The African Union’s Golden Jubilee: reflections on Australia’s relationship with Africa

On 25 May 2013 (Africa Day), the African Union celebrated its 50th anniversary. Originally established in 1963 as The Organization of African Unity with 30 states, it now has 54 members. In 2010, Australia signed a memorandum of understanding with the AU’s Secretariat, the African Union Commission, and this year’s Golden Jubilee provides an opportunity to reflect on Australia’s diversifying relationship with Africa.

The African continent continues to face significant human security challenges, to which Australia has contributed in excess of $0.5 billion in aid annually since 2010–11. African nations (such as Ethiopia and Mozambique) are among the fastest growing in the world, with a combined population of over 1 billion people and huge investment potential. Australia has established diplomatic relations with all African countries, and Australian interests in the African resource industry continue to grow.

A May 2013 media release from the office of Foreign Minister Bob Carr reveals the substantial recent growth in Australia’s investment in Africa:
In 2011–12, Australia's two-way trade with Africa was valued at $11.6 billion with it growing at an average annual rate of 9.5 per cent over the last five years. Australia's commercial relationship with Africa is focused on mining. Estimates suggest there are well over 200 Australian mining companies active in around 42 countries in Africa with current and prospective investments estimated to be approximately US$50 billion.
At the Africa Down Under conference in Perth last August, Foreign Minister Carr suggested that Australia had a role to play in showing Africa how to reach economic independence through mining. About 40 per cent of Australian overseas investment in the resources sector is concentrated in Africa, and the 2013–14 Budget provides funding for Australia to join the African Development Bank Group ($9.3 million over four years).

Africa’s support was critical last year to Australia’s bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. In March and April 2009, Australia’s Governor-General Quentin Bryce led Australia’s delegation to Africa to lobby for the UN Security Council seat, which the Opposition criticised. About 14 000 African students are currently studying in Australia, and from 2014, one thousand Australian Government postgraduate scholarships will be offered to students from Africa under the Australia Africa Awards scheme.

The Defence White Paper 2013 also gave unprecedented attention to the African continent, compared with previous White Papers, noting specifically (on page 17):
Australia’s direct interest in Africa’s stability will grow as our businesses increase their investment there, particularly in mineral resources, and place more Australian nationals on the ground. Australia will remain committed to supporting international peacekeeping within our capacity and providing targeted defence cooperation to enhance regional peacekeeping capabilities on the African continent.
Australia’s civil society engagement and leadership dialogue with Africa is also expanding. On 21 May 2013, Kevin Rudd, MP launched the Australia-Africa Dialogue at La Trobe University. The first Aus-Africa Dialogue, organised by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and The Brenthurst Foundation of South Africa, is expected to take place in mid-2013 in Western Australia. An Associate of The Brenthurst Foundation and co-founder and General Manager of TransAfrika Resources, Thomas Nziratimana, recently spoke of his hopes for the inaugural Dialogue and for the growing business relationship between Australia and Africa:
I couldn’t be happier to witness the rapid growth of Australian interests in Africa because, of the new investors who have arrived over the past ten years or so, I firmly believe that Australia stands out for its unique and specialised expertise in resource management, infrastructure investment, and robust legal and regulatory frameworks.

Australia stands out for the quality of your business practices, the quality of your executives and technicians. These are some of the reasons that I firmly believe that the quality of your engagement with African governments needs to be redefined, enhanced, and strengthened, hence the importance of the central role that the Aus–Africa Dialogue could play. 
The Aus–Africa Dialogue will help build the bridge linking the two continents we thought were too wide apart, crossing a sea we thought was too large and windy to cross.

The Aus–Africa Dialogue will help foster a new and much richer appreciation of each other, and I am excited by how much good could flow from it, for both of our peoples. The Aus–Africa Dialogue aims to provide a strategic direction in this growing and important relationship, and we hope it will become an annual event.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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