Sports diplomacy issues (1): No history!
Dr. Gilles Klein, 31 March 2017
Africa is a continent which is at the centre of our daily lives. Tourists remember its polish: photos of safaris, animals coming to drink at watering holes, sunsets, the summit of Kilimanjaro. These tourists experience difficulties in reading the Africa beneath the polish. The Ol Doinyo Oibor glaciers could disappear before 2030. More prosaically, in our daily life, we have adopted the coffee that grows wild in Ethiopia. We use cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo to operate our mobile phones and tablets. Some of us whistle, others love jazz and the sounds coming from Africa.
The more humanistic have taken from Africa a philosophy, that of Ubuntu. A word used by Nelson Mandela to symbolize the reconciliation process following apartheid. The word conveys the idea of a shared humanity: “I am, because we are all”. The new world Encyclopedia defines it thus: “It involves an appreciation of the traditional beliefs and the awareness that the actions of an individual have their roots in the past and will have important consequences in the future. A person who exercises Ubuntu understands where he or her is in the universe and consequently, he/she is able to interact harmoniously with other individuals.
Missions often take us to Africa to try to promote youth sport. In order to be prepared, we apply the Ubuntu principle, to understand the past in order to help to build the future. For me, this work became a passion, starting with the hard work of understanding Africa: uncertainties of the colonial era, times of independence, single party states, the Françafrique vicissitudes, more generally of the neo-colonization, for example with China, the conquest of African Unity, the intriguing longevity of the presidents and the chaotic adventures of the democracy, etc.
To be prepared assumes also having knowledge of the member states of our intergovernmental organization. Learning about the Congo river before noting its width in Kinshasa, its power in Inga, its impact on the ocean. Knowing the effects of drought on the annual cotton production in Mali and the economies of the countries during a meeting with the minister of agriculture. Remembering Vénuste Nyongabo’s Olympic feat whilst discussing youth and sport with the minister of Burundi. Experiencing the traditions with a Royal Python round my neck in Ouidah in Benin. Considering solutions to young graduates’ unemployment with the Moroccan minister of sports.
But ubuntu is far from being something shared by all. In 2012, I remember a mission in a member state in Central Africa. A press conference was organized with the Presidency of the Republic, so we could present our project. The financing of it was based on the sanitation and electrification of the capital city. During the presentation, I mentioned the role of the successive presidents who built and created the capital.
The President’s communication adviser interrupted the exchange with the press thus: “here we do not talk about past presidents. What matters is what the current president is doing”. The conviction and self-assurance of the remark and some sharp practice from the interlocutor had shaken the attempts of the white man who desperately tried to be “unbounded”. Go to hell Ubuntu, here there is no history, no memory. Here, only the providential man of the moment is important, without whom the country might slip into chaos. Was this an accident of history? There would no future for this political vision. Two months later, the country sank into chaos, due to interethnic conflict.
This incident shows that Ubuntu should not divert us from a certain pragmatism in the relations with our member states. Quite often, the reality confirms the words of the communications adviser of that Central African country. The politics of the country can be summarized by the mandates of the current president. On this matter, the commentators familiar with African news do not mince their words. Béchir Ben Yahmed, of Jeune Afrique, diagnoses an African disease.
To his mind, two kinds of politicians are responsible. Those who are already in power and maintaining it at all costs. Those who are looking forward to replacing them, but are indulging in “delicacies and poison of election rigging”. Fortunately, Africa is changing, with more and more political leaders respecting the Constitution and undermining their mandate with no fear of a change in power. In these countries, the elections respect the planned agenda, the candidates accept the result of the vote, observers validate the vote, power changes allow the renewal of the political, diplomatic, economic and social projects.
Between ubuntu and the African disease, our modest organization attempts to promote and finance youth sport in its member states. A matter which is not, and one can easily understand it, a priority in the developing countries. Why promote sport when the main concerns and emergencies are cross-border and ethnic conflicts, wars, arid zones, hunger, agricultural development, more generally economic ones, governance issues, etc. That is why, we need to demonstrate a certain diplomacy, or rather two kinds of diplomacies. The first is common sense, as taught by the communication adviser previously mentioned, the second is political.
As the term is commonly understood, diplomacy is firstly the skill, and the tact, that a negotiator brings into the conduct of a specific affair. Admittedly, it requires the ability to convince a minister of sports of the need to promote youth sport. A minister who we know is primarily focused on the qualifying of the soccer team to the African cup of Nations. The reader will refer to our previous article “Break the shop window”. In our mission, we totally agree with the definition which Siegfried provided about a Latin, in “L’âme des peoples” (the soul of peoples): “subtle and skilful, prudent, economical and rough merchant, he succeeds better in the small businesses, though he is also able to succeed in the large ones: everywhere flexibility, diplomacy, even intrigue, he is in his element”.
To fulfill our mission of convincing the ministers of the developing countries, we prefer the second diplomacy strand: the branch of politics that concerns relations between states, the art of a government or an organization’s representation abroad or the administration of international affairs, the management and implementation of the international affairs between states and between organizations. Our organization as a part of this perspective assumes that their executive bodies explicitly define the kind of diplomacy they want to follow. To conclude this episode, we will define what we understand as sports diplomacy.
The rise of sports interstate competitions, their media coverage, but also the importance of “soft power” in diplomacy, leads the countries to use sport in their international influence strategies. In that case, we refer to sports diplomacy, understood as every use of sport by a country in conducting its foreign policy. This use can take several forms; organization of sports events, sports successes, sports meeting activating a reconciliation in contrast to an opposition, etc. The literature proposes many case studies, to which our readers are referred.
When a state, an organization attempts to define sports diplomacy, two main questions arise for their decision-makers, either minister of foreign affairs, ministers of sports of a state, Secretary-General of an intergovernmental organization. The first question can be expressed thus; among the processes of sports diplomacy used by the states, the organizations, which are the right ones for a specific institution. In the coming episodes, we will develop two categories and a diversity of strategies referred to in national sports diplomacies at a given time.
There is a second question: to what extent the state or the organization, receiving the dividends of sports diplomacy strategy, planned these spin-offs. In the blog, we do not have the necessary time to address planning and success rates of an appropriate strategy. Otherwise, if our young organization had already defined its sports diplomacy model, only the concrete results from our model will guarantee our sustainability or demonstrate our failure.
Next: 7 April 2017 – Sport diplomacy issues (2): The limits of the intuition.