ASTANA – Kazakhstan is working to expand its cooperation with African nations across the board, Kazakh Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov told a number of African journalists who participated in the recent Astana Economic Forum (AEF) on May 21-22.
While noting cooperation between his nation and the continent has not developed for a variety of reasons, including geographic remoteness of the countries, absence of direct transport links and an access to the sea and lack of information about one other, he said the relations are advancing. His point was reinforced by the opening of embassies in the South African Republic (SAR) and Ethiopia in 2013 and 2014, respectively, to intensify bilateral relations.
“The African continent is not the same as it was earlier. Everything is changing now,” said Idrissov. “Our country intends to further widen its presence through sub-regional centres of the continent.”
Kazakhstan received the status in 2013 as an observer at the African Union (AU). Astana is also a supporter of the active interaction of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and AU in questions of African conflict resolution and ensuring interethnic and interreligious dialogue, poverty eradication and illiteracy, as well as the fight against a variety of illnesses and diseases.
Kazakh involvement in the regional and global processes provides the possibility of having multi-faceted information and approaches to the solution of the international security problems dealt with by the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
Africa has significant natural resources and a huge market for different industrial and agricultural goods. According to some respected international research centres, in the 21st century the African continent will occupy a leading position by its economic development temps and can become the most important commercial partner and economic destination for Kazakhstani businesses. Experts believe if the current development temps are constant by 2025, some African countries will reach a status of a state with an average population income.
“The business goes where there is clarity; for doing business, there is too little information about Africa,” said Idrissov. “The same is with African countries; they do not know much about Kazakhstan.”
Kazakhstan’s political stability and achievements in the fields of agriculture, technologies and finance, however, can ensure future successful cooperation between the country and the continent.
Kazakhstan is transforming from the leading investment importer to a large investor to foreign economies. The total volume of its foreign investments has reached approximately $30 billion, which is mainly deposited into the neighbouring and Eastern European countries.
“To date, Kazakhstan is intensively exploring new markets and that is why the priority projects as well as those offering investment possibilities are of ultimate interest for us,” said Idrissov. “We count that some African countries such as Ethiopia can become a ‘window’ of Kazakh exports and investments to Africa, the so-called ‘business-hub’ for Kazakh business people on this continent. The perspective directions for establishing the mutually-beneficial ties are the mining sector, agriculture, repair and upgrade of the armament equipment and so on.”
A large railway project was launched last year, connecting Kazakhstan via Turkmenistan with Iran, thus offering the opportunity for direct access to African countries. The new route will allow for a significant increase in goods turnover between Kazakhstan and African countries. The railway will connect Kazakhstan with the Iranian port of Bender Abbas on the Persian Gulf, providing more possibilities to develop commercial links with Central and Southern African countries.
Idrissov noted certain nations are emerging as the leaders of the continent.
“It is absolutely obvious to us that some of the African countries, such as Ethiopia, are gradually becoming a centre of African political life,” he said. “The headquarters of the African Union that are located in the capital of Ethiopia contribute a lot to this fact.”
Kazakhstan is also planning to create a sub-regional hub for multilateral diplomacy in its southern capital of Almaty. As a result, interregional cooperation can be initiated between Central Asia and Africa.
During its past twenty years of development, Kazakhstan has turned from a country-recipient into a country-donor, as evidenced by the rendering of humanitarian aid to a number of African countries, including a contribution to the fight against the Ebola virus. In November 2014, Kazakhstan acted jointly with the UN Development Programme to launch a project to support and deliver development assistance to countries in Africa, Oceania and the Caribbean through capacity-building training for young professionals. The training modules include theoretical courses, internships, informational tours and practical courses in the fields of oil and gas, medicine and agriculture. Under the project, approximately 100 African officials will study in Kazakhstan during the summer months for two week courses on management in oil and gas, public healthcare and agriculture.
In mid-June, Idrissov will also head the Kazakh delegation taking part as an observer at the AU summit in Johannesburg. The action will contribute to further strengthening of the close links between Kazakhstan and the countries of the African continent.
In Johannesburg, Kazakh diplomats will also put together a special side event on June 12 titled Supporting the African Agenda 2063: Food, Energy and Water Security where the discussion will centre on how Kazakhstan can contribute to resolving problems in these areas.
Food, water, energy and nuclear security are the four pillars of Kazakhstan’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2017-18.