The need for Australian engagement with Asia is natural and obvious, but that doesn’t mean that we should focus only on Asia in our international policy.
Today ASPI and the Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa published a report from the inaugural Aus-Africa Dialogue, held at Bunker Bay, Western Australia, in July hosted by both think tanks. The Aus-Africa Dialogue is a unique second track initiative that brought Australians and Africans together to discuss ways to strengthen relations between the two continents.
Africa now offers a golden age of economic opportunities: it’s the world’s fastest growing continent. Over the past decade, five of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa. In eight of those ten years, Africa grew faster than East Asia. Its political governance is improving, and its workforce (which is becoming far better educated) is growing at a faster rate than anywhere in the world.
The Dialogue highlighted how Australia can assist Africa’s economic potential and the ways that Africa can contribute to our own long-term economic security.
Australian investment in Africa is worth over $50 billion, mainly in the natural resources sector. Australia’s commercial interests in Africa, mainly in mining and oil, have nearly tripled since 2005. More than 200 ASX-listed mining and resource companies are operating more than 700 projects in about 40 African countries. Australia–Africa two-way trade was worth $10.39 billion in 2012—more than double its 2009 level.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and a participant in Aus-Africa Dialogue, writes in the report’s Forward: ‘The discussion in Western Australia made clear that increased Australian trade and investment in Africa is the best way for Australia to help stimulate growth and development in Africa.
His Excellency Raila Odinga, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya, and also a Dialogue participant, notes in the report that:
Intra-African trade is growing year on year, but it is still small when compared with Africa’s trade with the EU or China. The main reason it remains so is because Africa lacks the infrastructure—power, roads, ports and so on—to support robust economic development. The ‘Cape to Cairo’ dream has become a necessity for Africa. Investment in infrastructure represents a golden opportunity for Australian firms seeking not just profits but also wishing to contribute substantially to the continent’s development.
The report stresses the need for longer term Australian thinking to take advantage of Africa’s opportunities. It makes numerous suggestions on strengthening people-to-people links, (one suggestion is for Australia to expand the ‘reverse Colombo Plan’, to include Africa), engagement with small business, assisting with vocational skills training, particularly in the mining sector, and promoting a positive environment for investment, trade and broader defence and security cooperation.
With Australia taking over the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for the next two years we’ll be looking west more, so good things will hopefully flow to Africa.
The report being released today underlines the way in which the Aus-Africa Dialogue, as an exercise in private diplomacy, can raise key issues for policymakers and strengthen relations between Africa and Australia.
As the African proverb says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.
Anthony Bergin is the deputy director of ASPI, and was a participant in the Aus-Africa Dialogue.