Western Soft Power on Africa
The greatest tragedy visited by Europe and the Arabs on Africa, is not the plundering of African lands and resources, but getting the continent’s civilization stock and torn between, picking up the pieces of her life, through the building of her culture and the tradition and continuing the evolution process from where they were to where the need to be, and competing in the European civilization and culture by assimilating and integrating into her quick dash, winner takes all ultra-capitalist world.
Exchange Programmes for NGOs, educational institutions and faith based organizations
The role of NGOs as a tool of advancing foreign influence for state and non-state actors is clear and has been central to many projects good and bad alike. One component of such influence is the use of exchange programmes by the home countries of the countries of such NGOs or institutions, the benefits that locals gain as a result of the activities of these NGOs is substantial. It has been the sole source of livelihood for many families and individuals for Africans involved in such NGOs work. Some worker and volunteers of these NGOs are tools as regards the target goal(s) of such organizations but the promise of a change of environment, for no matter how little, has a huge impact on the local population. For many it is an opportunity to travel and experience a new, exciting or exotic life of Europe or America, as such exchange programmes provide much in terms of experience and exposure something highly valued by local instructors and people, as the psyche over here is that going abroad is an achievement all on its own. Programmes such as the state department YALI (Young African leader’s initiative) and many more universities/colleges student exchange programs reinforces the ideas of friendship and concern by the initiating country, as these gestures seeks to Americanize or Europeanize the next generation of African leaders and technocrats waiting in the wings. Finally, as Africans study abroad across all levels and disciplines, there is also the attractive effects that has on the returnee’s community; when such opportunities avail itself there are multitudes of people waiting and ready to do whatsoever to find themselves at the other side of the Atlantic.
Even though foreign policies differ across states one very key aspect of its success or failure lies with either or not the actors conducting such a policy, have locals who believe in their ideals for such to gain any traction within the population, and have a chance at succeeding.
Even though foreign policy relegates personal relations in favour of national interests and rightly so, but it’s on personal relationships and interest that any foreign policy can succeed. This is because barring the participation of locals, such interventions are tantamount to foreign invasion, Europe and America understands this too well thus they spend billions to cultivate these relationships which will serve their national or personal interests down the line. As case in point is the situation in Ukraine even though anybody with half a brain should know that the Maidan protests were orchestrated by a host of foreign interests pulling the strings of common Ukrainians and opposition politicians, what cannot be overlooked is the availability of a pool of local activists, technocrats, businessmen, students etc who have been influenced by NGOs and many of their schemes in that case “pro-democracy” and “pro-European”, some of these activists and opposition politicians were built on personal relationship, same for Syria, Yemen, Libya etc., the success of such operations is dependent on a critical main ingredient which are locals residing in the target country.
Foreign Goods and Products
In the north, south, east and west of Africa, what is readily abundant in its streets, homes, markets, and communities are the foreign goods which adorns them, where these products are manufactured has a way of fostering relations between nations and giving an image of such countries. How contracts are honoured, and the flow of spare parts and replacements, does a lot in categorizing friends, partners, benefactors etc, based on the products reliability, quality, availability and above all affordability. So when Africans see Toyota, and Honda - that is Japan - and judging by the quantity of such goods it signifies the aforementioned characteristics of such products as acceptable, and thus its huge numbers. This attracts more businesses to have deals with Japan and a longing to visit. China is undoubtedly the most visible country in terms of the number of its products on the African market, even though lots of them are judged substandard, but that is easily brushed aside as the mischievous schemes of local African merchants who request such standards in a bid to pursue more profit, as it is known that the quality of Chinese products is comparable in many respects to those from other Europe and America companies, barring more advanced technologies. Growing up and at the end of secondary school it was beyond my wildest dreams that I will soon own a mobile phone as such was seen as a luxury but with the entry of China into that sector, I not only have a mobile device but a smart phone as do many in peer group and range. Chinese products are seen across Africa as a blessing. For me this was the component of foreign ideology formation that had a profound effect on me, before I fell in love with global geopolitical diplomacy, and the actors and events that define it and the trajectory to which such factors will lead to. It started from enthusiastic fanfare of military aircrafts in the Nigerian air force inventory, it grew from anything fighter jets to a more focused look into a particular aircraft, the MiG 21, - where is it from?, - who created it?, - what are the follow on models?, - are their other products from the same manufacturer?, -are there other products from other rival firms?, - what are their specs?, - and above all who are the major threats to them?. To anything modern military equipments from across the world with more emphasis on the former, the question of why countries pour huge sums into R&D and innovation to build such weapons, the rest is now history of how I am a multi-polarist proponent today. We are all influenced differently but how many of these factors Africans are exposed to and self-interest makes a whole difference.
Religious and Faith based organizations/ideology
At the earlier stage of this article I made reference to Jomo Kenyatta’s statement about missionaries and the land in Africa, it was by no means the only role faith based institutions played in Africa’s history, but they still continue to play pivotal roles in influencing and shaping our perspective. Thus the pope, bishop of Canterbury, overseers of Worldwide Inc. Churches, Imams, Ayatollahs and many others spiritual heads of different faiths hold tremendous sway on views held by Africans about other countries and to what extend those country’s policies, actions and inactions are interpreted as fulfilling the scripture. The dragon being a symbol synonymous with China is phenomena seen in the Christendom of Africa as signs of the anti-Christ and the end times, thus to some extent China might unwittingly be seen as the bad guy barring any historical or logical claims, same can be said for Islam and the Arab world, statements or arts that are perceived as insulting the prophet Mohammed are strongly rebuffed by the Muslim community across Africa and the originating country labeled as infidels and enemies. There are many documented cases of these protests turning bloody over response to such events of “provocative” arts or statements against the prophet in Nigeria and some other west African Muslim societies; the Danish cartoon of prophet Mohammed is a case in point.
Entertainment, music and fashion
One needs to just watch and study the entertainment industry to know where their interests lie and who they crave to have joint collaborations in songs, fashion and other areas, we can refer to America and Europe as the entertainment Mecca of most African entertainers and established pop stars of same, as their sort of messiah or prophet, and will do anything to land such deals or find themselves in the company of such acts. These entertainers have a huge followership across the continent, partly because they mimic the entertainment industry of the Franco and Anglo-American block. Need I say more, just take a quick survey on what songs genres, videos, clothing lines, and philosophy that drives the entertainment and its associate industries and that will tell one all he needs to know about where or what is more important to them, definitely not national goals. Most young aspiring artist in Nigeria just as in many other African nations draw their inspirations from Grammy award winning stars and follow their footsteps and may adopt their political views. If one followed the statements and antics of such entertainers in America during the Trump-Clinton elections, there was a pattern of endorsements for candidates by some of the heavy weights in the American entertainment industry, mostly against the candidature of Donald Trump, based on his views on immigration, feminism, etc. Huge fans of these entertainers also joined the band wagon in the Trump bashing, not that this changed the American election itself as most of them are not Americans, but it did form and shape their views on the American president elect, and will continue to influence how they will interpret and accept his policies. Same can be said of any leader or policy, how this set of people receives, comments or kicks against it will undoubtedly sway public opinion and mold and influence views.
Just like any other country, there is a national following to different sports, which generates huge fanfare and passion across different states of Africa, football is one such sport and its following is almost a religious following. National teams are symbols of national pride for many African citizens, as it engenders unity amongst the many diverse tribes and religions of the continent or so it appears. Sport like any other venture or project in Africa falls under the unfortunate intricacies of everyday African bureaucrats and corrupt officials, along with vice like nepotism, and ethnocentrism. But how this project of national unity turned into tool of foreign influence can be traced to club football, and how the big names of European football have become the household names on the streets of Africa and in turn so influenced the fans and prospective stars to follow these terms and crave for football merchandise and chances to meet their idolized stars. What an African fan can tell you about his preferred team is simply astonishing, as every minute detail seems to have been seamlessly embedded in their minds. This has been the subject of some blessings to families, friends and communities of African players that have made it to Europe to ply their professional trade. On the down side rivalries have resulted in fatalities amongst opposing team’s fans. Just like musicians and other entertainers with huge fan bases, these teams if they possess any political ideology can easily be transmitted and form a factor how individuals and the fans community sees differing political views and stances.
In as much as these factors are highly influential in shaping views of global events and its actors, there are independent views which are mostly held by intellectuals and well informed segments of society who provide a shining light, and advocate for a more balanced and objective approach.
This is critical in discerning true partners in view setting a pragmatic foreign policy direction, most of these people lack any actual power or official capacity. But their views on world events are highly respected and revered, this can be attributed to fact that most people that hold a contrary opinion are less informed and follow a single narrative. In the course of the US elections, discussions about the elections were centered on the two leading candidates and the popular votes. But any explanation and clarification is received with so much calm, and curiosity such as the uncelebrated works of what I call independents in molding public opinion, as their arguments are well grounded in facts. Another case in point was a discussion I had with a friend on the Crimean referendum. He said the annexed region of Crimea are from Ukraine, I countered to explain the demographics of the peninsula and that the people voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving Ukraine and reunifying with Russia. Throughout the discussion he listened didn’t utter a word to the contrary as I explained the events leading to and the eventual outcome of the referendum. So either in economics, global conflicts hotspots, such persons command considerable respect from their peers and the community of followers this can in turn easily change people’s perspective on both state, non-state actors and individuals. The only down side is their obvious small number and diplomatic experience.
Therefore, as we move into the future in an era that is uncertain or predictable it will do the human race a whole world of good to appreciate our collective histories and heritage and collectively make it a duty to respect each culture and civilization as what is the point of multiculturalism if we all become one? Same ethics, same dress, same attitude, same way of thinking, same hair, clothes, and socialization. This is in a bid to foster unity and bring about a more peaceful world. It is clear that in the present established scheme of things Africa has not gained the much needed respect and thus a sit at the table in charting an acceptable course to all parties as we strive to build a better world, it is thus imperative that the today’s African clears his/her mind of all prejudices and form partnerships that will indeed for the first time bring about the much needed transformation in development and turn the tide against this festering scar of conflicts, identity crisis, incompetent leadership, and all other vices that has come together in keeping Africa on its knees.
And as new partners woo Africa they should understand - Where is the richness in diversity if Africa looks like Europe or Asia? The beauty of the world is in its diversity, which allows for different contributions to this world.
As the top players on the global stage pursue their national interests it is also important that such interests should be pursued on an equally beneficial basis and as some of these players are behind the curve in telling their own story, they should in their own interest and the interests of Africans, tell these stories and project their cultures and unique histories in order to provide a pool of diverse views and opinions upon which Africans can learn about the history of our world and better appreciate state and non-state actors who played crucial roles in achieving the advancements and social order the world now enjoys. This will help Africa to discern its true friends and partners as Africans seeks to redefine themselves and profit from that definition, or stick to the status quo and be defined, and along with a definition other than theirs, they continue to perish, be marginalized, and exploited by that definition. In a bid to form lasting alliances and partnership to bring about the Africa that Africans and indeed the world will be proud of associating with, Africa and Africans need a counterweight to the present information and order of alliances that dominates the continent.