Changing perception is all about familiarity. In our encounter with a young person from Libya, we were able to understand his astonishment with the way things exist in Eritrea. His perception and all his colleagues’ for that matter, was that they were heading to a country torn apart by successive war that it was not secure for them to spend the two weeks they came for. The reality however, was the complete opposite and we didn’t even have to say anything as things speak for themselves. Now let us imagine if we decide to speak and let the world know what Eritrea is really about. The result would undoubtedly be overwhelming. But speaking to the world needs an art of diplomacy and should be in an organized and concerted manner for it to be efficient and effective.
Indeed it is just a recent memory what impression the international WFDY forum held in Eritrea with different regional youth associations, and the celebration of the Eritrean independence left on the foreigners visiting Eritrea. The effort stepped up by the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Student (NUEYS) in organizing and accommodating these events has truly yield an encouraging result. Perception and image of our country in those people was changed forever. All this was possible for the simple reason that they have become familiar with Eritrea. And this has asserted the conviction that public diplomacy is really an effective way of engaging with the rest of the world. No information is stronger than a testimony of a witness and hence it could be expected that the result of such endeavors will have a strong effect beyond the people who actually came to Eritrea. It will in fact have an exponential effect as it can be taken that they will spread the news about their encounter with their fellow friends in their country. The result will even be great when it is done in the level of youth association and unions as they hold great number of youth within their umbrella.
Such events and conference will foster mutual understanding between the youth association and the countries they represent. Such experiences will create the true image of Eritrea and hence restore the faith that Eritrea is a reliable partner in any regional and international tasks. Indeed ensuring active youth citizenship guarantees the success of any effort.
In today’s world It is extremely imperative to ensure youth civic engagement, for the simple reason that most of the challenges societies face now are not only cross border but also cross-generational. This has demanded the awareness and input of everyone and especially the youth. Therefore healthy development of societies begins with everyone playing a role in community life. We’ve seen the positive results such programs can have in fostering understanding and familiarity.
It is precisely for these reasons that such kinds of interaction should be encouraged. It is a good medium where the youth can contribute to their society as active citizens promoting the interest of their nation. However such interaction with regional and international association should go beyond just creating familiarity to real and tangible partnership. Hence, it should be based on equal partnership for it to be effective and yield the intended result. It is indeed a sad fact that such relationship, and especially with developed countries has often been project oriented based on unequal footing. To addressing this shortcoming in such a relation, we need to advocate real partnership where the parties engaged to come in to consensus for no real progress could be achieved otherwise. And indeed that is how the efforts of NUEYS and all the stakeholders could become successful in creating the right image and yet go beyond. The distorted image of Eritrea can also be better dealt with when we seriously promote youth public diplomacy.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."