The legacy of the Indonesia-Africa relationship is written with a golden ink in history. Indonesia hosted the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung and is one of the initiators of the Non-Aligned Movement. The summit clearly marked a monumental landmark for the relationship.
In 2015, Indonesia once again hosted the conference in commemoration of its 60th anniversary. This summit marked a new era of relationship between Indonesia and Africa.
The 2015 Asia-Africa Conference revived the Bandung Spirit of anti-colonialism and solidarity among former colonies and developing countries, and further strengthened the New Asian African Strategic Partnership. In 2015 Indonesia was granted observer status in the African Union – Africa’s most ambitious regional organization yet.
In 2016, trade between Indonesia and its Sub-Saharan counterparts jumped off the charts, by not just double, but even multiplied by five times in some cases. With Rwanda, trade even multiplied by 17. Last year alone, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, and Deputy Minister AM Fachir visited Africa three time. This truly shows that Indonesia means business in Africa.
Other great economies have turned towards Africa -- labeled by many as “the region of the future”. President Jokowi has reiterated that the African region is a top priority. In the G20, Indonesia has expressed full support to the G20 Africa Partnership and related programs.
Earlier this year Minister Retno also said in her annual statement that Indonesia is giving development in Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, and Latin America high priority. But while Asia is often referred and divided into South Asia, Central Asia and so on, Africa is always referred as a whole continent. This indicates that while Indonesia has great plans in the region, the reluctance to name specific African subcontinents means that we are still in the process of defining which parts of Africa will be our main focus. Therein lies the need of an occasion in which stakeholders from various sides can explore the opportunities as well as discover their primary focus.
Later this month Indonesia is scheduled to host the inaugural Indonesia-Africa Forum (IAF) in Nusa Dua, Bali. With participants expected from 53 countries from both Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, the event will primarily focus on strengthening economic relations, including through business matchmaking, through the involvement of government agencies, business corporations, and many other stakeholders.
The BRICS economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have long initiated forums with African nations. The India-Africa forum summit has been going on since 2008, and China pioneered the China-Africa Cooperation in 2000. Vietnam developed the Vietnam-Africa International Forum a few years ago. Though a latecomer, it’s the right time for Indonesia to improve in particular its trade relations with African countries.
The Global Competitiveness Index 2017-2018 by the World Economic Forum showcased many similarities between Indonesia and the Sub-Saharan Africa economies. Both share the same hurdles that are bottlenecking their economic growth; low education and lack of technological readiness. Some experts have even indicated early symptoms of deindustrialization in the two regions. Thus dialogue on sharing best-practices and confidence building measures is crucial.
As Foreign Minister Retno stated, the Indonesia-Africa relation must go beyond the Bandung Spirit. The 2015 Asia-African Summit should be viewed as the prologue of modern Indonesia-Africa Relations, and the IAF should be its first chapter.
The writer is undergoing diplomatic training at the Foreign Ministry’s Academy. The views expressed are his own.
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