The Agenda: Affairs - Issue 173 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

diplomacy ––– denmark

Show and tell


Amid the prestige brands and car showrooms of the Champs-Élysées, Maison du Danemark has always seemed an anomaly. Why does Denmark have its own brand house on France’s most prestigious shopping street? “Denmark bought the site in 1948 to promote the best of Danish culture to French and international visitors,” says Helene Hanum Lanza, the house’s new CEO. “It was super avant garde for the Danish government to do that back then.” 

Today the first two floors of the seven-storey building are given over to the Flora Danica restaurant and a showroom for Danish jewellers Pandora. The third floor is an exhibition and event space, while the rest is let to other companies. The Danes came close to selling the building in 1997 but today it remains the property of the government while also being its own commercial entity. 

“The Champs-Élysées is undergoing a big change for the Olympics and we are also going to renovate our building to make it more sustainable,” says Lanza. “It is already seen as a prestigious space so it fits well with places like the new Louis Vuitton Hotel, which is opening across the street. I want to use Danish references, such as Hans Christian Andersen and Danish cinema. We are going to stay loyal to our mission to promote Denmark.”

soft power icon ––– mali

String together


There are famous musicians, there are very famous musicians, and there are musicians who are the most of what the world knows of their country (writes Andrew Mueller). Toumani Diabaté deftly balances dual roles as a virtuoso of the kora – a sort of West African harp-cum-banjo – and ambassador-at-large for Mali. Diabaté, now 59, is also what West Africans call a griot: a cultural custodian who relays its stories. I met him in Bamako in 2014, around the release of Toumani & Sidiki, an album of duelling kora compositions recorded with his son Sidiki Diabaté, also a formidable kora player (and one of Mali’s biggest hip-hop stars).

Toumani & Sidiki was also a demonstration of the griot’s calling. Its tracks were named for individuals and organisations that Diabaté believed had earned the honour. “Hamadoun Touré” was for the Mali-born secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union; “Toguna Industries” was a shout-out to an agricultural corporation that had recently done much to tidy Bamako up. Before and since that record, Diabaté has been a tireless advocate for a distinctly Malian sound, which has become part of the global musical landscape: he has collaborated with musicians such as Damon Albarn, Björk, Herbie Hancock, Kayhan Kalhor and the London Symphony Orchestra.

It is not good, he believes, for a country to be understood exclusively as a setting for strife. “I could go anywhere,” he said. “But if I stay, I get the chance to be a representative and to communicate.”

security ––– japan

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has enlisted the help of manga artist Takao Saito to help protect the country’s citizens who are living overseas.It has updated its security guidelines for Japanese small, medium and mid-sized enterprises abroad to provide advice for its nationals living in Africa and the Middle East who might be at risk due to political unrest. 

The issuing of the manga strip comes after Japanese citizens had to be repatriated from Niger and Sudan last year following outbreaks of violence. The manga features Golgo 13, a professional assassin whose exploits have been serialised in action films and video games. In the guidelines, he encourages his compatriots to contact the local Japanese consulate in case of emergency and to purchase travel insurance with sufficient health coverage.

The foreign ministry’s guidelines were first introduced in 2017 following a terrorist attack in Bangladesh that killed seven Japanese nationals. In the new strip, a character modelled on the country’s foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, requests that Golgo 13 protect Japanese citizens from harm. 

During times of heightened security, it is hoped that Golgo 13’s adamantine track record will provide both reassurance and a bit of light relief. 

The comment

elections ––– south africa
Time for change?

Andrew Mueller on the likelihood of the African National Congress returning to power.

Since South Africa embraced democracy 30 years ago, its elections have been scarcely less predictable than Russia’s. The African National Congress (anc), which led the fight to dismantle apartheid, has won a comfortable majority in all of them. South Africa has entrenched itself as a member of a curious, contradictory cohort: one-party democracies. These are not the same as one-party states, ie those polities where meaningful opposition is forbidden by law or is deliberately forestalled by other means. One-party democracies are those countries where citizens are at liberty to vote for whoever they like but continue to return the same mob to government. In Singapore, the People’s Action Party has governed since 1959. In Mexico, every president between 1929 and 2000 was a member of the same bunch, though the Institutional Revolutionary Party did change its name a couple of times along the way.

South Africans vote again on 29 May, and pre-election polling suggests that the anc might find itself in the unprecedented position of having to do more than show up and remind everybody that it was the party of Nelson Mandela. Support for the anc may have dipped below 40 per cent. If that holds, it will still win more votes than anyone else but might have to govern in coalition with another party.

For South Africa, this would be good and bad. It would be good in that the anc is long overdue a humbling. It has grown complacent and corrupt, and has governed pretty badly: there is no reason why a country of South Africa’s immense potential should be enduring unemployment north of 30 per cent and chronic power outages. And it would be bad in that the anc’s likeliest means of staying in charge might be an alliance with the Economic Freedom Fighters, an unruly populist outfit whose leader, Julius Malema, appears to regard Robert Mugabe as a role model.

For everyone else, South Africa’s recent history furnishes a cautionary tale. Long stretches in power are usually bad for political parties, bad for politicians and bad for the countries that they govern. It is a struggle to recall any government or leader who really hit their stride after a decade or more in office. The loyalty that gives them third, fourth and fifth chances is generally woefully misplaced. This year has one of the busiest and most consequential election calendars on record. Voters would likely be doing themselves and the world a favour by casting aside sentiment and observing a simple, ruthless mantra: if in doubt, throw ’em out. — L

Andrew Mueller hosts ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio.

in the basket

Neighbourhood watch


The Cessna Grand Caravan is a tried, tested and versatile aircraft – more than 3,000 of the single-engine turboprops have been sold since the model was introduced in 1984. The two Grand Caravans bound for Djibouti’s modest air force have been purchased under a contract that allows the US military to procure aircraft made by Cessna parent company Textron for US allies (Peru and Ecuador are other beneficiaries).

In the basket: Two Cessna c208-b Grand Caravan EX aircraft
Who’s buying: Djibouti
Who’s selling: The US
Price: Part of a €92m contract 
Delivery date: tbc

Djibouti’s Grand Caravans will be equipped as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, with a view to patrol Djibouti’s neighbourhood – the tiny country, at the top of the Horn of Africa, is bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and is a short stretch of Red Sea away from Yemen. Djibouti also houses America’s most important military base in Africa. Camp Lemonnier, near Djibouti’s airport, is also vital for operations across the Middle East.

diplomatic spat
Elephant in the room

Who vs who:
Botswana vs Germany

What it’s about: Elephants. Specifically, Germany’s ideas about restricting the import of hunting trophies and thereby discouraging the rich weirdos who spend fantastic sums to visit Botswana and shoot elephants. Botswana, however, greatly values the industry, which raises revenue, and manages its elephant population, currently estimated at about 130,000, which is a lot of immense pachyderms that each consumes 150kg of vegetation every day, trample farmland and knock stuff over. Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, has threatened to deploy 20,000 elephants to Germany, declaring, “If you like them so much, please accept this gift from us.”

What it’s really about:
President Masisi is venting a common complaint among African nations that European pontificating on conservation tends towards the patronising (Botswana has previously suggested to the UK that 10,000 of its elephants might enjoy life in Hyde Park). His case is that the people who actually live in a given environment might have some idea of how best to manage it.

Likely resolution: There probably isn’t one: the encouraging of elephant-shooting is an unlikely policy position for a German government, which has a hefty Green contingent. Regretfully, the chances of President Masisi descending from the Alps on elephant back, like Hannibal ahead of his Carthaginian legions, are slight.

Share on:






Go back: Contents

Global views: Long reads


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Pacific Shift