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The Transitive Problem

DISCLAIMER: Many of my writings on Take Five will propose concepts that seek to describe state communication activities.  Concepts are critical for building theory, my overriding interest.  I want make sure my concepts and theory resonate with students, more experienced academics and practitioners, a marker of validity.  I am using this blog for testing my ideas and welcome your feedback, whether constructive or dismissive.

The Transitive Property Reviewed

The transitive property in formal logic is essentially:

If a = b and b = c, then a = c.

This is useful shorthand for one problem facing public diplomacy practitioners and states’ strategic communicators.  How does one better a country’s image when it is vulnerable to “guilt by association” when that country’s friends are seen as bad actors?   Alliances between countries are something like equations, at least in terms of public perception, even if those alliances are complex and nuanced, combining elements of cooperation and competition.  Alliances require defending or at least very lightly criticizing allies while keeping relations normal, which is easily interpreted as complicity.

Rooted in Cognitive Processing or How People Perceive Political Problems

While this seems a perfect mathematical formula, perceptions of countries to do not transfer so easily, of course.   The emphasis is then on the basic dynamic, drawing on a notion of how people process politics cognitively, or associational thinking.  Psychologist Drew Westen and pollster Celinda Lake write about “what psychologists and neuroscientists call networks of associations,” or:

interconnected sets of thoughts, feelings, images, metaphors, and emotions that are unconsciously active in people’s minds and brains at any given moment.

People think through links, through series of relations in which one analytic or sensory unit calls up another.  Perceptions are shaped by what associations a certain subject produces.  International alliances are both actual associations but also useful mental associations in how people cognitively process the complexity of foreign affairs.

For communicators and public diplomacy specialists, perception is their central currency and it matters more than actual policy even as the two are often, though not always, related.  Thus, even if the guilt in question is not fairly ascribed, it must be addressed.  Their challenge is to create new associations.  The transitive dilemma suggests that old associations can be affirmed, or new ones established, due to the actions of allies. This poses an agency problem, that is, they are ultimately responsible for more than just their own government’s activities.

Applied to US-Bahrain Relations

Let’s take a recent example P.J. Crowley covered on this blog.  When Bahrain commits excessive violence against protesters, the government’s image is rightfully tarnished (Bahrain = Bad).  The American alliance with Bahrain (America = Bahrain), however, means that the United States cannot take a strong, critical public stance because of its well-known alliances in the region, and thus looks bad by association (America = Bad).

When it comes to how people view American policy in the Middle East, Bahrain’s state violence and repression prime among many observers and attentive regional publics American foreign policy inconsistencies.  P.J. Crowley called the United States an “interested spectator with Bahrain.” Its relative silence, he wrote, stood in contrast to its “loud” push for reform in neighboring countries.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch similarly observed that the “Obama administration’s grudging acquiescence to the Saudi-driven fait accompli [supporting the Bahrain regime] opened a gaping wound in American credibility.”

The transitive problem is exacerbated when an allies’ malfeasance reveals double standards, holes or hypocrisy in one’s own policy – suggesting an inconsistent adherence to state principles.

This puts public diplomacy and communication workers in an awkward position.  While the state may be invested in projecting an image, for example, supporting human rights or democratization, an ally’s antics can directly undermine this.  Practitioners’ hands are further tied in responding. They cannot threaten the health of the alliance without mandate from their government’s policymakers.

The sponsoring government’s alliance thus also prevents corrective action that addresses directly and credibly the substance of the guilt by association perception caused by the alliance.  Public diplomacy workers are then expected to work on positive relations or find new ways to outreach to publics without taking on this one elephant in the room, even though it’s a substantial, contrary point to the message they are supposed to deliver.

Another Example: Hamas and Syria 

This dilemma is a universal problem not just afflicting democracies or even states necessarily.  While some actors may not care about transitive problems, others will abandon allies, even sponsors if the pressure due to unsavory alliances grows strong enough.  Hamas, for example, seemingly turned against Syria by withdrawing its officials after a year of sticking with the Bashar al-Assad regime by default.   It was in the uncomfortable position of claiming to support liberation and an Islamist politics, while allying with a secular regime that suppressed Islamist politics – a position it could not hold up against domestic and regional public criticism as well as Arab state pressure.

Hamas Leader Ismail Haniya with Bashar Al Assad

A month after the move, a Hamas official was left in the precarious rhetorical dilemma between trying to maintain a damaged alliance and avoiding a treasonous brand of guilt by association.  He aimed for both loyalty and distance:

we have never attacked the Syrian regime or its president, so we are loyal to those who have stood by us when the whole world abandoned us, and we have said that we support the demands of the Syrian people and nobody can be against the people.

Seeking to escape the second equation, that between allies, of the transitive property, he urged that, “Hamas cannot be an exact copy of its allies.” That daylight is rooted in Hamas’s awkwardly-put position that:

there are some legitimate demands acknowledged by the regime that must be addressed and we must give priority to stopping the bloodshed on both sides in Syria.

Hamas is trying to both patch things up with a burnt ally and remain a credible critic, and the result is a familiar sort of confused, hackneyed official-speak.  Showing this concept through an example with Hamas is important for making the case this is a general problem for diverse actors, and thus also of greater theoretical value.


The utility of this transitive problem concept, as elementary as it may be, is that it gets at the challenges of multiplicity in international relations and how it troubles work in state communications.  The term is a neutral short-hand for the “guilt by association” problem that policymakers and communication specialists know all too well when their country is seen as liable for the acts of allies.  The basic dilemma: how to communicate persuasively values and ideals when a close friend is violating them?   Having a name for this problem, and understanding the cognitive roots described above, may give some conceptual tangibility and a greater analytic handle on the basic problem.

I am sure state communicators and diplomats have varied strategies from suspending activities and waiting out the storm, re-framing the government’s position, stressing other elements of its policy, back-channel communications to mitigate fallout and so on.  The constraint of alliance and the policy need to maintain it – even in the face of reputational costs – makes for a particularly challenging communicative context.

Feedback is welcome below in the comments! Find me on Twitter: @wyoumans.


African-Americans in Africa in the 1960’s: an early example of the New Public Diplomacy

Searching online for details about the life of Dr. Marie Gadsden, a ground-breaking African-American internationalist who was my husband’s dear friend and mentor, we discovered  intriguing threads linking her to a complex and deeply fascinating story:  the story of African-American political and cultural engagement with newly independent Africa in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

It is also a story, I would argue, about two-way, collaborative, non-assymetrical dialogue — with and without government support — of the kind that today is the elusive prescription for successful public diplomacy as described by scholars such as Jan Melisson, Rhonda Zaharna, Kathy Fitzpatrick, and others.  (If you have another view on this, Take Five welcomes your contributions and insights.) 

To return to the story:  Marie Gadsden was one of the first African-Americans awarded a Fulbright fellowship, which in 1953 took her to Oxford University in the UK.  There, chance put her with roommate Sarah Ntiro, a future icon of Ugandan women’s rights, a pairing that added impetus to Marie’s growing interest in strengthening U.S.- African ties.

1959 found Dr. Gadsden teaching English to government cabinet members and to English teachers in newly-independent Guinea, as a response to President Sékou Touré’s first request of the first U.S. Ambassador to that country.  In 1960, Dorothy Height, who was president of the influential National Council of Negro Women and who would go on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her work in the Civil Rights movement, recalled joining in a women’s labor march with Marie Gadsden in the Guinean capital of Conakry.

Dr. Gadsden would likely have known of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s travel to Kenya and the UK, also in 1960.  And a few years later, in 1966, Dr. Gadsden crossed paths with famed American poet Langston Hughes in Nairobi, most likely during his USIA-sponsored trip to Uganda and Ghana.

So what were these and many other African-American icons doing in Africa? The essential answer is that they were sharing ideas, and receiving them.  Sharing expertise, and gaining inspiration.

They were seeking support from Africans for American civil rights – human rights — and working hard to mobilize American support for Africa’s political and economic development.  Traveling for U.S. public diplomacy, and traveling as private citizens, and merging the two as true citizen diplomats.

And also pressing the State Department in Washington to include more African-Americans among the ranks of U.S. diplomats, and to focus more effectively on relations with emerging African nations.

We are by now familiar with the Jazz Ambassadors of that era, a much-lauded Cold War initiative of U.S. public diplomacy that projected American culture and society through jazz greats from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie,  Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck.

But fewer likely focus on the deeply emotional and polarizing backdrop of the early U.S. Civil Rights era, which saw, for example, Louis Armstrong temporarily refusing to tour for the U.S. in protest at President Eisenhower’s early handling of the Little Rock, AK, desegregation crisis.  Such tensions are the focus of historian Penny von Eschen’s absorbing book Satchmo Blows Up the World.

So the heady era when a young America embraced post-WWII globalism (a zeitgeist intensified by visionary and inspiring initiatives of the Kennedy era such as the Peace Corps and rapid expansion of U.S. development assistance), was a stirring but also conflicted period for many African-Americans who saw the African quest for post-colonial independence as a mirror and metaphor for the horrifically daunting struggle for civil rights at home.  In December 1960, Ebony magazine celebrated Africa’s emerging states as both the realization of a dream as well as a somewhat precarious, must-not-fail experiment that demanded the material and spiritual support of African-Americans as well as the official support of the United States.

Dr. Gadsden’s story, like those of many other African-American leaders whose threads were woven into it, brings that era to vivid life.  The all-too-brief details that follow are offered as an introductory sample, a tantalizing glimpse, in the hope that you will follow our own footsteps in discovering the rich history of African-American and African public diplomacy in the early Civil Rights era.

Dorothy Height’s memoir Open Wide the Freedom Gates (2009), and especially her Chapter 14, “Citizen of the World,” highlights the immediate and compelling political relevance of Height’s own international experience and that of other Civil Rights leaders.

In 1960, Height traveled for several months in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea to study the training needs of women’s organizations.  (It was on this trip that she met Marie Gadsden, then with the small and shrinking U.S. Embassy delegation in Conakry.)    Meetings with grassroots women who had never before thought about their problems and goals in gender terms;  being hosted by a new cabinet minister in Accra, and Nigeria’s new chief barrister in Lagos; gaining insights into the debilitating legacy of colonialism — all are vividly described.

On her return, Height helped form a senior policy advocacy group, the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (ANLCA), together with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, and other top Civil Rights leaders.  A remarkable coalition of African-American religious, civil rights, fraternal, sorority, business, professional, educational, labor and social organizations supported ANLCA, including the American Committee on Africa, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and even organizations whose primary commitment was clearly to grassroots Civil Rights organizing in the U.S. such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

Height recalls that Chief Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo, newly arrived in New York as Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN, invited ANLCA leaders “to discuss how Africans felt about U.S. policy. …He wanted black Americans to think more precisely about how the U.S. was relating [not just to South Africa but] to other parts of the continent too.  He urged us to be aware of policies that affected the utilization of raw materials throughout southern and central Africa…  Above all, he wanted us to know how U.S. policy played into these complicated issues.”

Meanwhile, American poet Langston Hughes had spent much of the 1950’s putting together a highly ambitious anthology of African and diaspora writing,  published in 1960 as An African Treasury.  Daniel Won-gu Kim, in his excellent, insightful piece, We, Too, Rise with You: Recovering Langston Hughes’s African (Re)Turn 1954-1960 in An African Treasury, the Chicago Defender, and Black Orpheus (2007), describes how Hughes began the project in 1954, correponding with hundreds of writers and sifting and weighing thousands of potential contributions, many of them handwritten and “accompanied by letters … expressing their gratitude and admiration of Hughes as an elder black writer. “

Notes Kim, “the friendship and comradeship of this new generation of African writers could not have had a more meaningful influence on [Hughes]. … The anthology served as a kind of crash course, bringing him up to speed in the dizzying but inspiring pace of change in his ancestral homeland, feeding his own drive to rediscover–via African liberation–his role as a cultural fighter for the liberation of his people in the U.S.”

In 1962, on the heels of the anthology’s publication, Hughes made two trips to Africa sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) — his first since he was an impressionable young man working on a tramp steamer in the 1920’s.  In June-July of ’62, Langston Hughes’ itinerary included a major conference of writers at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, and  the dedication of a new United States Information Service (USIS) Center and Library in Ghana.

The “M’bari Writers Conference” opened in Kampala with about 45 writers, editors, scholars and journalists from nine African countries, the U.S., UK, and Caribbean — including rising literary stars such as Chinua Achebe, future Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, and Cyprian Ekwensi.   Langston Hughes already knew and admired many of these writers from his work on the anthology, and had also engaged in correspondence with the brilliant South African writer Bessie Head and others.   His speech at the new USIS library in Ghana clearly drew inspiration from his experience at the Kampala conference:   “[As] America comes to Africa, as through these library shelves, to offer an exchange of knowledge …  [so] Black Africa today is sending rejuvenating currents of liberty over all the earth reaching even as far as Little Rock, Birmingham and Jackson, Mississippi.”

A modern awareness of this interweaving of literature, politics, culture, nationalism, and human rights echoes through “Langston Hughes in Paradise,” Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein’s beautiful and inspirational 2011 essay in Contrary.  Lichtenstein, while teaching Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” (with its famous line “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”) to students from the State University of Zanzibar, perceives this poem’s message of nationalism through the response it generates in her students.

Finally, there is the fascinating 1960 episode in which then-NAACP lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall served as an advisor to Kenyan nationalists during negotiations on a new constitution for Kenya, at the time a British colony. The story, outlined in Mary Dudziak’s Working toward Democracy: Thurgood Marshall and the Constitution of Kenya, describes an invitation to Marshall from Tom Mboya, a young nationalist leader from Kenya (who was assassinated a few years later, in 1967.)  Marshall traveled first to Kenya, and then to London, while his offers of assistance were debated by both Kenyans and British.  Interestingly, Marshall’s most substantial contribution to the Kenyan constitution was to strengthen protection for property rights, de facto those of land-owning white Kenyans.   Dudziak’s insights into the nuances and apparent contradictions of Thurgood Marshall’s work on, and later views on, the Kenyan constitution are well worth a read.

In February 1960, Marshall quickly wrapped up his involvement and returned to the U.S. earlier than anticipated “after four African-American freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College held a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. The simple protest soon expanded into a widespread sit-in movement,” and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund set out to defend the students immediately.  “The sit-ins posed a set of legal and practical dilemmas for civil rights lawyers,” among them the problem — felt strongly by Marshall in particular, echoing his property-rights concerns about the Kenyan constitution — that the students had violated “facially valid trespass laws, not facially vulnerable segregation laws.”

Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall maintained ties with his Kenya colleagues, and his work on the draft Kenyan Bill of Rights continued to be influential. Marshall developed a deep affection for Jomo Kenyatta after his release in 1961. He traveled to Kenya on a U.S. State Department sponsored trip in July 1963, and was an honored guest of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta at Kenya’s independence ceremonies in December 1963.

Marie Gadsden herself, after more than a decade with the Peace Corps, went on to become a pioneer in connecting America’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) with international development training and exchange programs funded by USAID, USIA, and the State Department.  Her work on this effort through the Phelps-Stokes Fund and later through NAFEO brought her a level of respect in Washington that led to her being named the first African-American board chair of Oxfam-America, among many other recognitions.

Throughout her life, she maintained a deep commitment to developing America and developing Africa, to engaging young Americans and young Africans in service, both at home and abroad. She seamlessly worked for the U.S. Government, for private organizations, and to advance her own deeply held personal vision.

Hers was a life of public diplomacy.

Bahrain’s Protesters Fail But Win

Source: International Business Times

Bahrain’s monarchy was determined, having cancelled last year’s Formula One Grand Prix due to violent unrest that necessitated an armed intervention by neighboring Saudi Arabia, that this year would be different. The race would go on! And so it did, with Sebastian Vettel the winner. The early race reporting highlighted that it was “incident-free.” Hardly.

The grand prix was overshadowed by clashes between protesters and security forces in the days leading up to race day. Protesters demanded political reforms that Bahrain’s ruling family have promised, but so far not delivered. They hoped to create enough mayhem to force the government to cancel the race. The opposition was not successful, but they probably got more attention with the race being held than they would have otherwise.

A year ago, in the wake of dramatic change in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrain was the start of the counter-revolution. The government literally blew up Pearl Square to avoid the fate of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, overwhelmed by the commanding photo of Tahrir Square he could not make disappear. Bahrain gradually receded from the headlines, supplanted by the NATO intervention in LIbya and more recently the tragic stalemate in Syria.

The protests put Bahrain back in the headlines. and not in the way the monarchy had in mind. The government promoted the Grand Prix as “UniF1ed – One Nation in Celebration.” The Al Khalifa family, Sunni rulers over a Shia majority kingdom in the shadow of more powerful and feuding neighbors Iran and Saudi Arabia, hoped the race would reverse its public diplomacy fortunes and once again depict the Kingdom as a progressive (in relative terms of course) financial, cultural and sports center. It tried to put to replace the images of political repression from a year ago. Instead, it only updated them.

And, in terms of U.S. public diplomacy, the Obama administration’s muted comments about respecting human rights and encouraging the Bahrain government to do more to implement the recommendations of an independent commission report issued late last year stand in stark contrast to its loud and repeated calls for political and social reform in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Given the crisis in Syria and complex dance with Iran over its nuclear program, the United States has been largely an interested spectator with Bahrain over the past year, watching from the grandstand as the government and protesters go round and round the track. Unfortunately, like the Grand Prix, a year later, they remain pretty much where they started.

A Proposal for Revitalizing International Broadcasting in the Information Age

Co-author: Shawn Powers, Georgia State University

State-funded broadcasters face more competition for publics’ attention.  With the wide proliferation of information sources globally, audiences have the option of accessing a multitude of news outlets while increasing their own engagement through two-way communications technologies.  The growth of other international broadcasters, or state news media aimed at foreign audiences, as well as private news media, is part of increasingly complex informational environments.

For state broadcasters constrained by host governments’ strategic interests and/or lethargic bureaucracy, adapting to the information age is especially challenging.  They are bound by old missions, institutional pressure, declining budgets, and domestic politics, not to mention the presumption of propaganda by many receiving publics.  However, the source of their new challenges—the growth of information and communication technologies—also offers a possible way forward.

These factors along with financial crises and the demise of clear, global geopolitical polarity, has engendered identity crises among many state-run broadcasters already facing the ever-difficult dilemma between being news with instrumental purposes – the pursuit of the host country’s national interests – while not being dismissed as propaganda.

State broadcasters can re-define themselves by focusing on specific information poor and weakly governed societies, often termed failed or non-transitioning states – of which there are still dozens according to Foreign Policy’s Failed State index.

In a newly published paper in a special symposium in the Journal of Public Deliberation, we propose international broadcasters find renewal by fostering deliberative technologies in such societies.  By sponsoring mediated forums for average Somalis, Afghans, Haitians and so on to discuss public matters, international broadcasters can aid development through hosting safe communicative spaces for articulating public concerns, reaching shared expectations of governance, and, advancing norms of citizen participation in public affairs.

To support this policy prescription, we offer two case studies.  The first is Voice of America’s Middle East Voices (MEV) online portal, launched in November 2011.  Its goals are explicitly deliberative.  According to managing director Davin Hutchins, “We wanted to find a place where people could start conversations about the news. There are plenty of sites and organizations that cover the Middle East. What we wanted was a site that enhanced the level of dialogue.”

VOA’s use of deliberation technologies in non-transitioning and authoritarian states facilitated informed dialogue on divisive issues, much of which is based on user-generated content and collaborative journalism.  While MEV has not reached nor involved large audiences, it offers a new model for international broadcasters to encourage the flow of information and political expression where domestic media are under assault.   Such deliberative infrastructure for national and transnational dialogue is valuable as an avenue for circumventing state censors and informational controls.

The second is “Somalia Speaks,” a collaborative project spearheaded by Al Jazeera English that combines several communication technologies to solicit short message service (SMS) texts about Somalia and shares them on its website.  Soud Hyder, an AJE staff member, said the project’s aim is to circulate “the perspective of normal Somali citizens” and let them “tell us how the crisis has affected them.”  It tapped into the growth of mobile phones in Somalia.

Respondents expressed how the famine and decades of conflict impacted them.  For example, one SMS posted on January 1, 2012 read:

“I lost both my parents and the elder brother in the bloodshed that has been going for the last 20 years. In addition, my students and their children all perished in this conflict and there is a lot which I can’t count all here.”

The graphic to the right is from the project’s webpage and it outlines the process.  AJE partnered with Souktel, a cell phone service provider with a development ethos, to provide the local response number to receive the SMS texts and the subscriber lists.  A crowd-sourcing platform, Crowdflower, let 80 volunteers translate 1,000 messages into English.  Using Ushahidi’s mapping application, AJE’s website displayed the messages in both map and catalog formats.  This exemplified the possibilities that arise from an international broadcaster working collaboratively with other technology platforms and organizations.

With adjustments, both the MEV and “Somalia Speaks,” could be used to better facilitate domestic information flows.  For example, AJE could have done more to re-circulate the texts through Somali media. This would be easier, of course, if Al Jazeera goes forward with its planned East Africa news channel.  Similarly, VOA could find ways to expand circulation of user-generated content beyond the Internet, perhaps through its broadcasting functions.  These projects do show how international broadcasters can engage in particular media poor environments to benefit local publics.

Some may argue that deliberation, or institutionalized public exchange, is impossible in authoritarian and failed or failing states.  Lisa Wedeen’s excellent ethnographic study of public engagement in Yemen, Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (2008), shows how overly formalistic definitions of deliberation do not capture the vibrancy of public sphere practices in informal, everyday life settings. She examined Qat chews, in which circles of men share the mildly narcotic leaves while discussing public issues and exchanging information.  This is a form of Yemeni citizenship in action even in lieu of a fully functioning state or formal civil society.  Our proposal would mean more mass mediated channels for the spreading of such deliberation among wider audiences.

Broadcasters may protest that this puts their primary audiences in a handful of countries. This proposal complements rather than supplants current broadcasting.  Also, as the case studies show, such projects can generate valuable content for reporting.  For example, AJE reported on a market fire in a region in Somalia where there are no journalists after receiving text messages.  This alone can give state-sponsored news organs something novel to contribute.  Such reporting adds to, rather than replicates or spins, the dominant news stream, and is more interesting than the typical fare showing the host country in a good light.

We recognize that development problems cannot be resolved by talk and the exchange of ideas alone.  Rather than a panacea, this is about a pragmatic use of state resources to benefit foreign publics with the understanding that this is not done selflessly.  There must be mutual benefit.

Building on notions of deliberative development, we argue that international broadcasters can offer positive, incremental improvement of the internal flow of information and expectations, which can fuel growth in civil society and improve informal or quasi-governance structures – potential precursors to more responsive institutions.  By serving as proxies in places with weak media, broadcasters get a new purpose, a developmental one, and this is a step forward for both.

Of course, since they are intervening in foreign information spaces, broadcasting agencies must approach carefully, self-reflexively and in partnership with groups and audience members in receiving countries.

If this proposal interests you, read our full paper, “A New Purpose for International Broadcasting: Subsidizing Deliberative Technologies in Non-transitioning States.”   Feedback is welcome either below in the comments or email us directly at smp [at] gsu [dot] edu. Or find us on Twitter: @shawnpowers and @wyoumans.

China, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, the Arab world, and the Vatican: New Books on Public Diplomacy Span the Globe.

New books on Public Diplomacy, December 2011 through April 2012

Take Five readers:  Let us know if you like this resource, and we’ll make it a quarterly feature.

1) At the 2012 London Book Fair. Professor Zhao Qizheng is launching his two new books in English. They are Cross-Border Dialogue: the Wisdom of Public Diplomacy, published by the New World Press, and How China Communicates: Public Diplomacy in a Global Age, published by the Foreign Language Press (together constituting an English version of his Chinese book entitled Public Diplomacy and Cross-Cultural Communication, published by Remin University Press, 2011).  Zhao says, “I’m trying to present a picture of the real situation in China, to reduce misunderstanding and eliminate the foreign reader’s sense of unfamiliarity with the country.”

2)  The People’s Peace Process in Northern Ireland,  by Colin Irwin (April 2, 2012) — From the book jacket:  ‘I recommend this book to all those involved with peace making and peace building, political negotiations and public opinion polls, as well as those with a particular interest in Northern Ireland. … I am persuaded that the unique approach [Irwin] developed of running public opinion polls in co-operation with party negotiators contributed significantly to the successful outcome of our efforts. – Senator George J. Mitchell.

3) Cyberspaces and Global Affairs by Sean S. Costigan and Jake Perry (Jan 1, 2012). Note Part II: Web 2.0 and public diplomacy includes the following articles:  – Call for power? Mobile phones as facilitators of political activism;  – ICT infrastructure in two Asian giants: a comparative analysis of China and India;  – Information (without) revolution? Ethnography and the study of new media-enabled change in the Middle East;  – The political history of the internet: a theoretical approach to the implications for US power;  – US identity, security, and governance of the internet;  – Information and communications technologies and power;  – Social media and Iran’s post-election crisis;  – Viewpoint: combating censorship should be a foreign policy goal;  – Viewpoint: an alternative prospect on cyber anarchy for policy-makers.  About the editors: Sean S. Costigan directs MIT CogNet and teaches information technology at The New School, and Jake Perry is an independent scholar.

3) National Relations: Public Diplomacy, National Identity and the Swedish Institute 1945-1970 by Nikolas Glover (Jan 1, 2012).    Says the author:  “My study focuses on the Swedish Institute for Cultural Exchange with Foreign Countries, 1945–1970. … It postulates that identifying with and promoting a particular national identity in the post-war world has been a question of relating the nation to others …  The concept of national relations leads me to engage with historical research on public diplomacy, the history of communication and the history of nationalism.”

4) Diaspora Diplomacy: Philippine Migration and its Soft Power Influences by Joaquin Jay Gonzalez III (Dec 27, 2011).   The author talks about “the remarkable and untapped soft power that international migrants possess and how various actors—from governments, NGOs, business, the church, and international organizations—could tap this valuable resource to enhance global cooperation, development, and understanding. With detailed and intimate illustrations from the experiences of the Philippine diaspora in San Francisco, London, Dubai, Dhaka, and Singapore…”

New paperback editions:

5) The New Arab Media: Technology, Image and Perception by Mahjoob Zweiri and Emma C. Murphy (Mar 29, 2012; hardcover published January 2011).   ISBS says “topics examined include: the impact of Al-Jazeera * implementation of the internet in the region * the use of the media for diplomacy and propaganda * image culture * the use of the internet by religious diasporas * information and communication technologies and the Arab Public Sphere * the influence of satellite television on Arab public opinion * the explosion of local radio stations in Jordan.” .

6) Kosovo’s Diplomacy: How can Public Diplomacy have an impact on Kosovo’s political and diplomatic position? by Alban Dermaku (Jan 23, 2012; hardcover published January 2011.)  Book flap text:  “The declaration of independence marked a new era for Kosovo and its relations with the countries that have recognized its independence. Since then Kosovo is striving in its diplomatic efforts to achieve broader international recognition and become a member of the United Nations. … In modern times, public diplomacy is receiving broad recognition as a crucial element for understanding and influencing foreign publics.”

Postgraduate Theses from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, new on Kindle eBook: 

7) Prioritizing Efforts to Improve Foreign Public Opinion of America: Applying a Business Model to Discover and Create Customer Value by Anthony J. Sampson – Kindle eBook (published Apr 12, 2012; thesis written in 2007 for the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA).  Author’s note: “Given the reality of fiscal and resource constraints, America could not possibly address all of the concerns of the foreign public; rather, America must focus its efforts on the factors that are likely to make the greatest impact. This study identifies negative factors that interfere with favorable foreign pubic opinion and suggests an analytic framework for prioritizing those factors.

8) The Holy See and the Middle East: The Public Diplomacy of Pope John Paul II by Ronald Patrick Stake – Kindle eBook (published March 31,2012; thesis written in 2006 for the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA).  Author’s note:  “This thesis considers changes in the diplomacy of the Holy See with respect to the Middle East … between 1990 and 2003. Policies … involved (1) establishing full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel; (2) convening the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Lebanon, ending in the papal visit to Lebanon in May 1997; and (3) opposing the 1991 and 2003 U.S. led wars against Iraq. …{T}he thesis argues that new circumstances occasioned a rethinking of the Holy See’s interests in light of the development of modern Catholic social teaching.”

Fear and Loathing in Development Journalism

Three items on development journalism in Africa came across my radar screen yesterday, and it was fascinating to read such a diversity of views.  It seems that harnessing media in the service of development has been used, at times, as a strategy to repress free speech and democracy, and yet the concept of development journalism is experiencing a revival in the digital age.

What do “Take Five” readers think about these issues?  What are the contemporary risks and benefits of promoting development journalism?  Shared below are the three views that, taken together, coalesced into this unexpected debate on my desk top.  I invite you to continue the discussion here.

“Three Knight Fellows to Launch Continent-Wide Media Projects” (September 2011) announces a dynamic new initiative to be based in Nairobi, Kenya, where three media experts will train African journalists in media management, the environment, and rural development.  The project webpage explains that the media training on rural development will be conducted by Knight International Fellow Joseph Warungu, the very distinguished former head of BBC’s African News and Current Affairs department, who will “work with South Africa’s Rhodes University to build a pan-African network of journalists with the skills to cover agriculture, health, small business and other development issues.”  This particular fellowship is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Well, so far, so good.  I’ve spent enough time reading newspapers in developing countries to know that coverage is often dominated by purely political developments, while economic news gets short shrift.  Business news taken largely from corporate press releases and launches makes it into the paper, but not the in-depth, grassroots economic reporting that helps readers understand, for example, the local effect of global fluctuations in commodity prices, or how price subsidies can affect rural-urban migration, or how some conflicts are sustained by localized economic opportunities for the few, or how some types of information are as valuable and bankable as a durable good. Therefore, training that helps reporters and editors “follow the money” has to be a good thing, because readers want very much to understand both the development efforts and the wider economic forces that affect their most basic existence.

However, Terje S. Skjerdal’s “Development journalism revived: the case of Ethiopia” (2011) introduces some different ideas.  The author explains that “development journalism has attracted considerable hostility over the years.  … The practice has been blamed for promoting political agendas instead of people’s interests.  The strong dependency on the state, especially in African versions of development journalism, has roused worries from press freedom organizations. … Local journalism paradigms such as Nkrumah’s revolutionary journalism [in Ghana] and Nyerere’s ujamaa Journalism [in Tanzania] were seamlessly interwoven with development-oriented journalism. This was made possible because development journalism in the African meaning of the term, in contrast to the Asian, meant close collaboration between the media and the authorities rather than critical reporting on development efforts. In effect, the state media and the government joined forces against the private media … [and] the critical and investigative role of the media was severely suppressed in the name of the ‘greater good.’”

Yet Skjerdal also explains that, despite this negative history, there has been a revival of interest in development journalism in recent years.  He cites as an example the framework of five principles synthesized by Fackson Banda (Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, Volume 33Issue 2, 2007) for “development journalism in a new era.”   These include seeing the audience as active citizens rather than passive consumers; listening (as journalists) to the public, and not just to official sources; promoting deliberation among people, and between the people and their leaders; and encouraging citizens to conceptualize and express their own development concerns.  In sum, the development journalist “must get readers to realize how serious the development problem is, to think about the problem, to open their eyes to possible solutions.”

The rest of Skjerdal’s piece focuses more specifically on the case of Ethiopia, and the results of a survey of Ethiopian journalists on the significance of a new Ethiopian media policy promoting development journalism.   Discouragingly, Skjerdal concludes that journalists in that country are finding it difficult to maintain their objective and outspoken stance in the face of a development journalism imperative to promote success stories in order to support national efforts.

But are there other ways to manage development journalism?  Ways in which the journalist’s core commitment to objectivity is enhanced rather than diminished by a focus on development?

Into this nuanced landscape of potential benefits and pitfalls comes a paper on “Developing undergraduate journalism curricula: Concerns and issues” presented at a 2009 South African conference by Monica Chibita, senior lecturer in journalism at Makere University in Uganda.  I read it with interest, having been privileged to work with Dr. Chibita on a multi-faceted radio journalism training project when I was posted to the U.S. Embassy in Kampala about a decade ago.

First Chibita notes the subjects that Makerere journalism students are traditionally expected to cover – media history, writing, editing, ethics, graphics, analytical thinking and research methods.

Then she asks, “for a journalist looking at practicing in an African context, though, what about understanding community problems and dynamics? What about applying their understanding of the workings of the media to poverty, maternal and infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, energy, environmental degradation, unemployment, governance etc?”  And, channelling Banda, “how about making sense of how people diagnose and seek solutions to these problems in their local context and what role the media can play in making this possible?”

And here Chibita introduces a new element, the digital revolution.   “It appears that there is a growing need [for such development-related skills.]  This is partly because communities now do have some access to a wide range of media. Technologies like the mobile phone, for instance, can be used to bridge the gap between rural people and previously inaccessible ‘mainstream’ media.”

In other words, says Chibita, since digital media brings real potential for mainstream media and government to “listen” to the public, for there to be two-way dialogue among citizens and leaders, and for citizens to be empowered to shape development issues themselves, then it is the obligation of at least some journalists to be professionally prepared to play a role in realizing that potential.

So should we be bullish or bearish on development journalism?   Should we embrace the positive vision expressed through the Knight International Fellowships and by Banda and Chibita, or are we persuaded by the more pessimistic view of Skjerdal?  In the examples above from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya, do country-specific differences matter, e.g. levels of Internet penetration that are respectively below 2%, about 12%, and above 25%?  Are we persuaded by objective criteria such as UNESCO’s ranking of Makerere’s journalism program as among the top 12 in Africa?   More broadly, do the risks of defining appropriate topics for journalists always outweigh the potential benefits — or should the development imperative sometimes trump market-based media decisions in the African marketplace of ideas?

Again, Take Five welcomes you to continue this debate.

Editor’s note:  On Sunday, Mohamed Keita published an NYTimes Op-Ed entitled “Africa’s Free Press Problem.” Mohamed hits upon similar themes – his post is well worth reading.

Sowing the Seeds of Peace

Today we feature a guest post from Judith Raine Baroody, Senior Resident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. Dr. Baroody has served in the Foreign Service since 1984, including her most recent post abroad in Paris. In this post, she discusses the roll she played in 1997 as the Public Affairs officer in Nicosia, when she helped to organize one of the first pan-Cyprian festivals since the country’s division in 1974.

Diplomats in blue jeans, we gazed up anxiously at the September skies of Cyprus as we assembled chairs and sound equipment for the festival to bring together Greek- and Turkish Cypriots. It had been a dry year, but now dark clouds were gathering above us, over the grounds of the once-splendid Ledra Palace Hotel in the buffer zone that separated the two sides of the former British colony. There had been clashes between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots since 1963, when violence broke out in the capital of Nicosia. In 1974, the Greek government’s attempt to seize control led to military intervention by Turkey, which took over the northern third of the island. Since then, Greek Cypriots had not been allowed to cross into the north, nor Turkish Cypriots into the south. In 1996, clashes led to the death of two demonstrators; there was a constant threat of more violence. Now, in 1997, we were looking for ways to make peace in this heavily militarized country.

Children participate in peace festival.
Photo by USAID Cyprus

I was the public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, so part of my job was to help the two communities get to know each other, to lay the groundwork for social reintegration once political conflicts were resolved so peace and stability could take root. Working with embassies of other countries, we nurtured a range of activities designed to bridge the two communities. The idea of this festival in the narrow strip of land where the two sides were allowed to gather was to showcase these grassroots projects. Under the U.S. Embassy’s leadership and the auspices of the U.N., the Swiss brought cold cuts, Germans supplied beer, French and Italians offered wine, and we laid on pizza and burgers. We arranged for Cypriot folk music, watercolor painting and traditional dancing. But now angry black rainclouds were rolling in; Turkish Cypriot authorities had blocked off roads and threatened to deny entry to the buffer zone. Maybe no one would come.

Cypriots attending the peace festival.
Photo by USAID Cyprus

An hour before the 4 p.m. start of the fair, Cypriots began to stream in through both checkpoints. They surged in even as the skies opened and a torrent began to pelt the drought-stricken soil. The Cypriots were thrilled to meet each other after three decades of separation. They talked excitedly in their common language of English about “the Cyprus Problem” as well as the more mundane commonalities of their lives as Cypriots. Children handed out carnations to kids from across the line. We pulled our electrical sound systems under the party tents and kept the music going—bouzoukis and drums in joyful clatter—and still they came, dancing, singing, celebrating the chance to mix with strangers from their own land, more than 4,000 in all. The downpour finally gave way to a clear, cool evening, and there was a palpable sense of renewal in the eastern Mediterranean air when the final chords faded. Fourteen years later, Cyprus is still divided. In 2004, the island was admitted into the European Union. In 2008, leaders of the two communities began negotiations under U.N. auspices to reunite the island and opened the cross points. Of all the other countries in which I’ve served in a 27-year Foreign Service career—Syria, Israel, Morocco, Chile, Iraq and now France—none had a single issue whose resolution would change every aspect of its citizens’ lives. Cyprus is known as “paradise with a problem.” For one stormy night in 1997, we were able to forget the problem and rejoice amid the downpour, with renewed hope of a good harvest and, some day, of lasting peace.

A performance at the peace festival in Cyprus
Photo by USAID Cyprus

Going “The Last Three Feet” From 35,200,000 Feet Away

When former USIA Director, Edward R. Murrow, talked about going “the last three feet” in cross-cultural communication, he meant one person talking to another, through personal contact. But what if that’s not always possible? Travel to remote parts of the world can be difficult—which often makes those last three feet the hardest to reach.

Enter social media.

As a project to complete my Global Communication Master’s degree, I was able to support a direct form of global communication through the State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) e-internship. Since October 2011, I helped facilitate face-to-face communication between Americans and young Tajikis by organizing Skype web-chats for the Embassy’s American Corners located throughout Tajikistan. This kind of e-diplomacy micro-tasking expands and enhances our cross-cultural contact, and creates new and diverse channels of communication.

Communicating face-to-face via Skype is nothing new. Many people use web-chats to connect with friends or family abroad every day. In terms of public diplomacy, however, the idea of empowering many young people to connect with people abroad virtually, to learn from each other from thousands of miles away, is a relatively new concept.

The VSFS program began in 2009, as a way for the State Department to diversify its virtual diplomacy. The program selects American students for online internships with U.S. Embassies abroad and allows them to become citizen diplomats and help create web pages, blogs, and Facebook pages to support students abroad in learning about exchange and study abroad programs, as well as fellowships and scholarships. Virtual interns also help with different types of outreach and engagement online or help raise awareness for cultural events or conferences.

Harnessing the energy of the generation that grew up with MySpace and Facebook is the ideal way to facilitate cross-cultural communication for the future—young people are curious about the world around them and are happy to make new friends.

Social media is the engine that allows our generation to go “the last three feet” from 35,200,000 feet away.

This year, the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe selected four virtual interns (including myself): Ben Lingeman, a Masters student in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School; Courtney Myers, a substitute teacher working on a Master’s in teaching; and Melissa Etehad, a student at UC San Diego majoring in International Studies.

Ben and I were tasked with using our personal and professional contacts to find Americans interested in speaking with Tajiki youth. Courtney and Melissa focused on reaching out to teachers and school principals. The objective for both projects was the same—to facilitate communication and to bridge the gap between Americans and Tajiki youth.

Sadly, not many Americans can name the capital of, say, Turkmenistan, and many others don’t even realize that Central Asia is a fascinating, vibrant, and significant part of the world. Consequently, building people-to-people relationships and expanding avenues of communication with isolated nations in Central Asia is very important.

To further this goal, we were able to organize more than 12 Skype web-chats in over six different locations throughout Tajikistan. These chats produced frank face-to-face discussions and question and answer sessions on anything from hobbies to holidays, to tuition costs and university life. Students from Tajikistan were able to practice their English while interacting with Americans and Americans were able to learn more about Tajikis. The resulting conversations were truly inspiring—two very different cultures were able to come together to talk about what they have in common (it turns out students are stressed out everywhere).

There are roughly 35,200,000 feet between Washington, DC and Dushanbe, Tajikistan—yet when you’re sitting on your couch and interacting and chatting with someone that you see face-to-face in real time, you’d never notice.

From the Trenches

“You are an unofficial representative of the American people.”

These were the words of Richard Gong, the head of the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.  It was September 1997, and I had just started what I hoped would be an exciting year as a Fulbrighter. I’d been awarded a position as a Senior Scholar at the University of Indonesia, where I would be teaching in the graduate program of the American Studies department.  You could also say that this was the start of my career in public diplomacy.

I guest lectured for graduate political science graduate class at Cairo University

During the next twelve months, I watched the fall of a dictator, the complete reorganization of a media system, and the beginnings of democracy in a majority Muslim country.  I also learned Indonesian, re-focused my research to the study of journalism in Southeast Asia, and began to do work in public diplomacy that has since taken me all over the world.   The lessons I learned in Indonesia have been useful not only in other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Burma, and Timor Leste, but also more recently in on a USG speaker-specialist trip to post-revolutionary Egypt.

My start in public diplomacy may have been somewhat accidental, but I’ve been engaged in it for the past fifteen years.  I’ve been a speaker-specialist in ten countries, and although the topics and challenges have varied from post to post, I’ve never forgotten what Richard said.

I like that I’m “unofficial.”  As someone who’s spent a lot of time around embassies, I can’t imagine anything more difficult than being a diplomat, and having to guard each and every word I say.  I’ve met some great diplomats and some mediocre ones, but the best are those who truly engage with the countries in which they are posted, while never forgetting who it is they work for.

My narrative writing class at Alexandria University

In my work, engagement means taking each country and its media system on its own terms.  In Egypt, I spent a lot more time talking about the Indonesian press system than I did about what we have in the United States.  There’s a lot that Egypt could learn from Indonesia, another country that emerged from over 30 years of authoritarian rule with a tightly controlled press.  As I pointed out repeatedly, the man who in my opinion was Indonesia’s best and most democratic president, Abdurrahman Wahid, was not only a highly regarded Muslim scholar and one-time student at Al-Azhar, he was also the man who abolished the Ministry of Information.  As any Indonesian can tell you, democracy, good journalism, and the values of Islam are not incompatible.

I also like that I don’t represent  the American government, but rather the American people.  In nearly all of the places I’ve been — during Democratic and Republican administrations alike — it’s a cliche to say  “we like the American people, we just don’t like your government.” In Egypt, this meant that I was free to point out the weaknesses of both American and Egyptian media coverage of the handful of American NGO workers who were flown out of the country in apparent violation of the principle of an “independent judiciary.”  It also meant that I was free to note the hypocrisy of those Egyptian commentators who ascribed all progressive reform to “foreign interference.”

Accidental or not, this is public diplomacy from the trenches, and it’s what I’ll be writing about during my upcoming sabbatical year.  As I tell visiting journalist friends who come to the US and meet my classes, they may be the first Indonesian or Malaysian or Bangladeshi whom my American students have ever met.  At a time in which “we are all Khaled Said” or “we are all Trayvon Martin,” we are all public diplomats as well.  Like it or not, in this interconnected world, each one of us is engaged in public diplomacy.

March Madness on China’s Social Media: Unveiling the Beijing Conundrum

Wang Lijun

What’s happened in China within the Communist leadership in the past two weeks has been not only a mystery to Westerners, but to most Chinese as well. Wang Lijun, the aide of the flamboyant Chinese politician Bo Xilai seeking political asylum in the US embassy in Chengdu, followed by Bo removed as the party chief in Chongqing (read how the New York Times interprets the link between Bo’s dismissal and China’s political reform here), and the block of the word “Ferrari” in Chinese search engines. Now, not just the West, but also the majority of Chinese are aware of what’s behind such bizarre incidents thanks  to microblogging.

March 8 – rumors on Weibo

It all starts with a whisper on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter), that “something big has happened” in the early morning of 8 March, by Mao Shoulong, Dean of the School of Public Management at Renmin University, Beijing. Within hours, his post was forwarded over 2,600 times and attracted almost 1,000 comments.

@LunaZHONGBellFall: I’ve climbed over many layers of wall. Besides yesterday morning’s news of Hu Jintao calling Wang Lijun a traitor, there’s no latest development or confirmation of this news.

@TangGu2010: I’m outside the wall scouting for everyone. The South China Morning Post reports that Hu denounced Wang. What this means for Tomato is hard to say.

You can read more excerpts of Weibo comments here

March 15 – Bo disgraced by Wen

Bo Xilai

Then Bo was officially sacked on March 15,  which drew speculations around the world. The Atlantic even asked “Is there a coup in China now?“. However, the Tea Leaf Nation, an e-magazine on China run by mainly Westerners who distil stories reflected on China’s social media debunked this rumor. Unlike such bold inquiries by the Western media, the Chinese Weibo users have to invent phrases to discuss this issue in order to get around the tight censorship. For instance, to avoid publishing sensitive words that might be blocked on Weibo, they use “Great Pacifier of the West” (平西王) as Bo’s nickname because of his crackdown on organized crime as Party Secretary of the southwestern city of Chongqing, and tomato (西红柿 xī hóng shì) to refer to Chongqing because tomato sounds the same in Chinese as “western red city” (西红市) (Bo has been famous for evoking Mao’s revolutionary “red” in Chongqing).

You can read some wistful words of Bo from Weibo in English here.

Read China Digital Times, which offers perspectives from Chinese and foreign experts on China’s recent political conundrum. “Bo Xilai: Down, But Out?”

 March 19 – Ferrari crash involving son of top official

The Ferrari crash in the early morning hours of 19 March did not arouse that much attention among most netizens until they woke up to find that the word “Ferrari” was blocked on Weibo. Rumors say that the driver was the illegitimate son of Politburo member Jia Qinglin who is supposed to be in the same league as Bo Xilai.

This series of events somehow linked together has been called the March Madness in China by many media reports. This conundrum is no longer only accessible to those who are able to climb over layers of the “Great Wall” or those outside China, but to the average Chinese Weibo user. 195 million of China’s 1.3 billion population uses Weibo, according to China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC)’s June 2011 report. This huge wave of awareness created by Weibo as the platform of civil society discussion reminds me of the stimulant Twitter during the Arab Spring.  However, put aside the question whether China will have a “Arab Spring”, I can be certain that during this period of leadership transition in China, the fact that citizens are better informed of what’s going on in China’s politics, which were so intangible before, is a good sign for China’s future.

Learn more about the speculations on the Ferrari accident among Chinese netizens and foreign media here and how these discussions led to a number of of banned terms online.

Read the translated Chinese official reportage of the story here.

IPDGC’s twitter feed