The rise of Asia is dramatically changing the world balance of economic power. Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2050, the biggest economies will be China, India, the US, and Japan, in that order. Asian economies are destined to occupy key positions long held by Western countries.
It is therefore critical that Africa, and specifically Rwanda, accord Asia a higher priority than it presently does. Africa needs to move from the current model of engagement, where Asian leaders play host to African Heads of State annually in their capitals, to a more active engagement model.
In fact, Africa needs as a matter of urgency to strengthen its relationship and presence in Asia in order to maintain closer ties with the new order; a formal structure under the auspices of an Asia-Africa Foundation should be established, underpinned by equal partnership, mutual respect and mutual benefits.
This will set the tone for a common vision of the future, foster political dialogue, reinforce economic cooperation, and promote general cooperation. The two regions share a common vision: the need to build a peaceful and prosperous multi-polar world and a world of cultural diversity, hence this Foundation’s purpose.
BUT which country should champion this process from an African standpoint? I believe this is an opportunity Rwanda should seize as part of its broader foreign policy agenda because of the strategic relevance associated with it. Also, Rwanda commands enough credibility and legitimacy which allows it to assume this role naturally. Furthermore, the benefits to Rwanda in ushering this process are enormous, and will effectively elevate our international standing in a meaningful manner.
Why do we need an Africa-Asia Foundation? First, to consolidate unprecedented booming economic activities between both regions. Business between the two continents is not new: India’s trade with Africa’s eastern and southern regions dates back to at least the days of the Silk Road, and China has been involved on the continent since the postcolonial era.
But today, the scale and pace of trade and investment flows between Africa and these countries are exceptional. This is good news, especially if growth-enhancing opportunities for trade and investment with the North continue to be as limited as they have been historically.
Second, because the partnership between Asia and Africa should not be about economics only; it should also be about geo-politics and the world’s balance of power. From 1945 to 1990, we lived in a bi-polar world. After the end of the Cold War, we were living in a uni-polar world. The world has since evolved into a multi-polar one, with the US, the European Union, East Asia and Latin America as four poles.
Africa is slowly emerging as another pole; it is in Asia’s interest to cooperate with this blossoming opportunity in this increasingly complex global environment.
Asia and Africa also face many common challenges. One of the most important is that of globalisation, an irresistible force which is revolutionising the way we work, live, and play. We must prepare ourselves to embrace globalisation, to seize the opportunities of the new economy and to overcome the challenges. We do not, however, want to live in a world dominated by one culture, with its attendant values and lifestyle.
Instead, we want to live in a world of cultural diversity. Asia and Africa are the homes of many rich cultures and civilisations, and have much to contribute to the multi-cultural world which we wish to create. This is another commonality which should unite us.
Finally, we must look at ways to strengthen the linkages and cooperation between our two important regions of the world. The strategic rationale for the formation of an Asia Africa foundation is compelling. We are two of the oldest civilisations in the world. Contacts between Asia and Africa can be traced hundreds of years ago and as the third millennium unfolds, we should continue our journey together, inspired by a common vision and sharing a common road map.
Asians and Africans will benefit from closer economic cooperation. Our two peoples will be enriched by greater cultural and educational exchanges. And better mutual understanding and stronger cooperation between Asia and Africa will contribute to the making of a more balanced, peaceful and prosperous world.