Reinvigorating Africa’s Foreign Policy Engagements

By Dr. Srimal Fernando | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 25 2021
Columns Reinvigorating Africa’s Foreign Policy Engagements

By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Sri Lanka has in recent decades been increasingly committed to exerting its diplomatic influence in the global arena. To this end, Colombo has acknowledged its diplomacy with African nations, forms an essential part of small island states such as Sri Lanka. Through its African foreign policy, which has historically done the bare minimum to tap into the economies of African states Sri Lanka seeks to re-establish its engagements with Africa with the hope of optimising the strategic linkages and cooperation with African states. Consequently, the Sri Lankan foreign relations have adopted the revitalised Africa foreign policy in an attempt to increase its engagements with the African continent. The key question is what are the prospects of a revitalised Africa foreign policy strategy to Sri Lanka?

Foreign policy engagement with Africa

The current dynamics with regard to the global impacts of COVID-19 create an opportune time to re-examine the foreign policy engagements and relations between Sri Lanka and African nations. Although Sri Lanka’s engagement with Africa in recent years has fairly improved as opposed to the early periods of the post-cold war era, it goes without saying the geopolitical and economic dynamics of Africa and small island nations like Sri Lanka have recently also gone through rapid changes. Therefore, Sri Lanka needs to adapt to the changing dynamics of African nations given the ever-changing interests of African countries.  

To better adapt to the ever-changing geopolitical dynamics of the African continent, African regional groupings and institutions have become more involved in collectively pushing the agenda of African countries. Amongst the top priorities of such groupings and institutions is the promotion of regional integration. This has been achieved through the establishment of regional policies that are particularly aimed at integrating the markets of African economies. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement established by the African Union (AU ) initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90 per cent of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent.

Where do African regional groupings fit?

To better adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of the political and economic environment of African nations, regional groupings and institutions such as the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) have become crucial to the national interests of African nations. The African union, the continent’s largest regional grouping consisting of all 55 African states. Notably, in April 2014, Sri Lanka was accorded an accreditation status in the AU as a non-African state. Sri Lanka stands to benefit greatly from this accreditation in terms of its interactions with AU member states. Such interactions can enable Sri Lanka to engage with African countries in objective and development based cooperation in priority areas such as trade and investment, technology, and others. 

Similarly, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) which is comprised of 22 member states including the African littoral States such as Mauritius and Seychelles is of equal significant importance to Sri Lanka’s diplomacy in Africa. IORA has evolved into the peak regional group spanning the Indian Ocean increased engagements with such nations can assist Sri Lanka to increase its maritime linkages with the gateways of the Indian Ocean. 

Other regional groupings such as the Southern African Development Community ( SADC)  , the East African Community (EAC), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) , Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) , and   Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS ) have also proven to be key in the strategic and diplomatic interests of Sri Lanka in the African continent. Increasing engagements with the myriad of regional groupings and institutions across Africa should be a top priority of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. 

Sri Lanka can build coalitions for solving common problems. This calls for the adoption of a common strategy for engaging with African regional groupings for cooperation on a wide array of issues. The current engagement of Sri Lanka with such African regional groupings can be understood mainly from an economic interest perspective.  Sri Lanka’s economic interests have been at the heart of the nature of its engagements with these regional groupings. Given the longstanding bonds, African nations, and Sri Lankan policymakers must reinforce the revitalised Africa foreign policy initiative to new heights of collaboration and co-operation

Strengthening bilateral relations 

Given the vast potential for improved cooperation between Sri Lanka and African nations, it is hardly surprising that Colombo has in recent years increased its commitment to strengthening its bilateral relations with African countries. Notably, a number of African countries have demonstrated stable economic growth and have attracted a high level of interest from other Asian Pacific countries.  Strengthening the bilateral ties between Sri Lanka and African nations is a major strategy of promoting export-led growth in Sri Lanka.

South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Libya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Algeria, Mauritius, and littoral states like Seychelles are some of the main engines of growth among the African states. For Sri Lanka, these and other African countries are important for their geopolitical significance as well as strategic interests. It is worth noting at Sri Lanka’s engagements with African countries will be mutually beneficial for both Sri Lanka and its African allies given that liberalised markets like Sri Lanka make it easier for large African economies to compete with globally competitive markets. Between 2014 and 2018 according to the IMF, Sri Lanka received roughly only 3.6 per cent investments from Africa.

From an economic perspective, the ties between African economies and Sri Lanka can be taken to a whole new level if the policymakers can succeed in binding African common markets with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) 

Progressing Together

Overall, the myriad of opportunities that Africa presents to the small island nation of Sri Lanka highlights the need for strengthening the engagements between both parties. Thus Sri Lanka must put their geographic proximity to Africa as a platform and dive into the virtually untapped potentials of the African continent with trade and investment. The new Sri Lankan diplomacy in Africa seeks to enhance Sri Lanka’s cooperation in the political, economic, and cultural spheres across Africa. All factors considered, this new reinvigorated foreign policy can be fast-tracked in the coming years.

About the Author

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’.

By Dr. Srimal Fernando | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 25 2021

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