Bangladesh government has honoured 83 foreigners and foreign organizations recently for their roles in 1971 supporting the independence movement of Bangladesh – a significant step of vibrant public diplomacy. But how far the citizens of the countries of those Award recipients came to know about it?
On May 16 Wednesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and this was her first ever visit to the ministry after taking office in January 2009. I would say it’s a belated visit, which should have taken place much ago. And more important point is that what she has said there, she should have spoken about it much earlier so that her instructions would have been implemented by phase. However, it’s better late than never.
During her visit, the Prime Minister exchanged views with the senior officials of the Ministry but the media did not mention anything on that discussion. But during her around five hours visit, Hasina addressed the officials and employees of the Ministry and urged the foreign ministry officials to make their ‘sincere efforts’ to sustain country’s positive image abroad. However, this was not for the first time that she said so, but it’s important because there was a presentation on Public Diplomacy of Bangladesh. An official told me that the presentation did not spell out what should be Bangladesh’s approach. I am yet to get the presentation but will surely share on this blog as soon as I get it. But so far I have seen the media coverage especially by the state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), the presentation received scant attention for quite obvious reason. Not going to that direction now.
What I understand from Sheikh Hasina’s call is that she asked the Foreign Ministry officials to do Public Diplomacy with ‘sincere efforts’ by the phrase ‘sustain country’s positive image abroad’. But interesting part is that Bangladesh has a number of Public Diplomacy efforts which are implemented by the missions abroad mostly as part of an official duty. And I am sure the Prime Minister is well aware of it. But, what I was expecting is a comprehensive strategic vision of Public Diplomacy Strategy from the Prime Minister and a subsequent work plan for Bangladesh from the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary so that the officers could work wholeheartedly to implement that.
My argument is: it is possible for our Foreign Ministry officials to work without any strategic direction (to enhance Bangladesh’s image abroad) as they are doing it for the last 40 years. But in the 21st century, when Bangladesh is talking about a Digital Bangladesh, when so many students from Nepal, Bhutan or the South African countries are coming here for higher studies, when Bangladesh is crying loudly to attract foreign direct investment, when Bangladesh is lobbying for duty-free market access for its ready-made garment (RMG) in the US market, when Bangladesh needs more of its blue helmets to be stationed in trouble-torn areas of the world, when Bangladesh desperately needs its – what I call them – ‘Bob the Builders’ spread across the globe and work hard to send remittances to name a few, I find it really sad as to why Bangladesh is yet to have a long-term visionary strategy for enhancing country’s image abroad. The visionary strategy and subsequent work plan I am talking about is free from any political bias and face no interference during its implementation no matter whoever represents the government.
The Prime Minister also said the foreign ministry officials have to act as ‘focal point in this regard in coordination with other relevant ministries’. This is very important aspect which requires more cautious attention. Currently, different ministries are engaged in communicating the foreign publics, which I think, must be mediated and coordinated by the Foreign Ministry. For example, firstly the Ministry of Energy, Power and Mineral Resources had arranged Road Shows (Bangladesh Investment Conference and Road Show) in 2009 in some places including London, and I am not sure what it had yielded after spending millions of taka from the public exchequer. I am not against the Road Show or calling it unnecessary, but I am result-oriented. Secondly, Bangladesh has a number of Ministers (Press) stationed at some missions abroad including Washington, London and New Delhi and they work under the Ministry of Information. Bangladesh’s international broadcasting propagated by the BTV World since February 2004 is also under the Information Ministry. Education Ministry distributes scholarships for foreign students coming to Bangladesh and study here in different educational institutions such as University of Dhaka, Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology. There are several other Ministries doing different split parts of public diplomacy separately and here I am naming a few. So my argument is: a tangled web of bureaucracy has been weaved, which should be altered to a strategic One.
There were some rhetorical parts of her speech. Sheikh Hasina said, “Against our success over the last three and half years in brightening the image of the country abroad as a democratic and progressive nation, a vested quarter is out to tarnish the image.” My question is what has been done to thwart that? Sending out reactive rejoinder to reputed international media instead of a proactive engagement with them?
The Prime Minister said Bangladesh is a small country, but in terms of population and geographic location the country has a global importance. If one asks: what Bangladesh has so far done to assert its ‘global importance’ in the minds of the global public on and offline, the idea of Digital Bangladesh remains a far cry.
Lastly, she said: “We want to build Bangladesh as a country of peace in South Asia. There might be problems with our neighbours, but we can resolve those through bilateral talks as we did in the cases of Ganges water sharing treaty and CHT peace accord. We have resolved problems in the past and will settle the remaining issues in future.” But I guess only ‘bilateral talks’ will not be enough; Bangladesh should do more on the information front. Bangladesh needs to think something else today what the rest of the world will think tomorrow.
Photo credit: bdnews24.com
Sheikh Hasina’s speech is from the following links: