Cultural Diplomacy: A tool for Ethiopia’s development

12 Jul 2018

Although a huge amount of online and newspaper reviews are being globally broadcasted on various aspects of global socio-economic and political issues, the airtime and columns devoted to the issues of culture and cultural diplomacy is unfortunately negligible.
Cultural diplomacy is not an entirely new concept that is created in the theoretical lexicon of international relations and global diplomacy. In practice, the concept is as old as the formation of formal diplomatic relations between countries.
Culture on the other hand encompasses the entire material and spiritual life of mankind. Material culture denotes the entire complex and variegated heritage of human civilization in terms of developing cultural commodities for human use. A spiritual culture shows the entire subjective human heritage expressed through various aspects of human intellectual, religious beliefs and creative arts of various kinds.
Diplomacy can be expressed as a formal method of conducting relations b
etween states through negotiations and various tools applied to streamline relations between sovereign states.
Cultural diplomacy on the other hand is unusually described as public diplomacy and soft power that includes the exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture
among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding.
The purpose of cultural diplomacy between countries is to develop an understanding of the nation's ideals and institutions in an effort to build broad support for economic and political goals. In essence "cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation", this in turn creates influence. Though often overlooked, cultural diplomacy can and does play an important role in achieving national security efforts.
In short, cultural diplomacy is diplomacy of culture between various cultures around the world.
Cultural Diplomacy as stated earlier has existed as a practice for centuries. Whilst the term "cultural diplomacy" has only recently been established, evidence of its practice can be seen throughout history and has existed for centuries. Explorers, travelers, traders, teachers and artists can be all considered living examples of “informal ambassadors” or early “cultural diplomats”. Indeed, any person who interacts with different cultures, (currently or in the past), facilitates a form of cultural exchange, which can take place in fields such as art, sports, literature, music, science, business, economy and beyond.
In an increasingly globalized, interdependent world and with rapid proliferation of technology mankind has developed greater access to each other than ever before, cultural diplomacy is critical to fostering peace and stability throughout the world. Cultural diplomacy, when learned and applied at all levels, possesses the unique ability to influence the global pattern of thinking towards peace and mutual respect around the world through respect and recognition of Cultural diversity and heritage, global dialogue between cultures, justice, equality and interdependence, the protection of international human rights, global peace and stability.
Ethiopia has already formulated a national foreign policy and security strategy that is currently under review. Despite an extensive coverage on the national foreign policy and diplomacy issues, the document does not give due attention to the promotion of cultural diplomacy as a tool for promoting the national interest of the country. Although a lot of emphasis has been made on the issues and practical application of economic diplomacy, little has been done in the areas of cultural diplomacy.
In almost every diplomatic mission abroad, cultural attachés have been assigned with the purpose of promoting bilateral cultural relations. It is true that some level of cultural tours have been organized by various public and private cultural groups but the country has not been able to benefit from the cultural assets that the country has possessed for thousands of years.
Cultural diplomacy in Ethiopia should not be the sole task of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Apart from the traditional approach in diplomatic activities, cultural diplomacy can effectively be conducted through a wide range of tourism related packages of diplomatic undertakings. Of course participation on foreign expositions and bazaars and shows will help to promote cultural diplomacy but this is not the only means available to this country with huge amount of cultural resources.
Ethiopia has already established public diplomacy teams to effectively strengthen and streamline the nation’s diplomatic relations with neighboring countries. This experience, well tested with neighboring countries can be extended to other countries in the context of strengthening cultural diplomacy with the rest of the world. Individual models, artistic groups, sports and cultural groups, graphic artists, archaeologists can be play a more meaningful role in promoting cultural diplomacy in image building and promotion of investment opportunities for this country.
Institutes of higher learning, tour operators, chambers of commerce, civil society organizations and professional associations need to have a saying in a nationally coordinated cultural diplomacy initiatives from which Ethiopia can benefit.
When it comes to effectively utilizing cultural diplomacy, compared to many African countries, Ethiopia enjoys a comparative advantage over the rest of Africa. The ethnic mix, pre-historic and historic heritages of the country, ecological diversity and other tangible and intangible heritages registered at UNESCO are all at the disposal of our own cultural diplomatic initiatives.
For instance, the periodic annual international conferences in which world renowned Ethiopians deliver their original researches on the history and culture of this country need to be further strengthened with the support of the universities in the country. If researchers are encouraged to conduct extensive studies on the multi-faceted aspects of the sociology and anthropological diversity in Ethiopia, apart from Ethiopia, cultural diplomacy of the entire African region can be further promoted.
Ethiopia, without the slightest hint of doubt is the epicenter of Pan- Africansim and if cultural diplomacy is promoted by Ethiopia, African culture is undoubtedly promoted.
Starting from the early forties, prominent Ethiopian professionals like Dr. Melaku Bayan (medical doctor), Dr. Workneh (popularly known as Hakim Workneh), Kegene Geta Yoftyahey Negussie ( writer ), Maitre Artist Afework Tekele, Alefelege Selam, Gebre Kristos Desta, Eskunder Boghossian, Tesagay Geberemedhin have personally contributed to the development of culture and cultural diplomacy for this country.
Ethiopian traditional cuisine and the traditional food prepared by the peoples of Ethiopia are well known to few missionaries, visitors, teachers and tourists who had visited the country several times. However, local investors have done very little in introducing Ethiopian traditional food to the rest of the world by establishing traditional food hotels abroad. Indeed they could have been excellent promoters of cultural diplomacy.
Cultural diplomacy in the Ethiopian context is not only about culture. It could serve as a major tool to generate income for the development programs of the country but it has to be conducted through a coordinated and planned manner.
Cultural diplomacy is a potential tool to lure potential investors to Ethiopia. Investors do not come to Ethiopia only to collect finance. They would certainly be interested in the culture and history of this country. They could be interested in the traditional costumes and other artifacts for which the country is known worldwide.
Concerned government ministries and various institutions could mainstream cultural diplomacy as a tool for accomplishing their duties abroad and for networking with similar institutions at the international level.
All told, Ethiopia is not adequately using its tangible and intangible cultural resources for the development of the country. It is expedient to establish a national coordinating body composed of federal and regional sector offices to promote cultural diplomacy in Ethiopia to ensure the development of peace, democracy, economic and social development of the country.

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