Namibia Needs Ties With the Middle East

A REVIEW of our diplomatic policy and foreign relations exploits in the Middle East reveals our potentially costly absence from that region not just now but also in future. As per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our sole presence in the region has long been facilitated by one of our oldest allies, Egypt.

The Egyptian connection stems from the support for the liberation struggle of Namibia against the oppressive South African apartheid regime. Egypt was also one of the first sovereign nations to instigate diplomatic ties with the infantile Namibian state in 1990. This relationship was nurtured under the leadership of the founding president, Sam Nujoma, and current head of state, Hifikepuye Pohamba, and led to the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Cairo in 2007. Namibia has since entered into bilateral agreements with Egypt, agreements that included active technical cooperation in diplomacy, defence and law enforcement, to name a few. However, with the Arab Spring, the Mubarak deposition, the Morsi election and subsequent ouster and the military administration, diplomatic relations have become strained and aspects of certain bilateral agreements linger in various states of limbo and might never be realised.

Although, we have publicly pledged support to Egypt and her people considering the current hardships that they are facing, it’s important to recognise that the international diplomatic landscape is dynamic. Therefore, despite our possibly defunct presence in Egypt and thereby the Middle East, it is penetration into the Arabian Peninsula that shall ensure that we are able to maintain a diplomatic foothold in the region.

The Middle East boasts 18 countries with a population of 177 million people. 44% of the world’s crude oil reserves are controlled by six countries in the Middle East. Three countries are featured on the Forbes top 15 world’s richest countries list. The Middle East also has a large youthful yet rich population, with an average age of 25 years and the mean wealth of more than US$100,000 per adult in 2011.

It is noteworthy to point out that the Middle East, fuelled by the abundant energy resources in the Arabian Peninsula, also posted a 3.5% growth in GDP in that year.

Despite the region’s riches, I shall be the first to concede that not all of our diplomatic policies will align considering the prevalent sentiments in the Middle East. However, with the aent of the Egyptian power vacuum and the market opportunities presented by high purchasing power and the large market size, the Middle East, as a potential diplomatic partner, can no longer be ignored.

Additionally, reputable management consulting firms also delve into the impending infrastructure development opportunities. The need to address the growing population and increasing urbanisation within countries in the Middle East, has led to public policy development to cater for funds that shall be channelled into developing educational, health care, power generation and transportation infrastructure.

These parallels to our country’s national development plans and the fact that the Middle East has largely been sheltered from the global economic recession due to demand-driven fuel prices, make the Arabian Peninsula a highly attractive option for diplomatic partnership.

Vision 2030 goals, aside from the prescriptive approaches in the NDP (national development programme) framework, can be complemented by and achieved via bilateral agreements similar to those that we currently have with Egypt. In addition, unlike our past agreements with Egypt, a clear and concise impetus would have to be placed upon bilateral trade agreements such as to further develop a local manufacturing sector and seek a mutually beneficial solution to curb capital flight.

Our nation, with the impending presidential election, is going through a necessary socio-economic transition where the wisdom and experience of the incumbent head of state, in business and foreign relations could serve us well in establishing our global voice.

I am tentatively confident that the visionary Prime Minister Hage Geingob can certainly flex his diplomatic clout and lead us down a path of new and improved diplomatic relations that will form part of our national development strategies.

It is important to note that these strategies must be grounded in extensive research and have unmistakable focus on effective implementation and monitoring policies.

Assertively, Namibia should look at Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and UAE (United Arab Emirates) to cement its ties further in the region through an embassy or even a consulate.

Why? is the next obvious question. Great export markets for our meat, grapes and minerals. Also to tap into expert exchanges for technical expertise, cultural exchanges as well as future tourism opportunities. The potential for this region should not be underestimated. This option is becoming a necesity in a rapidly changing political landscape in this region so that we as a nation could benefit by positioning ourselves better.

*Carl Pesat is director at Space Dimensions Aertising Agency and a holder of a B.Admin (Political Science) from the University Of Namibia

Source : The Namibian