On the 18 – 24 April 2015, Asian and African countries would be commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Bandung Conference, together with the 10th anniversary of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP).1 The conference will be hosted by Indonesia and it is expected that around 109 government leaders including business representatives would attend the meeting. The theme of the conference would seek to strengthen South-South cooperation and to contribute to the efforts of promoting world peace and prosperity.
In what would be a memorable conference to recognise the milestones and significance of the relationship and solidarity of the two continents, it is critical to assess the current state of NAASP and a way forward.
In 2005 an Asian-African summit took place in Indonesia to reinvigorate the Spirit of the 1955Asian-African Bandung conference. A pledge was made to develop an institutionalized process of the NAASP through convening: a summit of Heads of state/government every four years; a ministerial meeting of foreign ministers every two years; and sectorial ministerial and other technical meetings when deemed necessary.2 Accordingly, NAASP is envisioned to be a strategic multilateral framework that would serve as a blue print to bolster future cooperation between the two continents by focusing on three broad pillars of partnership; political solidarity, economic cooperation and socio-cultural cooperation.
However the1955 Bandung aspirations are yet to be strategically implemented by the NAASP initiative. One of the most challenging factors in realising the NAASP objectives is the optimism and interest of the states from both continents, apart from Indonesia and South Africa who are currently co-chairs and the driving forces of this multilateral forum. This is linked to the fact that from the 1955 conference until 2005, history shows that the Asia-Africa relations drifted away from the principles of cooperation stipulated in Spirit of Bandung. Instead, the ambitions of the Asian and African leaders for bottom-up growth and development based on unity and social solidarity had been largely replaced by the development paradigms that have been reinforced by Western rhetoric and supported the Westernised global capitalist market.3
In the post 2005 conference, the same challenge continues to confront the operationalization of NAASP. Ten years on, NAASP is yet to be formally launched as a recognised multilateral framework for the two continents. This is despite the agreements made in 2005 meeting to fast track the formalisation of NAASP as an institutionalised formation. From the African perspective, some of the reasons behind the delays were attributed to the fact that NAASP is the only existing African multilateral partnership that does not fall under the overall framework on multilateral cooperation with the African Union (AU).4
According to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa submitted a proposal to the AU for the integration of NAASP into the AU multilateral partnerships and this was cited as one of the reasons that led to the postponement of the second summit in 2013.The AU Heads of States requested the Commission to take the necessary steps towards the integration of NAASP into the AU structures and process, although the current status and progress regarding this process are yet to be communicated.
Consequently, it is apparent that since 2005 NAASP is yet to realise the vision and objectives of becoming a multilateral strategic partnership. If NAASP is to reach the level of a 'strategic partnership' as envisioned, it is very much significant to stress the rejuvenation of the interest of countries from both continents. This would only be achieved if both Asian and African countries put their weight behind the operationalisation process of NAASP from low to high level of interaction. Currently there is a lack of urgency from the nation-states and regional communities to champion the strengthening of NAASP as a vehicle of cooperation between the two continents.
NAASP could provide a great opportunity to elevate the Asia-Africa relations beyond the Africa-China relationship which is currently ranked high in the Africa-Asia relations. However 'the responsibility and its survival lies with the current leaders of the countries in both continents, already the ground work for greater cooperation in the future has been laid by the 2005 summit'.5
1 RI to host Asia Africa Summit in April
2 Declaration on the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership
3 Understanding African-Asian cooperation at the regional level: ASEAN and the African Union
4 Reasons for the postponement of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership until 2015
5 The future of NAASP in the global South
Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Political & International Studies from Rhodes University and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD