Kazakhstan 2017 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: AFRICA

Kazakhstan is now determined to enhance its currently underdeveloped diplomatic relations and is keen to grab the opportunities offered by the African continent.

The presence of large world powers such as the US, Russia, and the UK in Africa has taken a back seat after China erupted onto the African scene in the 1990s. With more than a million Chinese workers operating in some capacity in Africa and nearly half a million Africans working in China, the People's Republic of China is undoubtedly the leading economic partner of most African nations via its massive public and private investments and all forms of cooperation and collaboration.

Another Asian power that has recently appeared on the African continent is Kazakhstan, the largest of the former republics of the Soviet Union. The Central Asian country has under its belt one of the world's most substantial oil extraction industries, together with a high level of know-how in the mining industry and a green economy to present to African nations as credentials. Having gained only recently political and economic independence and currently at a similar stage of development with comparable targets, Kazakhstan presents an interesting and strategic option for the continent as a partner. In August 2016, for example, a qualified Kazakhstani delegation was invited to the International Geological Congress, an event similar to Expo that was held in Cape Town, South Africa. Further exchanges of visits and ideas between the government representatives of Kazakhstan and South Africa have been planned for the near future.

In 2013 Kazakhstan obtained the status of “observer” from the African Union (AU), an association of 55 states on the African continent, a step that allows the large Central Asian republic to carry out programs of aid and collaboration in a wide range of sectors, from the extraction industry and agriculture to the exchange of knowledge and business practices (through the UN Development Program) and aid in the form of monetary assistance, as in the case of the fight against the Ebola virus last year.

The opening of another two embassies on the continent further emphasized the intensification of Kazakhstan's relations with Africa; the embassies in South Africa and Ethiopia followed Kazakhstan's embassy establishment in Egypt. Furthermore, after an official invitation by President Jacob Zuma to visit the country, President Nazarbayev made his first-ever bilateral visit to South Africa. Although Nazarbayev had been there before for multilateral international meetings, this was the first such political visit. One of the agreements of commercial cooperation includes the opening of a joint venture factory between the two countries in Astana in December 2015, Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering, which produces civil and military vehicles.

The strengthening of ties with Africa saw greater momentum in 2016 when the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, made an official visit to Astana, the first by a non-Arab African head of state. The African leader agreed to operate within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and to fight extremism and international terrorism. As similarly noted by Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Kazakhstan is a good ally for African countries because it can provide assistance in essential activities and fields such as agriculture, food-processing, education, energy, and industrialization.

A further sign of Kazakhstan's new fondness of Africa is its inclusion of sessions entirely dedicated to Africa in its prestigious Astana Economic Forum. In 2015, the first day of the forum was titled “Africa—the next driver of the global economy.” Meanwhile, at the event former Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov stated that Kazakhstan has started to “turn a keen eye on Africa,” explaining that Africa has enormous huge potential that deserves to receive a full focus.

A similar stance was expressed by President Nazarbayev, who, during his meeting with the Senegalese President, said: “This continent will soon develop rapidly and Kazakhstan needs to step up its cooperation with African countries now.” These words are indeed a clear manifestation of Kazakhstan's firm intentions to create new alliances in this booming continent, and 2017 looks set to have all the components to be another important year for Kazakhstan's diplomacy, with the country further strengthening its position in the international relations scene.