Between 19th and 24th of April 2015 Indonesia hosted the 60th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta and Bandung. More than 100 Asian and African countries have participated in the conference. This year also marks 10 years of the Declaration of the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP). This gives the opportunity to examine how relevant is for Indonesia the cooperation with African countries?
Indonesia has played an undisputed role in the development of south-south cooperation as it could be claimed that the Asia-Africa Conference in 1955 laid the foundations for the establishment of the Non-Alignment Movement and the beginning the so-called South-South cooperation. Since then, South-South cooperation has expanded from small-scale technical cooperation projects and ad hoc initiatives to longer-term development interventions. A clear example of this cooperation is the agreement signed between Colombia, Indonesia the Philippines and Vietnam for knowledge exchange on climate change, agricultural innovation, social protection, and disaster risk management.
Indonesia has been working on increasing its capacity to engage in this type of cooperation via institutional development notably with the creation of the Indonesia’s National Coordination Team on South-South and triangular cooperation, comprised of the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of State Secretariat. Indonesia has also made good advances in identifying priority cooperation countries and regions as follow: Asia-Pacific region, ASEAN countries, Palestine, Afghanistan, Timor-Leste. No African country seems to have made into priority country.
The type of cooperation Indonesia seems to be willing to pursue in Africa is be better explained by what Mr. Joko Widodo calls “economic diplomacy”. Several key countries have been identified in this regard, namely: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia. Due to the state of infrastructures in the country and its open economic policy, South Africa stands to become a hub for Indonesian exports in Africa. As for Nigeria and Kenya, the presence of Indonesian companies in those countries is still modest but both countries possess great potential.
Indonesia became a permanent observer to the African Union in January 2012. This status will surely be used to strengthen economic tights within the African continent. But haste is the devil’s work, so perhaps those in charge of putting into practice Mr. Joko Widodo “economic diplomacy” should device by-side strategies such as the provision of aid in the form of more traditional development cooperation practices to win the heart and minds of the local population such as the construction of schools and the development of local infrastructures.
Africa is not short of conflicts and cooperation with the African Union puts Indonesia in a privileged position to offer assistance. Peacekeeping has been a traditional important area of cooperation for Indonesia. Indonesia has established itself as a leader in ASEAN in this regard. Participation in peacekeeping missions makes credible Indonesian aspirations to be a regional player in maintaining peace and security. Crisis management is another area where Indonesia has developed substantive expertise and that should be considered where designing a strategy of cooperation vis-à-vis African countries.
Indonesia has a long tradition of non-interference but that should not prevent Indonesia from using its foreign policy to promote those values its has already championed within ASEAN: the promotion of people’s participation; good governance and respect for human rights norms and obligations. Failing to do so in a forum like the Asia-Africa conference would mean to condemn the forum to become an obsolete relic from a post-colonial world that does not exist anymore.