Think you know your African diplomacy? Then test your wits against these 15 facts

Africa's international relations with foreign powers in the post-colonial period have come a long way.

THE new very Republican-dominated and led House voted Tuesday to extend a special committee’s investigation into the deadly September 2012 attacks by terrorists on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens.

Democrats in Congress alleged it was partisan American political play  to reauthorise the politically charged panel, as the committees could last well into the 2016 presidential election year. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was Secretary of State when the attack happened, and viewed by analysts as a shoo-in should she run as Democratic presidential candidate, could be called to testify about the attack, and Republicans could then beat her over the head with the incident and damage her electorally.

For Africa, the death of Stevens was rare—diplomats are generally treated like kings and queens in the continent, and rarely beaten, killed, or even expelled. Stevens was the eighth American ambassador to be killed abroad, and only the second in Africa since Cleo Noel in Khartoum on March 2, 1973, in an attack by the Palestinian Black September militant group.

That being the case, which African country has broken off relations with outside powers the most? Which G20 leaders are yet to visit the continent? Why did Israel upset Kenya and Uganda? Read on to find out…

1. Is there an industrialised nation whose sitting leader has never toured Africa on a state visit?

‘Industrialised’ depends on who is using it, and captures many facets of global development. It is a relative measure (some countries are even classified as post-industrial), but commonly used indicators are GDP, GNP, per capita income, and Human Development Index (HDI). 

The G20 is a pretty good measure of industrialisation. The members of this club have every reason to visit Africa—the international political economy demands it. You have to protect your resource sources, and ringfence your markets while managing choppy relations in between. 

Of the current leaders of G20 economies, only those of India, Indonesia, Sweden and South Korea are yet to visit Africa.

In their defence, Sweden’s Stefan Löfven and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo have only been in office since October 2014. India’s Narendra Modi too. He has been in office since May 2014.

Going back, since King Faisal’s visit to sub-Saharan Africa in 1972, no other Saudi Arabian leader—known in the oil-rich kingdom as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques— has ventured north of the Maghreb and Egypt.

2. Which leaders of a major power have visited Africa most?

Of the Security Council members— the US, France, China, Russia and the UK, French presidents have made the most visits to Africa—they seem to almost always be around. Of the generally more aloof American presidents, Bill Clinton visited the most African nations— eight. He was renown for travelling with everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink—his entourages numbered in the hundreds. Some 1,300 were involved in his 11-day trip to Africa, excluding security officers.

Former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also chalked up the frequent-flyer miles on the Africa route, visiting at least 25 different countries in the region in over ten trips.

3. Which major political or economic power have leading African presidents never visited?

Leaders like South Africa’s Jacob Zuma are joined at the hip with the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economic bloc leaders, and cannot avoid each other, but other key African leaders such as Goodluck Jonathan are yet to visit Russia.  Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos also suffers from major travel sickness—he has not been to the UK since 1992, and was last in India in 1987.

4. When did an Israel leader last visit Africa?

You would have to go back to June 1987 when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir visited the region,  stopping by a number of countries in West Africa. Incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu in early 2012 scrapped plans to visit Kenya and Uganda in favour of a jaunt to Washington, despite having personally initiated the plan, leaving a lot of red-faced Israeli diplomats and many African foreign ministry officials upset. 

5. New frontiers

Despite flourishing energy—and historical— ties, Matteo Renzi’s July 2014 visit was the first ever by an Italian head of state to Mozambique, despite Italian leaders and diplomats having been instrumental in the mediation that led to the signing of Mozambique’s all-important peace treaty in Rome.

Dmitry Medvedev’s June 2009 visits to Nigeria and Namibia were also the first by a Russian leader to those countries. He was at the time Russian president.

6. When did a Canadian and Australian prime minister last visit?

The two countries do not have Africa in their immediate geopolitical spheres, but have been active with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper having so far clocked two visits to Africa, the latest being to Senegal and DR Congo in October 2012.  Australia has been more uptight—premier Tony Abbot has so far visited the region once—to attend the burial of Nelson Mandela, even as Australian investment in Africa is estimated at $50 billion.

7. How many African leaders have had dinner with the Queen of England?

Formal state visits to the United Kingdom are tightly managed—usually two a year. Since 1954 only 15 African countries have been treated to dinner with the Queen, including Messrs. Robert Mugabe, Mobutu Sese Seko and Daniel Arap Moi.  Only two countries—Nigeria and South Africa—have been feted more than once. 

8. How many sitting Japanese leaders have visited Africa?

Incumbent Shinzo Abe early 2014 visited Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique and Ethiopia, the first full-scale visit by a Japanese prime minister in eight years. It is not easy to plan, Japanese premierships are notoriously short-lived. Incidentally Abe was the last prime minister to visit, travelling fleetingly to Egypt in 2007. His predecessor at the time, Junichiro Koizumi in 2006 visited Ethiopia and Ghana.

9. Who has snubbed who recently?

South Africa’s Jacob Zuma was in October reported—and furiously denied—to have canned a trip to the UK after prime minister David Cameron denied him a courtesy call. The spat was linked to Pretoria’s nuclear energy deal with Russia, which is under heavy EU sanctions.

In 2003 Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe was allowed to attend a Franco-African summit in Paris, sparking bitter recriminations between France, other EU members and the UK.

In 2001 ‘king of African kings’ Muammar Gaddafi cancelled a trip to Nigeria after he was told he could not travel to the northern state of Zamfara where Islamic law had been declared.

10. Which leaders visited South Africa while it was under apartheid?

South Africa’s apartheid regime was placed under sanctions over its segregation policy, but not all countries restricted ties or isolated it.  Britain had major economic and security interests, leading to premier Harold Macmillan delivering his famous ‘Winds of Change” speech in Cape Town.  

But apartheid leaders cannily dangled aid to newly-free but financially struggling African countries, a number who “cracked”, with Malawi’s Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1970 stopping over in South Africa. Of the frontline states, only Tanzania formally broke off ties with apartheid South Africa.    

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher became the first British prime minister in over two decades to host an apartheid leader—P W Botha, though she famously gave him no concessions.

11. Is there an African leader who ruled for more than 5 years and never travelled outside the continent?

None. Even ICC-wanted types like Omar Bashir got out to catch some temperate weather once in a while. But it has been a while—seven years—since Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki last visited Europe.

12. Is there a non-African leader (or his son or daughter) who has ever married the daughter or son of an African leader?

Not from the records we could find…but then we are not as thorough as historians—there must be one in Francophone Africa. We can however tell you this for free: we really can be insular when it suits us.

13. Which African country has expelled the most western ambassadors?

A lot of expulsions are by African leaders seeking to assert themselves—tiffs with past colonial leaders are often a result of wounded pride and egos, especially following human rights put downs.

Malawi and the UK expelled each other’s high commissioners in 2011, while Eritrea also served walking papers to Italy’s ambassador in 2001. Madagascar expelled the French ambassador in 2008. Chad in 1999 also showed the door to the French envoy while Rwanda also kicked out the French ambassador in 2006.

But for the far more serious step of breaking off relations, Congo-Leopoldville as it was known, has been particularly trigger happy, at one time or the other severing ties with the Soviet Union, Belgium, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Egypt, all in its first 10 years of independence.  

14: Careful, careful:

No African state has ever broken off diplomatic ties with the United States, save Zanzibar after its 1964 revolution, even during the Cold War. Africa sure picks its fights carefully.

15: Bonus fact:

In 1973, African states ended diplomatic ties with Israel en masse, following the Yom Kippur War, in solidarity with Egypt. Only four did not, all in southern Africa—Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Mauritius. What they all had in common were active ties with isolated southern Rhodesia, which had strong ties with similarly sequestered Israel.

Clarification—this article was amended to show that apartheid South Africa and Israel maintained strong ties based on a shared siege mentality. 


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