Over time, the resilient people of the African continent have turned adversity into opportunity. Although challenges plaguing the African continent still prevail, the courageous fight that these nations have put up is nothing short of extraordinary. Presently, Africa is home to seven out of ten of the fastest-growing economies in the world, thus rightly called the “Continent of the Future”. It is also known as the youngest continent, with 60% of the population under the age of 25.
Ties between Pakistan and many African countries date back to the time of their independence movements. Pakistan has always supported Africa’s efforts to rid the continent of the shackles of colonialism and racialism. Also, Pakistan has provided moral and diplomatic support to countries such as Algeria, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Nigeria.
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African states and Pakistan are among the world’s non-industrial nations which are focusing on development and economic independence. Accordingly, Pakistan has looked for closer financial and social collaboration with the African states. Currently, Islamabad has resident missions’ in 20 African nations including Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Mauritius, Djibouti, and Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Uganda.
39 African nations are covered through simultaneous accreditation
Under Engage Africa Policy, the current government of Pakistan is keen to increase its diplomatic foothold in the African continent by setting up more diplomatic missions in different other countries and by opening commercial sections in Algeria, Ethiopia, and Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya.
Pakistan’s Engage Africa Initiative is to enhance the long-standing diplomatic relationship and to improve trade ties with Africa. Trade volume between both sides has increased to $4.6 billion in the years 2018-2019. Within the African continent, East Africa enjoys a unique geostrategic location since it is a gateway to the Red Sea as well as the Gulf of Aden. The region is also a gateway to major trade sea lanes and land routes.
Moreover, its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula augments its significance. Countries included in East Africa are Ethiopia, Eretria, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with the East African states, and any attempts to increase political and economic relations with these countries will be beneficial in the long run.
Pakistan and Somalia have had trade relations even during the freedom movement of the latter. When the civil war intensified in Somalia, trade ties between the two countries were further strengthened. Pakistan also helped Somalia by deploying the United Nations Peacekeeping forces in the country to restore its law and order situation. At present, Pakistan is hosting thousands of Somali students. In 2018, Pakistan granted $10.5 million to develop a national identification system.
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Pakistan exports to Somalia stand at $57 million
However, at present, there is a huge opportunity for foreign inventors in Somalia because the country needs major investments to revive its industrial sector, especially in the small and medium industries. Along with this, Somalia has vast investment opportunities in agriculture, wild stock, fisheries, energy, and real estate. This scenario provides a tremendous opportunity for Pakistan to tap into the immense potential of Somalia and improve trade relations in the future.
In the case of Kenya, Pakistan has signed various protocols on the advancement of information technology, education, cultural exchanges and trade with the East African country. The ties between the two states are strengthened by the fact that many people of Pakistani origin live in Kenya, which acts as a cultural bridge between the two countries. Both nations can encourage people-to-people interactions and make plans for an exchange of high-level visits to boost diplomatic ties. Most importantly, closer cooperation between Pakistan and Kenya will provide a massive opportunity for both countries to work together in the field of agriculture (irrigation and post-harvest technology) particularly.
Similarly, relations between Pakistan and Sudan are based on a strong Islamic bond and political connections. Pakistan’s exports to Sudan amount to $67 million and imports are about $2.20 million. Along with this, the trade between the two states is also steadily increasing. Pakistan can further enlarge its footprint in Sudan by signing and activating the agreements in the field of economy and by introducing Pakistani products to the Sudanese markets through holding exhibitions.
Likewise, Pakistan can contribute to intensifying mutual visits, accelerating the opening of the Pakistani Commercial Office in Sudan and facilitating the exchange visits of the officials. Under the Engage Africa Policy, the Government to Government (G2G) cooperation between countries will create new opportunities for collaboration in private sectors, and explore new markets.
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In Djibouti, Pakistan has set up a diplomatic mission in March 2021 and under this proactive approach, this will be an opportune time to build closer cooperation between the two countries. This can be done in diverse fields like Information Technology (IT), education, banking, diplomacy, infrastructure, and sports linkages since Pakistan has already been providing training facilities to Djibouti in the fields of banking and railways. Moreover, Pakistan can also assist Djibouti in providing military training and equipment manufactured in Pakistan. In the same way, investors from Djibouti can explore prospects of investment in Gwadar which is developing as a trade hub not only for this region but would also facilitate trade with African countries.
The way forward
Pakistan’s ties with Ethiopia remain under-developed, and there has not been any significant political engagement on the ground. The bilateral trade remains very low, considering Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. Pakistan should work to strengthen diplomatic as well as economic ties with Ethiopia. In March 2021 during a meeting with Pakistan’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, President Arif Alvi urged the ambassador to encourage Ethiopian investors to invest in Pakistan, as it provides wonderful opportunities for foreign investment in view of its friendly-trade policy.
Furthermore, Pakistan and the East African countries such as Kenya, Somalia, and Nigeria can work together on training programs, joint exercises and cultural exchange programs conducted by Pakistan. Pakistan is offering to prepare offices for East African ambassadors in the Foreign Service Academy, Defence Services Academies, and instructive grants under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Program (PTAP).
Pakistan can also use regional blocks such as African Union (AU), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East Africa Community (EAC), and Southern African Development Community (SADC) to foster better ties with the region.
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The fundamental goal of Pakistan’s international strategy is to advance foreign relations through economic diplomacy. Regardless of difficulties, there is extraordinary potential within East African nations. At the same time, Pakistan’s growing pivot toward Africa will help the country to strengthen its political clout along with broadening its export base.
The writer is a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.