Expanding Diplomatic Footprint: Pakistan and East Africa

A few years ago, whenever one thought of Africa words like disease, poverty and crisis came to mind. Over the years, the resilient people of the African continent have turned adversity into opportunity. Although challenges plaguing the African continent still prevail, the courageous fight that these nations have put up is nothing short of extraordinary. Presently, Africa is home to seven out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies in the world, thus rightly called as the “Continent of the Future”. It is also known as the youngest continent, with 60% of the population under the age of 25. Precisely this will make up the foundation of Pakistan’s future relations with Africa.

Ties between Pakistan and many African countries extend back to the time of their independence movement. Pakistan has always supported Africa’s efforts to rid the continent from the shackles of colonialism and racialism. Also, Pakistan has provided moral and diplomatic support to countries such as Algeria, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Nigeria.

Relations between Pakistan and Africa stand on substantial grounds in a quickly evolving world. The free African states and Pakistan are among the non-industrial nations which are focusing on development and economic independence. Accordingly, Pakistan has looked for closer financial and social collaboration with the African states. In such manner, it has resident missions’ in 15 African nations including Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia. Likewise, other 39 African nations are covered through simultaneous accreditation. Under the Look Africa Policy, the current government of Pakistan is ardent to increase its diplomatic foothold in the African continent by setting up diplomatic missions in six countries on an urgent basis including Djibouti, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana and Ivory Coast, and by opening commercial sections in Algeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya.

Under the Look Africa Policy, the current government of Pakistan is ardent to increase its diplomatic foothold in the African continent.

Pakistan’s Look Africa Initiative is to enhance the years old diplomatic relationship and to improve trade ties with Africa. Trade volume between both countries has increased to $4.6 billion in the years 2018-2019. Within the African continent East Africa enjoys a unique geostrategic location, source of Nile, the gate to the Red Sea in South West and the Gulf of Aden. East Africa refers to the countries like Ethiopia, Eretria, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The region is also a gateway to major trade sea lanes and land routes. Moreover, its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula augments its significance. Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with the East African states, and its attempt to increase political and economic relations with these countries will be beneficial in the long run.

Pakistan and Somalia have had trade relations even during the freedom movement of the latter. When the civil war intensified in Somalia trade ties between the two countries were further strengthened. Pakistan also helped Somalia by deploying the United Nation Peacekeeping forces in the country to restore its law and order situation. At present, Pakistan is hosting thousands of Somali students. In 2018, Pakistan granted $10.5 million to develop a national identification system. Pakistan exports to Somalia stand at $57million. However, at present, there is a huge opportunity for foreign inventors in Somalia because the country needs major investments to revive its industrial sector, especially in the small and medium industry. Along with this, Somalia has vast investment opportunities in agriculture, wild stock, fisheries, energy, and real estate. This scenario provides a tremendous opportunity for Pakistan to tap into the immense potential of Somalia and improve trade relations in the future.

In the case of Kenya, Pakistan has signed various protocols on the advancement of information technology, educational, cultural exchanges and trade with the East African country. The ties between the two states are strengthened by the fact that many people of Pakistani origin live in Kenya, who act as a cultural bridge between the two countries. Both nations can encourage people-to-people interactions and make plans for an exchange of high-level visits to boost the diplomatic ties. Most importantly, closer cooperation between Pakistan and Kenya will provide a massive opportunity to both countries to work together in the field of agriculture (irrigation and post-harvest technology) particularly.

Under the Engage Africa Policy, the Government to Government (G2G) cooperation between countries will create new opportunities for collaboration in private sectors, and explore new markets.

As for Nigeria, it has enjoyed fraternal relations in trade with Pakistan based on culture, education, medicine, technology and military exchanges. Nigeria shares an unfortunate legacy of terrorism with Pakistan, in that it has suffered from terrorism by Boko Haram. Pakistan and Nigeria must cooperate on counter-terrorism methods. Moreover, the country offers significant economic, business and commercial opportunities to Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan can maximize its footprints in Nigeria in various fields such as technology, telecommunication, medicine, agriculture, banking, energy, and oil and gas sectors. Secondly, the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) has been launched in Niamey. The agreement offers a platform to Pakistan to reassure its enthusiasm for working closely with the African countries to ensure cooperation and collaboration with the continent.

Similarly, relations between Pakistan and Sudan are based on a strong Islamic bond and political connections. Pakistan’s exports to Sudan amount to $67 million and imports are about $2.20 million. Along with this, the trade between the two states is also steadily increasing. Pakistan can further enlarge its footprint in Sudan by signing and activating the agreements in the field of economy and introducing the Pakistani products to the Sudanese markets through holding exhibitions. Likewise, Pakistan can contribute to intensifying mutual visits, accelerating the opening of the Pakistani Commercial Office in Sudan and facilitating the exchange visits of the officials. Under the Engage Africa Policy, the Government to Government (G2G) cooperation between countries will create new opportunities for collaboration in private sectors, and explore new markets.

Pakistan’s growing pivot towards Africa will help the country to strengthen its political clout along with broadening its export base.

However, Pakistan’s ties with Ethiopia remain under-developed, and there has not been any significant political engagement on the ground. The bilateral trade remains very low, considering Ethiopia being one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. Pakistan should work to strengthen diplomatic as well as economic ties with Ethiopia.

Furthermore, Pakistan and the East African countries such as Kenya, Somalia, and Nigeria can work together on training programs, joint exercises and cultural exchange programs conducted by Pakistan. Pakistan is offering to prepare offices to East African ambassadors in the Foreign Service Academy, Defence Services Academies, and instructive grants under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Program (PTAP).

Pakistan can also use regional blocks such as African Union (AU), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East Africa Community (EAC), and Southern African Development Community (SADC) to foster better ties with the region.

The fundamental goal of Pakistan’s international strategy is to advance foreign relations through economic diplomacy. Regardless of difficulties, there is an extraordinary potential within East African nations. At the same time, Pakistan’s growing pivot towards Africa will help the country to strengthen its political clout along with broadening its export base.

Areeba Arif Khan

Areeba Arif Khan

​​Areeba Arif Khan is a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. She is currently pursuing her M.Phil degree from the National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad.

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