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Apps and Public Diplomacy

by on October 31, 2013

In today’s world diplomacy is not a secret act of few actors behind closed doors anymore. The governments of most of the countries are trying to engage with the citizens not only of their own country, but mainly with the citizens of other countries. ‘To engage’ has become the word of the public diplomacy in the 21st century. As our civilization has approached modern era, modern means of communication, like Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and many others, are used as a way to approach people. With the expansion of tablets, laptops, mobile phones and many others, people have become so much easily approachable like never before. In this article I would like to focus on United States of America and the effort to reach Africa with the so called Apps4Africa.


Internet has become one of the most important thing in our live. There are now around 6.8 billion mobile phone users and 7.1 billion people in the world. It is very likely that by the end of 2014 mobile phones will outnumber people. Almost 40% of the world’s population, 2.7 billion people, have an access to the Internet. Out of that number there are 2.1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions while only 750 million households – 41% global households are connected to the Internet. That leaves mobile phone as a key access point to the people (BBC, ‘Mobiles ‘to outnumber people next year’, says UN agency’, 2013).

As the world is getting more and more technologically advanced, the way we use technology has changed. When we look at the first mobile phones they were used for calling and sending messages only. Nowadays with the existence of iPads, iPhones, Androids and others the way we used these devices has changed. New programmes, called apps have become available for us to download and make our life easier. It seems that there is an app for everything. From social networking apps, to banking, news, ordering food, etc. However there some apps which can only be beneficial in specific country or continent.

aps2In July 2010, the Department of State of America has launched an Apps4Africa. It is meant to expand opportunities for technical innovators and program developers to every country of Africa. The role of the USA in this programme is to help convene, host and connect in Africa (U.S. Department of State, ‘The Way Forward’, 2010). People participating in this program should create apps and tools which would meet the social and economic development needs of people living across Africa. Apps4Africa is a firm based in Kampala – Uganda (Tatevossian, No Simple App for Public Diplomacy, 2010).



The first competition of the Apps4Africa in 2010 had seen very interesting winning ideas. For example First Place went to iCow – voice based, mobile application. This application is meant to help farmers tack the estrus stages of their cows and also enables farmers everywhere to better manage breeding periods of cows. And the winning price? $5.000 and Apple iPad (U.S. Department of State, ‘Secretary Clinton Congratulates Winners of First Apps4Africa Competition’, 2010).

Other application is Fogs Funeral Announcements. It is an application for generating death and funeral announcements via text message. Such offers cheap alternative to expensive radio and newspaper in Kenya (U.S. Department of State, ‘Secretary Clinton Congratulates Winners of First Apps4Africa Competition’, 2010).

The latest competition of February 2013 had seen ideas like SliceBiz. A web and mobile investment platform to connect young investors in Africa. Another was Ffene a low cost business management platform which helps small and medium sized business to simplify accounting and manage customer relations (U.S. Department of State, ‘Apps4Africa 2012 – Business Challenge Winners Announced’, 2013).

Even though these are all great ideas it is unsure where it will go in the forthcoming years. The U.S. State Department is trying to promote and actively encourage the widespread usage of the technological apps and tools, in this case in Africa. However it is also important to think about the possible pitfalls, security risks and political implications this might bring (Tatevossian, No Simple App for Public Diplomacy, 2010). This includes the number of malicious and high-risk Android apps which will reach 3 million. Banking via mobile devices will also be attacked by an uptick of Man-in-the-Middle, making two-step verification inadequate and many others (BiztechAfrica, ‘Cyber security concerns for 2014 and beyond’, 2013)



BBC (2013), ‘Mobiles ‘to outnumber people next year’, says UN agency’, May 9th 2013. – accessed on 29/10/2013

BiztechAfrica (2013), ‘Cyber security concerns for 2014 and beyond’, December 12th 2013, – accessed on 07/02/2014

Tatevossian, A. R., 2010. No Simple App For Public Diplomacy. – accessed on 29/10/2013

U.S. Department of State, “The Way Forward”, August 5th 2010. – accessed on 29/10/2013

U.S. Department of State, ‘Apps4Africa 2012 – Business Challenge Winners Announced’, February 20th 2013. – accessed on 29/10/2013

U.S. Department of State, ‘Secretary Clinton Congratulates Winners of First Apps4Africa Competition’, October 6th 2010. – accessed on 29/10/2013

Pictures and video references:….0…1ac.1.30.img..2.16.963.0Wmq5BxGnxg#facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 30/10/2013….0…1ac.1.30.img..2.16.963.0Wmq5BxGnxg#facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 29/10/2013 – accessed on 30/10/2013 – accessed on 30/10/2013


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  1. This is an interesting article considering this is a debate everybody is familiar with and will continue as the world becomes more technologically advanced. I like the use of videos including your images and your use of statistics. Some of the information I did not know in terms of the number of users of mobile phones and internet access. I agree that the pitfalls have to be considered considering some African countries may not have as tough security as some western & eastern countries, but on the other hand it should be remembered that Africa is growing rapidly and a large number of inventions (that tend to fall short of public promotion & are never spoken of) actually derive from the continent. I personally have the hope that they will be able to sustain the security and production of future innovation. Overall well done & thank you! that was insightful and eye opening!

  2. lir0131 permalink

    Very interesting article which explores actual topic including impressive statistics and good research. It shows how high is the importance of these technologies in the 21 century. It also demonstrates that the appropriate use of these technologies will open up more and more opportunities for people around the world. I personally have never heard or read about project Apps4Africa before, so for me this article is quite cognitive and worth reading.

  3. This is a fascinating blog entry about a very interesting development, which is of central importance to some accounts of public diplomacy. For example, Shaun Riordan, in the chapter on public diplomacy in his book The New Diplomacy, stresses the importance of working with small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in target states and you have explored a fairly inexpensive way by which states may do so. The FCO has also engaged with app developers (see as has the Swedish embassy in London (, so there is a more general phenomenon emerging here. Perhaps you could have gone a little further in presenting your evaluation of this development. Do you think developing apps for farmers and business people abroad will ever yield results of the level attributed to educational exchanges and international broadcasting?

    Your post is well written for the most part (there are a few typographical errors), nicely illustrated and comprehensibly referenced. Well done.

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