The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

A basic survival kit for the 21st century

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 8 February 2022, 07:24 Last update: about 4 months ago

Malta’s engagement with Africa in 2022 kick started with capacity development training on digital diplomacy for the Namibia diplomatic corps.

The training was delivered by DiploFoundation, a Maltese-Swiss organisation that has been a pioneer in this field for 20 years. I followed the introductory session delivered by DiploFoundation Director Dr Jovan Kurbalija who is a very effective communicator, making complex issues accessible and comprehensible.

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I wished I had the time to take part in the 10-day intensive training in digital diplomacy focussing on these key topics: How countries can advance their interest in digital geopolitics and geoeconomics; Negotiation of cybersecurity and e-commerce in multilateral and bilateral settings; How new digital tools such as social media, online conferencing, data and artificial intelligence can be used in the diplomatic sphere; Digital access as a fundamental right; And the place of Sustainable Development Goals in digital diplomacy.

I believe that such a course is a basic survival kit for the 21st century, not just for students, scholars and practitioners of diplomacy in the world today, but for anyone who wants to make sense of the world today and participate meaningfully in it. For myself, I could see first-hand the huge impact of education on diplomacy, experienced by over 80 Namibian ambassadors, diplomats and junior officials who took part in this intensive course. In a world which is changing fast and constantly, especially in the digital realm, diplomacy should be a constant learning experience.

As the Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia stressed during the launch of the training, Africa must be more present in the shaping of our digital future. I added that it was not only a matter for Africa itself, but for all of us. Without the inclusive participation of African countries and citizens, our digital future is on shaky foundations. Inclusion is not only a matter of being ethical towards others, but a matter of ensuring a robust future for us and for future generations. 

Small states like Malta and Namibia cannot shape and influence the world, but they need to do all they can so that the impact of the world on them does not harm them. More than that, they need to be part of the world that is moving forward, otherwise their people will be left behind in their political, business, social and cultural relations with the rest of the world that they cannot live without.

Digital diplomacy for peace and security

Inclusion starts with awareness and understanding. If we do not gauge how digital technology and AI will impact our lives, we cannot discuss how we should govern it. If we do not shape technology to work for us and to improve the lives of our people, it will work against us and hurt our people.

The 10 days of training for the Namibian diplomatic corps covered issues from digital geo-politics which is shaped by cables and satellites that carry the internet’s traffic around the world, to new topics on our diplomatic agendas including cybersecurity and digital commerce, to new tools with which we can engage with citizens around the world, such as social media tools, AI tools, and the emerging metaverse. 

For small states like Malta and Namibia, inclusive multilateralism is a matter of survival. International institutions, and our respect for the rule of law can help us protect our interests, values, and our very existence. This inclusive approach to multilateralism is increasingly panning out around questions related to data, AI, and cybersecurity around capitals worldwide.

In the field of digital policy, the African and European continents have a lot in common. Although the extent of technological development is different, we share a common determination built on the values of multilateralism. The digital realm can be a starting point for creating much more convergencies around Afro-European interests, with the Mediterranean acting as a place of convergence, creativity, and cooperation. Achieving this is also of vital importance for Malta, and beyond.

We must keep on spreading the message: there can be no peace and security in Europe without peace and security in the Mediterranean and without peace and security in Africa. We want to use digital diplomacy for peace, security and cooperation.

We are fortunate to partner with Diplo on building Africa’s capacity on digital diplomacy. Diplo already has an alumni base in Africa of more than 3000 officials, diplomats, and academics, hailing from every country on the continent. Many African countries have developed their initial digital capacity via Diplo’s training, some of them by reading for their Masters in Contemporary Diplomacy run by Diplo in cooperation with the University of Malta. 

Namibia training and our focus on digital diplomacy is happening in the wider context of the UN Secretary General’s call, in his report Our Common Agenda, to start developing a new social contract. Digital aspects, together with the environment, should be the cornerstone of this future social contract. Drafting a new social contract, and understanding what future we want, requires the inclusion of all citizens, countries, communities, and companies. 

The genuine and effective inclusion, which goes beyond sheer formality, must rely on an informed debate. I will therefore reach out to the Government of Switzerland, our partner and co-founder of Diplo, and other countries, to build on the outstanding success of Namibia’s digital diplomacy training by supporting continuous training and capacity development for engaging in a global debate on a future social contract, as the UN Secretary-General calls on us to do.

 

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