As Saudi Arabia and African countries gather at the summit level this week to boost their partnership and cooperation, a new promising partnership will evolve. The Saudi-Africa Partnership Summit in Saudi Arabia will consider support for the efforts to develop intra-African trade and to continue encouraging companies to do business with organizations at the local level. The partnership will include establishing peace and security and improving infrastructure investments in Africa.
The shared approach focuses on the historical heritage of African-Arab interaction, which preceded Islam. The Arab influence is present throughout the continent. The typical African-Arab heritage also extends to the era of fighting colonialism, when Arab and African leaders moved to establish entities such as the African Union and the Arab League. Security issues and border disagreements were viewed as common challenges during this era. This heritage can serve as a foundation for a strategic Arab-African dialogue.
The presence of great powers: several foreign powers compete over resources and influence in Africa, however all of them play a role in addressing the security challenges and multiple crises from which Africa suffers. The rising part of non-Arab middle powers: non-Arab central powers have begun infiltrating Africa to further their agendas. Nevertheless, there has been progress toward developing a common Saudi perspective on collaborating with Africa. Additionally, there is a consensus to overshadow their stances toward African issues.
An example of cooperation is Saudi Arabia supporting African states in their fight against terrorism and organized crime and strengthening cooperation in poverty eradication in the continent. It is crucial to note that Africa needs concrete projects, mainly in trade, infrastructure, development, education and health. Unfortunately, some parts of Africa are unstable and insecure due to terrorist activities. Therefore, Africa must ensure peace and security in its homeland to give an opportunity for Saudi economic cooperation and trade.
Needless to say, Africa is an important continent for Saudi Arabia and holds top priority on its agenda. Africa has increasingly become a niche diplomacy area where Saudi Arabia’s broader strategic outlook has made considerable progress. Saudi Arabia cemented partnership modality to African cooperation, one informed by a tailor-made strategy associated with its cooperating strategy toward the continent. Its African policy constitutes one of the new niche diplomacy areas for its foreign policy and a source for its fundamental policies in world politics.
Saudi Arabia’s activities in Africa have concentrated on many areas: economy, development and humanitarian cooperation and culture. Among these issue areas, some policy fields appear more strategic than the rest, making Saudi Arabia a unique actor on the continent.
However, this role positions itself as something other than a rival to the other significant players on the African scene. Its independent role in Africa strengthens its hand and helps Saudi Arabia to differentiate itself from the continent’s powers as a partner without any imperial ideology. A non-interventionist and sovereignty-centered approach to international politics informs its strategic and diplomatic pull in Africa. The commonalities between African and Saudi Arabia’s world views of the changing international order and continuous global inequalities are outstanding, with both sides seeking reform in the existing global governance architecture.
Saudi Arabia has tended to position its aid policy as a means to develop cooperation based on consensus — an alternative model to those of other nations. Saudi Arabia provides grants to African countries. That is one of the aspects that differentiates Arabs from traditional donors.
There is an essential need for a new approach to conflict resolution in Africa. An approach that relies on soft power and provides essential services and economic projects in Africa. This could help counter the two prevailing trends: the security perspective espoused by the West, especially the need to advance its security interests, the attempts to impose a specific vision of their values, and the other philosophy of exploiting resources that can lead African countries to prosper. To strengthen Saudi-African relations during numerous challenges and focus on development and services, which are the central priorities of most African countries.
Bearing in mind the importance of African states, Saudi Arabia’s intent is to uncover good opportunities in a prosperous continual engagement, enjoying security, stability and economic progress. The commitment to continued work at an accelerated pace will deepen Saudi Arabia’s forging policy and enhance its influence globally.
- Ambassador Dr. Khaled Manzlawiy is assistant secretary-general for international political affairs at the Arab League.