Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, has been exploring and developing multifaceted relations with Africa. As an independent republic since the collapse of the Soviet-era in 1991, Kazakhstan values its freedom in choosing external partners as well as devising strategic mechanisms for bolstering and positioning its activities on regional and global stages. The Foreign Ministry offers necessary guidelines and directions, and exercises powers in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
It has been laying the groundwork which aims at taking its geopolitical relationship unto an appreciable high level with Africa. The most dramatic sign of its courtship of Africa, however, was Nursultan Nazarbayev official visit to Africa. His trip to South Africa – his first ever bilateral visit to this African country – underscores the importance Kazakhstan attaches to building political, economic and cultural ties with the continent. (Nazarbayev did visit Johannesburg in 2002 to attend the UN summit.)
In addition to that, Kazakhstan continues taking steady strategic result-oriented steps since it opened its diplomatic representations in a few African countries including Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, and later in 2013 obtained an observer status with the African Union. That gives it access to several meetings and multilateral conferences attended by the 54 African countries.
Erlan Idrissov was one of the foreign ministers. He served from 2012 to 2016. At the Astana Economic Forum held May 2015, Erlan Idrissov put Kazakhstan and Africa in an excellent perspectives when he said: “Kazakhstan had built a stronger economy and social safety net, we started turning a keen eye on Africa. Now is the time for Kazakhstan to pay even more attention to the continent. Africa is a continent with huge potential. It is rich in human capital and much of its population is young. It’s time to invest in them.”
During the past decade, at least Kazakhstan has taken steps to put its planned economic ties into forward-looking and result-oriented perspectives. It has also been crafting a new political and economic systems, and attempting to incorporate them in developing foreign relations with Africa.
Kazakhstan has stepped up its courtship of Africa, exploring various sectors by the common principle that if Kazakhstan and Africa strengthen their ties as planned, then the people of the continent will certainly be among the beneficiaries. It has had good political relations with a number of countries on the continent till present.
It continues looking forward to strong presence in diversified sectors and to strengthen its economic partnerships, attempting to raise trade with Africa. According to research reports, the other priority sectors for mutual cooperation and collaboration including agriculture, agro-processing, energy and industrialization, health care delivery, culture and education with Africa.
In relating to trade, it has working contacts with African countries. For instance early November 2022, the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association held a virtual meeting under the theme – Promoting Trade and Investment between Kazakhstan and Ethiopia – with their counterparts in Kazakhstan to discuss ways to cooperate in business and investment. The Ministry of Trade and Integration and various corporate heads of enterprises from Kazakhstan attended the meeting.
Addressing the participants, Kazakhstan Ambassador to Ethiopia, B.Sadyakov said Kazakhstan and Ethiopia have maintained “an excellent relationship” based on friendship and mutual support. According to Sadyakov both countries have “a very good prospect in all areas of cooperation” and underlined the need to grow the relationship. , said the ambassador.
Addis Ababa Chamber’s Deputy Secretary General Zekarias Assefa said that the current trade and investment ties of the two countries are promising, shows a positive signal to embark on further economic ties and must necessarily be promoted in the near future.
Statistical figures between African countries and Kazakhstan are staggering, but the above illustrates there is a huge potential for interaction that needs action between Kazakhstan and Africa. Our monitoring shows African business communities are targeting Kazakhstan as one of their trade and investment destinations in Eurasian region.
The Eurasian region comprises five members – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan and Russia. There are Moldova and Uzbekistan as observers from the geographical region. Of course, Kazakhstan after Russia and Belarus is cooperative in terms of business approach and has diverse business opportunities and potentials among Eurasian members.
In the context of expanding collaboration with Africa, there are good prospects for establishing mutually beneficial relations in agriculture and mining, as well as the participation of Kazakh companies in implementing infrastructure projects. Africa is also a huge market for the possible export of Kazakhstan’s grain.
Kazakhstan is one of the world’s top 10 exporters of grain, but has had limited sales in Africa. Egypt, the world’s largest grain importer, has been the only African country to make substantial purchases from Kazakhstan. It however hopes to change that with stepped-up marketing campaigns and new transportation routes to the continent. One of the routes is a rail line that can carry Kazakhstan gain through Turkmenistan to Persian Gulf ports in Iran, where it can be shipped for Africa.
Kazakhstan’s economic relations with South Africa, a BRICS member, are developing faster than with any other sub-Saharan African country. South Africa exported only $3.5 million worth of goods to Kazakhstan. The main items were fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan exported even less to South Africa – $1.8 million in goods. Chemicals accounted for almost all of it.
During Nazarbayev’s visit to Pretoria, the economic deals signed between Kazakhstan and South Africa hoped to see more of military-vehicles and bus-making joint venture. The venture, whose partners are Paramount Group, Kazakhstan Engineering and Kazakhstan Engineering Distribution, agreed to assemble vehicles at a renovated plant in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
The facility cranked out up to 360 vehicles late 2015. Kazakhstan said the plant should meet the bulk of its military-vehicle needs. Plans are for a sizable percentage of the output to be exported. That compared, Kazakhstan’s economic ties with three of the other BRICS nations – Russia, China and India – are in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. As with South Africa, ties between Kazakhstan and Brazil are still developing.
In addition to trade and investment, Kazakhstan offers education and training for African students. “A few years ago we started turning a keen eye on Africa. We believe it is a historic time when Africa should receive a full focus,” Erlan Idrissov stressed as far back in 2015. “We recognise that Africa is a continent with huge potential. It has enormous human capital and a large, young population. Everything depends on people, especially investment in people.”
According the latest information obtained for this article from the Ministry of Education, the report highlighted that Kazakhstan-financed educational courses are offered to students from the African continent. The groups study in the fields of energy, medicine and agriculture. There are estimated 5,000 African students in various institutes and universities in Almaty and Astana. Among the projects in the cultural sphere is to improve the performance and quality of teaching in Nur-Mubarak University in Almaty, so its graduates can be granted the right to enrol directly into master’s courses at Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
Meanwhile, Kazakh universities have been consolidating their positions on the world stage year by year. QS World University Rankings 2022 included 14 Kazakh universities in the list, and Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022 included three universities.
The number of educational programs in English has increased within the country, with the number of qualified foreign specialists rising as a result. They share their experience with local educators, and also teach students new technologies and research methods. Nazarbayev University (NU) is very popular among foreign students from the United States, Europe, Africa and Middle East countries.
Reports indicate that Egyptian authorities are promoting a series of activities aimed at promoting Egyptian tourist destinations among the citizens of Kazakhstan. Another exciting prospect is regular Sharm el-Sheikh-Almaty-Sharm el-Sheikh flights and also Cairo-Astana-Cairo flights.
Humanitarian questions are also high on the agenda. It raises concern about the persistent conflicts on the continent, especially in the Horn of Africa and the sub-Saharan Sahel. Interesting to note that Astana is a supporter of the active interaction of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and African Union with questions related to African conflict resolution and ensuring interethnic and inter-religious dialogue, poverty eradication and illiteracy, as well as the fight against a variety of illnesses and diseases.
Nevertheless, Kazakhstan has shown concern about the continent’s humanitarian challenges by providing food relief to Somalia and donating $350,000 to an international fund to fight Ebola. This one tip of the ice-berg. In the process of forging a closer relations, Kazakhstan has identified obstacles, including geographic remoteness of the countries, absence of direct transport links and lack of information about one other.
Despite these, the relations are still advancing. Kazakhstan’s political stability and achievements in the fields of agriculture, technologies and finance, however, can ensure future successful cooperation between the country and the continent. Kazakhstan is creating a sub-regional hub for multilateral diplomacy in its southern capital of Almaty. As a result, interregional cooperation could be initiated between Central Asia and Africa.
In broader terms, Kazakhstan has been an active participant in South-South cooperation. Its efforts in the areas of development exchange and cooperation provide a good opportunity for African countries, said UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa (RBA) Strategy and Analysis Team Chief Ayodele Odusola.
“One thing that is very clear to us as a key partner with the Kazakh government is that South-South cooperation has become an effective strategy of development solutions in developing countries, especially in Africa. We feel it is quite important for us to move this issue of South-South cooperation to the next level,” he noted.
Odusola added statistics indicate Africa will contribute 54 percent of the total population growth expected worldwide by 2050 and 82 percent by 2100, which, in turn, requires consolidating efforts.
“There are a number of lessons and experiences that can be shared between Kazakhstan and many African countries, essentially in the areas where Kazakhstan is doing very well when it comes to the issues of industrialisation and mechanised agriculture,” he told The Astana Times, and added that that Kazakhstan and many African countries have similarities in the structure of economy.
Under Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the new Foreign Policy Concept of Kazakhstan indicates Africa as one of the top priorities regions, and plans to establish more diplomatic relations with the majority of African countries. The document says that Astana is observing the current political and economic transformations with great interest in Africa.
“We can see a serious geopolitical struggle between the major powers of the world for its rich natural resources. At the same time, it is a rather complex region where peace, stability and security have been significantly undermined. Kazakhstan intends to significantly contribute to the establishment of safety on the continent and further support the process of attaining sustainable development,” it says in part.
Kazakhstan and Africa coordinate well at the African Union, and similarly at the United Nations. Some African countries are doing their individual homework and trying to become a real partnering force, as Kazakhstan is transforming in the 2050 development programme set for itself, so also the continent has its own Agenda 2063 fixed by the African Union.