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Kazakhstan’s Observer status at the African Union: What Does It Mean for Africa?

lonagqizaKazakhstan and the African Union (AU) have recently commenced a mutual and beneficial relationship. In 2013, Kazakhstan became an observer at the African Union, joining over 70 countries and organizations with observer status. This was the first step to intensifying relations between the AU and Kazakhstan which has sparked its increased promotion of trade and cooperation with African countries.

Kazakhstan has bilateral relations with African countries such as South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia but being an observer in the AU has given it exposure to other African countries. The benefits that come with observer status in the AU have given Kazakhstan new opportunities to develop mutually beneficial trade and economic relations with African countries and help Kazakhstan promote its foreign policy initiatives such as strengthening peace through regional and global security in the international community.

Observer status in the AU will also make it easier for Kazakhstan to initiate bilateral relations, diplomatic ties, opportunities for cultural diplomacy, be in a position to have exchange students with other African countries, and finally open opportunities for interregional cooperation between Central Asia and Africa. The reasons behind the lagging cooperation between Africa and Kazakhstan have been largely based on a lack of knowledge about one another, a lack of direct transport connections and the geographic placement of countries. Out of all the BRICS countries, it is with Brazil and South Africa where relations are not as expansive partly due to distance. To deal with some of these challenges, Kazakhstan has introduced new transportation routes. One was opened last year through a rail line that takes Kazakhstan gain through Turkmenistan to Persian Gulf ports in Iran where it is loaded onto ships for Africa; and also introduced marketing campaigns to provide its people with more knowledge about Africa which could be strategic for African countries as it can form diplomatic ties and cultural links with Kazakhstan.

Although Africa is still experiencing set-backs such as the Ebola epidemic, terrorist attacks, climate change and an energy crisis just to name a few, Kazakhstan wants to build close ties with the African continent and work together to eradicate all of these challenges. Kazakhstan has donated $300 000 to the African Union Support to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA), supported the AU initiatives to reform the United Nations, has offered financial assistance to the African continent and also introduced an initiative which will offer food assistance through the Islamic Organization for Food Security to tackle food security in Africa. This shows how Kazakhstan has committed itself to the African continent. This robust and sudden engagement shows that Kazakhstan wants International visibility and increased economic growth. Kazakhstan imports cars, machinery, vegetables and fruits, and exports chemicals, base metals and articles of base metals to South Africa. Egypt imports grain from Kazakhstan. This could stimulate more trade relations with other African countries.

The fact that Africa has some of the fastest growing economies in the world and Kazakhstan is predicted to be in the top ten oil exporters in the near future, will make the relationship more strategic for Africa and Kazakhstan. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Chairperson of the African Union Commission) stated that Kazakhstan is a good ally as it can assist African countries in “priority areas such as agriculture, agro-processing, education, energy and industrialization.”

Kazakhstan’s relationship with the AU is important because it is the first step to developing relations with African countries, which is one of Kazakhstan’s top foreign policy priorities. The African continent and Kazakhstan face similar challenges especially now that the world is going through an unpredictable economic period. Therefore it is vital for Kazakhstan and Africa to work together to tackle global challenges.

The support coming from Kazakhstan plays a major role in Africa’s activities. As long as the AU and Kazakhstan continue to play their roles, the relationship between the two is set to grow and the future is definitely bright.

Mr Lona Gqiza is a NRF – DST research intern based at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD

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