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South American and African Nations Plan to Strengthen Common Bonds
Guyana Journal, October 2007
by Odeen Ishmael

CARACAS, 26 September 2007: Plans are already on stream to hold the second joint summit of African and South American (ASA) nations in Venezuela next year. It will be recalled that 60 Heads of State from the 53 African and 12 South American countries attended the first summit, held in Abuja, Nigeria in November last year.

The final declaration of that first summit revealed plans to boost greater cooperation in the economic sector, as well as to broaden collaboration in political and cultural areas between the African Union and the South American Community of Nations – now renamed the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Among the proposals to stimulate South-South cooperation would be the setting up of an Africa-South America Bank and the adoption of common positions in the WTO. During their discussions, the leaders explored ways to solidify the agreements joining the two continents, and examined issues such as peace and security, investment, energy, natural resources, the agricultural sector and cooperation, in general.

As an initial step to prepare for the second summit, the first preparatory meeting for coordinators was held on 16-18 July in Caracas with a focus on strengthening South-South political and economic cooperation and setting an agenda of specific actions to be implemented before the next meeting of South American and African leaders.

The participants at the coordinators’ meeting were Venezuela’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for Africa Reinaldo Bolivar, Dr. Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairman of the African Union Commission, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (coordinating country for Africa), Ambassador Fernando Jacques de Magalhaes Pimenta, Director of the Department for Africa of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil (coordinating country for South America), and Ms. Cecilia Chacón Rendón, Chief of Staff of the Vice Ministry of Economic Relations and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Bolivia, and representative of UNASUR.

Present at the opening session were the South American and African ambassadors based in Caracas.

The coordinators’ meeting agreed that the process of cooperation and integration must move decisively forward. In this respect, Venezuelan Vice-Minister Reinaldo Bolivar said that next year’s forum of Heads of State must not be “just another summit” but must decisively focus on concrete proposals and actions to improve areas such as health and education, economics, investment and finances, science, technology and communications, infrastructure and transport, and agriculture and the environment.

Dr. Konaré of the African Union Commission stated that, considering the wide diversity of existing economic, social and political realities, the next summit must show the specificity of the bond between Africa and South America by creating a political framework and a space for cultural exchange.

The South American coordinators stressed the significance of the social agenda as being significant for the next summit, highlighting health, education and fighting hunger as the most important areas to be tackled. In addition, they felt that economic issues such as trade and investment, infrastructure, transportation and energy, particularly with regard to the development of alternative energy sources, must be given special emphasis.

They also recognized the importance of the preparatory work which should be done through preparatory meetings at different levels. After intense discussion, the representatives of both groupings decided that these meetings of government experts and ministers have to be convened for seven subject areas: (1) energy; (2) social issues; (3) multilateral issues; (4) investment and finance; (5) science and technology and telecommunications; (6) infrastructure and transportation; and (7) agriculture and environment. In addition, they agreed that the first meeting of government experts will be held in Ethiopia while the first meeting of Trade Ministers of both continental groups will be convened in Rabat (Morocco). High officials from both groupings will gather in Brazil before the end of 2007 to carry out further preparation for the summit.

Realizing that the Abuja Action Plan has not advanced as rapidly as was originally expected, further meetings of the coordinators will make suggestions to both UNASUR and the African Union to move the process forward. At the same time, it is widely felt that countries in both groupings, on an individual basis, can expand the integration process by developing their own bilateral programs, especially in the development of cultural and economic relations.

Nevertheless, there have been some significant advances in economic and political linkages between the two continental blocks. Over the past four years, two South American countries – Brazil and Venezuela – have rapidly expanded their bilateral links with Africa. Between 2002 and 2006, the volume of trade between Brazil and Africa countries rose from US$5 billion to more than US$15 billion per year. Venezuela, on the other hand, has strengthened its diplomatic thrust and, by 2006, it doubled the number of diplomatic missions in Africa, and currently has embassies in 47 of its 53 countries. At the same time, some African countries, notably Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco and Algeria, have stepped up their trade and cultural relations with various South American nations.

The coordinators meeting also focused on political, cultural and historical links between Africa and South America. To this end, Venezuela is aiming to promote cultural interchange with African nations by hosting the Second Cultural Festival of the People of Africa in Venezuela in November this year in the lead up to the summit in 2008.

Furthermore, the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, recently commemorated in Guyana, brought revitalized interest in the historical and cultural links with Africa, especially the West African nations. No doubt, this linkage is also cherished by those African nations, and this is evidenced by the growing political, cultural and economic connections currently being enhanced by Nigeria in the Caribbean and South American countries. Expectantly, the second ASA summit will further broaden the historical and cultural affinities between the two southern continents and reinforce the awareness of their peoples in their common bonds.

The writer is Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.

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