Global lessons in diplomacy gleaned from pandemic

Friday, May 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo/AFP

Sandra Ochola 

In the wake of Covid-19 crisis, we have learned some lessons on diplomacy. For instance, what role has diplomacy played in the management of the virus?

What has been the nature of our international and regional relationships during this period?

And what lessons can we draw from our diplomatic interactions as we continue to manage the spread of the virus? 

The answers to these questions are varied because different types of diplomacy have been at play.

Regardless, there is a general feeling that the world has squandered most opportunities for collaboration as competition for global power, the scramble for coronavirus resources, national interests and pre-existing political tensions have taken centre stage. 

The diplomatic rows between the US and China are well documented. While the war is for global economic and political dominance, the battles are in the form of blame games as to the origins and management of Covid-19.

The impact of their squabbles has been felt by organisations including the UN, WHO and the African Union.

While at it, the US has been accused of stealing medical equipment on allegations that it has confiscated and/or diverted shipments of equipment destined for other countries.

China on the other hand has taken to the politics of generosity and debt diplomacy as it tries to position itself as a world leader.

In the past months, it has exported millions of masks and testing kits as more countries turn to it for medical and financial aid.

It is, however, being reproached for intentionally distributing poor quality equipment to skew the coronavirus narrative outside its borders.

Hungary found itself on the receiving end when in March, its parliament passed a law granting plenary powers to the government during the coronavirus period.

The law has been interpreted as a power grab as it gave the Hungarian Prime Minister broad-reaching emergency powers with no definite timelines or expiry dates.

The 16 members of the EU swiftly issued a statement intimating that such measures had the potential to undermine the values the union stands for. 

The same can be said about Burundi, whose leadership has been accused of using coronavirus-related measures to stifle transparency in just-concluded elections. 

The border disputes between Costa Rica and Nicaragua have also spilled into the Covid-19 arena.

Costa Rica has accused Nicaragua of downplaying the severity of the virus by questioning their national data and implying that Nicaragua by its omissions, was placing the region at risk.

Nicaragua has responded by a counter attack, stating that Costa Rica was furthering its racist and xenophobic views against its citizens. 

Closer home, the ongoing spat between Kenya and Tanzania is threatening the future of the East African Community.

Last week, Kenya closed its border with Tanzania stating that it was an appropriate measure to curb the cross-border spread of the virus.

Tanzania retaliated by banning Kenyan cargo trucks from entering the country.

Pundits affirm that this eye-for-an-eye dogma speaks to a deeper rivalry that has plagued the two countries for decades. 

From the above, it is evident that corona has had an impact on solidarity at the global level.

Regional communities have experienced one form of challenge or another, with consequences that might outlast the pandemic.

Collaboration and consistency has been further hampered by the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all measure to be adopted globally. As such each country has been left to own devices. 

Regardless, there are lessons that we can draw from these experiences as far as diplomacy is concerned.

First, is that we need each other, we are all interconnected and pandemics such as this do not know any borders.

We must find areas of cooperation that bolster both our national and regional interests.  

Science diplomacy is one such area. Scientists have and to work across borders and beyond political barriers and their expertise is required now more than ever, as the world seeks a cure for Covid-19.

The search for a vaccine should thus be a collaborative effort as opposed to a competitive edge that would further affect our diplomatic engagements.  —The writer is an Advocate of the High Court

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