, ideas, ideals and interests as well as national goals and policies at the centre of governments’ involvement or engagement in public diplomacy activities, 2005:11-12.

Is public diplomacy always a success? The blunt answer is, No! Rana (2011:84) cites the United States’ failure with its public diplomacy post September 11, 2011, when it failed to change the hearts and minds of targeted Arab and Islamic states, though it invested heavily in TV and Radio programs aimed to win over audiences to the US viewpoint. The failure was attributed to the US attitude of wanting to be heard but not willing to listen as well as change its policies on certain matters. Thus Cowan and Arsenault, 2008 argue that public diplomacy is only effective when conducted in a collaborative way  than in a monologue or even dialogue manner. As Cowan and Arsenault (2008:10) have observed, politicians and public figures often fail to gauge and misunderstand the mood of a diversified international audience,presenting potential hazards to relationships. As an example, during the height of the Danish cartoon controversy in 2006, an Italian Cabinet Minister made a public diplomacy faux pas by appearing on television wearing a T’shirt printed with cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. Whilst he may have intended to show solidarity with Denmark and project the freedom of expression view of the western world, his public diplomacy act was received differently in the Islamic world, with the Italian embassy being burnt in Libya. It means great care like in traditional diplomatic endeavours has to be taken when conducting public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy, although on its own is rarely decisive as in the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ campaigns, with little influence on states foreign policy, has however become an accessory device whose value has skyrocketed due to the digitalisation of diplomacy. Thus public diplomacy ceases to be a myth but a reality and as Leguey-Feilleux (2009:154) explains, it has become an extension of diplomatic service as governments expects diplomats to make use of social media to access the public, courting opinions.


Berridge. G. R (2015) Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 5th edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cowan, G and Arsenault, A. (2008), Theorising Public Diplomacy; Public Diplomacy in a Changing World; The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Leguey-Feilleux. J. (2009) The Dynamics of Diplomacy, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers

Melissen, J. (2005) The New Public Diplomacy; Soft Power in International Relations, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Pigman. G. A. (2010) Contemporary Diplomacy, Cambridge: Polity Press

Rana. K. S. (2011) 21st Century Diplomacy: A Practitioner’s Guide, London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.



Public Diplomacy: Do African states know what it is?

Listening to western academics discussing how valuable public diplomacy is and how their governments invest millions in this practice, one wonders if their former colonies in Africa know what this is all about. Do African states practice public diplomacy or they are just recepients of the practice from powerful nations? Are the objectives and benefits of the practice understood by all or some states in the developing world of Africa?  In any case do African states have the capacity to as well as craftness to exercise public diplomacy and a story to tell to each other let alone those powerful nations beyond Africa’s territorial borders.Image result for African continent images

It is important to clarify that Africa is not a country but a continent which is nearly thrice as big as Europe, before exploring the subject topic of Africa and public diplomacy. The continent is often divided into two, Sub-Saharan Africa region occupied predominantly by Black people and the MENA region which is mainly resident to people of Arabic origins. That said, this discussion will focus mainly on Sub- Saharan Africa, with brief allusion to the MENA region of the continent. The analsyis for time and space will not cover all countries in the region but will identify a few which are opined to be leading Sub-Saharan African states such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and a few others.

Defining what public diplomacy is would be a starting point before analysing the behaviours and actions by African states which fit into the known and accepted definition(s) of public diplomacy. Sharp’s definition of public diplomacy cited by Melissen 2005:11 as the ‘process by which direct relations with people in a country are pursued to advance the interests and extend the values or beliefs of those represented’, may sound plausible when analysing actions done by Africans residing in foreign lands as we shall see below. Hans Tuch, quoted by Melissen has a definition which puts emphasis on a ‘government’s process of communicating with foreign publics in an attempt to bring about understanding for its nation’s thoughts and ideals……….’. Whereas this definition may ring true among powerful nations such as Russia, China, the US and European states, it may not necessarily  be so with African states, some of which are struggling even with the ‘traditional’ form of diplomacy. It does appear that there is ignorance, lack of appreciation or of resources to engage in public diplomacy for countries whose economic and political existence is largely based on the benevolence of powerful states. These are states whose union the African Union’s budget is 70% foreign funded by non members, primarily the US, World Bank, China, European Commission even Turkey ( Within their ranks the major donors, South Africa and Nigeria are going through a challenging economic period, it is difficult to see them sustaining their financial support of the AU. But that is a digression.

Sharp in Melissen’s (2005:106) description of public diplomacy being an advancement of interests and extent of values………captures how a country like Ethiopia practices a form of public diplomacy known as ‘diaspora diplomacy’. This is probably the strongest form of public diplomacy which most African states have even though it may be as a result of unintended consequences such as war or famine. Ethiopia and Nigeria in particular have a huge number of their population living in the diaspora for various reasons. As economic migration increases, African diasporans who settle in western capitals and some such better nations will seek to maintain their cultural identity, exercise some of their beliefs and values in host countries, thereby inadvertently portray and share an image of their country, otherwise unknown to the host public. In addition as their community grows such as is the case with the Sierra Leonean, Nigerian and South African communities in the UK, they begin to influence the host governments and public’s policies towards their countries of origin. They may do this through direct engagement or through community activities which raise the profile of their countries both politically and economically.

The Winter publication of Public Diplomacy in Sub-Saharan Africa (2016) identifies the use of movies by Nigeria through their Nollywood film industry. Nigerian movies depicting their way of life, culture, values and beliefs are now widely broadcasted across African countries and western capitals such as London Sky TV channels. Further more countries such as the Congo have exported their rhumba music to capitals such as Paris and Brussels as well as other African states, thus providing a different perception of their country even though there is still a long way for the continent to be perceived as anything but a world ‘basket’ case of poverty and poor governance. Recently the world has began to witness African comedians such as Uganda’s Anne Kansiime and South Africa’s Trevor Noah practising publicy diplomacy for their states through comedy the US and European countries ( result for trevor noah shows in uk. Most African countries have been slow however to realise the benefits and support these activities as part of their diplomatic engagement with other countries, though some are now getting there. The question remains, however, have African states really embraced public diplomacy as a key component of their diplomatic services or their governments are still unappreciative of this nature of diplomacy?

The University of Southern California’s Centre on Public Diplomacy on March 10, 2017 published its view that African states are really embracing public diplomacy as a way of changing the economic, social and political perception of the continent with various initiatives. The hosting by South Africa of football’s world cup in 2010 was deemed as an act of public diplomacy through sport. This has not been lost to a country such as Senegal which according to Bret Schafer (2016) is now capitalising on their native Amadou Gallo Fall to attract the National Basket Association to host some of each matches in Dakar, with the country promoting and supporting its players to go and play in the US.  Of course the reverse may be true that the US for example may actually benefit more from acts such as this being the dominant country politically and economically. But that being said African states still stand to benefit somehow as populations in powerful states take to liking or loving these sports people. In England and some other football mad nations, one has to look at how African footballers have changed host nations people’s attitudes towards their countries of origin.

The point though is in most cases, there is no direct government link to this citizens public diplomacy be it sports or culture and most African states seem to lack the capacity to capitalise. It then falls into Sharp’s definition of public diplomacy, which does not emphasise government actions but rather an advancement of interests, values and beliefs by Africa’s diaspora population, which consequently ‘speaks’ to the populations in their domicile states to the benefit of their country of origin. Africans have also used religion as a form of public diplomacy to engage with those countries they feel would further their interests. For example over the last ten years many African countries have revived their diplomatic relations with Israel after years of avoiding so in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Both moslem countries such Algeria and predominantly christian countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria as well Ethiopia and South Africa, both have a huge population of Jews. These and others have used their belief that Israel ‘birthed’ christianity to access its markets and get its expertise to develop their nations. They have successfully courted Israel’s government and public thinking using their religious belief and zeal, which they are often derided for. Moslem countries in Africa have turned to Israel primarily to be helped fight terrorism as they regard Israel as an expert in combating terrorist acts. Of course when scrutinised further, Israel also needed friends at a time when western support for it is wavering or waning and a public charming of African countries presented a good opportunity ( result for nigerian diplomacy with israel

So what can be conclude as an answer to the question , does African countries know what public diplomacy is? Notwithstanding the fact most African governments may not be as much  knowledgeable of the practice or lack resources to do it at a scale done in the Western world, with dedicated TV news channels, government funded art, culture and film industries among other activities, African populations both in the diaspora and locally based do practice various forms of public diplomacy.


Schafer. B. (2016) Basket ball diplomacy in Africa;

Sharp. P. (2005). Revolutionary States, Outlaw Regimes and the Techniques of Public Diplomacy. Melissen.J. (2005) The New Public Diplomacy: Soft Power in International Relations


Public Diplomacy and the Twitting US Presidential candidate, now President Trump:an analysis

Donald Trump, US President, is an ‘unconventional’ president in many ways. He is the man who with no known political credentials having never held public office, became the US Republican party presidential nominee after beating seasoned, established politicians and campaigners such as social conservatives darling and accomplished public speaker Ted Cruz and longest serving (2000-2015)  Texas Governor, Rick Perry among others Trump followed that by giving a drubbing to the favorite Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton former New York Senator and Secretary of State in November 2016’s Presidential elections,(

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Among the unconventional ways used by Donald Trump throughout his campaign and post elections, is his prolific use of Twitter to share his thoughts publicly, even on matters regarded as sacred. One example is how he chose to tackle CIA’s claim of vote rigging by Russia. His respond was a loaded 140 character statement reminding the CIA how they got Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction horribly wrong, (

Notably, Trump is not wrong in questioning whether the CIA got it right as it is a known fact that they have at times got it wrong. The intelligence body got it wrong in 1962 as they concluded that the Soviet Union would never dream of placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. This was horribly wrong as weeks later a U-2 spy plane spotted irrefutable evidence of the Soviets installation of missiles in Cuba. And more recently, just about fourteen years ago, the Saddam WMDs that never were, was a huge embarrassment for the US. There is in essence nothing amiss about Donald Trump questioning the plausibility of intelligence hacking claims by Russia. However it is the manner in which he chose to do so, right in the public domain of Twitter, a social media? Whereas analysts may have an understanding of Trump’s twitter use for public diplomacy targeted for domestic audience, the US electorate. It is his use of Twitter for foreign affairs issues which is unprecedented and has left many with questions. Will he be able to balance his position as the most senior diplomat for his country, with the responsibilities that come with his office without upsetting other state leaders? How will his public diplomacy through a 140 character twitter feed endear him to US diplomats posted around the world as well other powerful leaders such as the Chinese and the Russians? How will other world leaders view the US President’s unprecedented style of communicating with them?

If one was to put President Trump’s twitter behavior and attitude into perspective, making comparisons with his predecessor President Obama, one can identify clear differences. Obama’s three days after winning 2008 elections were spent talking to journalists and the world at press conferences, whereas three days after his November 2016 election win and the days which followed Trump was constantly on twitter giving out information that would have otherwise been given through traditional media ways such as a press conference. As an example Trump twitted the names of state leaders he had interacted with before his press team has released such briefings.

I have recieved and taken calls from many foreign leaders despite what the failing @nytimes said. Russia, U.K., China, Saudi Arabia, Japan,

12:17 PM – 16 Nov 2016

President Trump and ‘Alternative facts’

Donald .J. Trump a businessman with no known political pedigree is now known as President Donald .J. Trump the 45th president of the United States of America. His rise to be the most powerful man in the world has been as dramatic as it has been astonishing and to some people, bizarre.Image result for trump

Trump’s rise has been of interest not only to political scientists but to media analysts as well as ordinary folks across the globe. But what has made this six times bankruptcy, and three times married man resonate with conservative American people who voted for him?( Or rather how did he manage to get his message across to voters in a media environment which seemed more keen on stifling his campaign message while highlighting every wayward statement he made, and they were many? There are no easy answers to this questions. However a scrutiny of his use of Twitter as an alternative communication tool may provide clarity on some of these questions. Further more a closer look at President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer (the surname speak volumes in context of his job role) and White House Senior aide and President Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway’s statements about Trump’s inauguration audience, may give any insight how on Trump operates.

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The doctrine of ‘alternative facts’ seem to be an operating default position of President Trump and his press team. His prolific use of Twitter throughout his campaign and post elections to either challenge mainstream news reportage or give his political alternative view has been unprecedented. Trump has taken to Twitter each time he felt he was in a ‘sticky’ situation or whenever he felt the press which he has deemed to be dishonest was misrepresenting or ignoring his position. Hence we witness the advent of his  ‘alternative facts’ doctrine at the heart of his press engagements. But what is ‘alternative fact’? Is Trump the first to use ‘alternative facts’ to defend a position or pass a message to people? Can ‘alternative facts’ be countered in the minds of the receiving audience?

Prevailing wisdom defines alternative facts as simply falsehoods which should never be mistaken as alternative views. As an example, during the Iraq war of 2003, there was a battle between western media, led by CNN and the Arab owned Al jazeera satellite news channel. Both became popular because of their on the ground reporting of what was happening in Iraq, albeit for various reasons and from different perspectives. CNN was more about reporting on the advancement of US and British troops and the success they were having. Whereas Al jazeera was providing alternative facts deemed to be the humane side of this war, with footage showing of bloodshed, devastation and lives wrecked by US and British bombs ( Views presented by both channels were alternative facts not the position presented by Trump’s press Secretary on the figures of inauguration attendees. Those were out-rightly untrue and indisputably false. The Trump press team’s position can only be equated to that of Ali Hassan al-Majid nicknamed Chemical or Comical Ali,  former Iraq’s Interior and Defence Minister during the 2003 war,(, who ‘spewed’ lies to the Iraqis and the world even as bombs were raining down in towns and cities of Iraq. The remarkable thing is both Ali and Spicer somehow emphasize that their words are ‘facts’, contrary to available evidence.

For Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was practising public diplomacy which appeared to be intended for both domestic (Iraqis) and the outside world, his ‘alternative facts’ failed dismally, attracting ridicule particularly from foreign audiences. How will Trump and his team fare on public diplomacy in their similar practice of ‘alternative facts’? Will it work when confronted with issues of substance such as the US relationship with Russia? Trump and his team have so far argued against every known fact about Russia’s Putin. His ‘alternative facts’ publicly presented thus far portray an ‘angelic’ Putin contrary to his predecessor and European allies.

Rather interestingly when the two leaders are compared and an analysis of their behaviour made, one can observe some similarities in how they deal with matters of facts, or rather ‘alternative facts’. In its public diplomacy efforts, Russia (Putin) of recent has been issuing statements denying any annexation of Crimea or military involvement in Ukraine, ( Trump in his ‘alternative facts’ has been publicly complimentary of Putin, even describing him as a ‘ very smart’ guy. With such actions, many are left asking what sort of public diplomacy is Trump engaging in with Russia as it is contrary to US intelligence and allies briefings on the Russian leader. The similarities on love for ‘alternative facts’ of these leaders of the two most powerful nations on earth, adds interest to a first scheduled meeting of these two in  Reykjavik in the coming weeks.

Composite of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!

Unfortunately in a “post truth” world, where people have become disillusioned by many things, among them media’s unobjective or perceived bias reporting on other key issues,President Trump’s doctrine of ‘alternative facts’ has easily carried him into the White House and may actually define his presidency. This is just but the beginning. ‘Alternative facts’ can be countered by real facts, if they are inoculated as a recent study has found. And in this Trump era, it might be time to apply inoculation of real facts,(


Abramson. J. 2017). ‘Alternative facts’ are just lies, whatever Kellyanne Conway claims.

Gambino. L. and Jacobs. B. (2016). Trump praise Putin over US sanctions-a move that puts him at odds with GOP.


Lee. M. (2016). Has Trump declared bankruptcy four or six times?

Nuccitell. D. (2017). Study: real facts can beat ‘alternative facts’ if boosted by inoculation.

Qusti. R. (2003). Study in Contrast: CNN Vs. Al-Jazeera,

Digital Native or Digital Immigrant-Ms Hillary, who art thou?

There is no doubt, argues Westcott 2008, that technology inventions have always profoundly impacted international relations. The point being throughout technological inventions such as the telegraph in the 19th century, followed by aeroplane, radio and television in the 20th century and the internet over the last 25 or so years, diplomats have found how they interact, change. The change however, has not just been on how interaction is conducted but how the content of information interacted is stored.

Historically information between diplomats, their host nation and their ‘sending’ state used diplomatic bags, secured under diplomatic immunity from search and seizure pursuant to Article 27 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Rarely would anyone know least all of the public, other than the intended recipient(s) what information was contained in the diplomatic bag(s). That was the norm during the pre-internet era.

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Digital Diplomacy

The internet era ushered in what the academia has termed ‘digital diplomacy’, with Jan Melissen and Jay Wang defining it as a way in which governments engage with one another and the public, using modern technologies which includes social media.Simply put Digital Diplomacy is the increasing use of ICTs and social media platforms by a country in order to achieve its foreign policy goals and practice Public Diplomacy. It means diplomats of all ages find themselves with a new, fascinating and arguably quick modern way of communicating. But, is digital diplomacy as smooth and without significant challenges or problems? Furthermore, how well trained in its use are the people, in this instance, diplomats who are meant to use it? What safeguards do they have, that what they convey through the internet remain private or at least to be deemed as their private and not official thoughts? Do they know of the pitfalls and implications on their careers of this ‘brilliant’ new way of conducting diplomacy?

Difference of Generations

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Perhaps the answer to some of the questions is found in understanding the approach and use of digital diplomacy by diplomats of different eras. A recent study by IIan Manor conducted over four different foreign ministries of four different states, proved that the use and understanding of digital diplomacy varied based on the ages of users. Manor suggests that the ability to effectively use, and fully understand the implications of internet use for diplomacy, is different between those he termed digital natives and digital immigrants. Digital natives natives are those people born and grew up in the digital age, mainly after 1980, these find it easier to employ and utilise digital technologies such as social media, and internet.  Whereas digital immigrants are individuals born before 1980, during the analog period and have had to adapt to the digital environment.  And this is where Hillary Clinton and Julian Assange come in. Who understands the internet or digital technology better between the two?

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Events surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of private email server during her time as Secretary of State betrays someone who, whilst able to use the internet and indeed advocated for digital diplomacy, lacked sound knowledge of how to protect herself online. Julian Assange a digital native, though born before 1980, but much later than Hillary Clinton probably using digital natives in his organisation Wikileaks exploited this ignorance by a digital immigrant, Hillary Clinton. Ms Hillary’s presidential ambitions now lie in the hands of digital natives as they bring into the public domain what she thought were private thoughts shared through digital technology.  The information shared by her, deleted and believed hidden somewhere, has found its way into the public domain through the hands and knowledge of digital natives.  Other senior diplomats of her age (digital immigrants) may start asking themselves, if after all digital diplomacy is their thing or whether they should leave that to digital natives.


Manor I, University of Oxford.

Melissen, J and Wang J, (2014). The Digital Diplomacy Bibliography, (

Westcott, N. (2008). Digital Diplomacy: The impact of the internet on International Relations, research report 16, July 2008, Oxford Internet Institute