As Pakistan looks to the future and strengthens its relationships with countries around the world, it’s important to take a closer look at the historic ties between Pakistan and Africa.

From economic partnerships to cultural exchange, the connection between these two regions has grown and evolved over the years.

As we move into 2022, it’s time to review the state of Pakistan-Africa relations and consider the potential for even greater collaboration in the future.

Historical Ties

Pakistan’s relations with numerous African countries date back to their independence movements. Pakistan has offered provided moral and financial support to nations including Algeria, Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, and Libya.

Pakistan has a long history of engagement with African countries, dating back to the country’s independence in 1947. In the early years of independence, Pakistan established diplomatic relations with many African nations.

Pakistan participated in the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of countries that sought to remain neutral in the Cold War.

Mutual respect, unity, and good politics will be the foundation of these relationships. Both regions have a similar history and post-independence issues.

One of the most significant political partnerships between Pakistan and Africa was the establishment of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1969.

The OIC is a multinational organization that promotes cooperation among Muslim-majority countries, and Pakistan played a key role in its founding.

Pakistan has also established economic partnerships with many African countries. In the 1970s, Pakistan provided economic assistance to several African nations, including Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

More recently, Pakistan has focused on increasing trade with African countries, particularly on exporting textiles, pharmaceuticals, and other manufactured goods.

In addition to these formal partnerships, Pakistan has also played a role in various peacekeeping missions in Africa, including in Somalia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pakistani military personnel has also participated in training programs and capacity-building initiatives in several African countries.

Diplomatic Relations

Islamabad currently has resident missions in 20 African countries, including Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Mauritius, Djibouti, and Zimbabwe, as well as Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, and Uganda.

Relations between Pakistan and Africa are strong now, despite the world’s rapid change. As a result, Pakistan has sought deeper economic, social, and cultural collaboration with African nation-states as part of its new “Look Africa” policy to advance the common good.

Bilateral visits and relations
East Africa

On the occasion of the 48th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council for Foreign Ministers meeting, Mozambique’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Goncalves, along with his delegation, arrived in Islamabad.

The Foreign Minister met with high-level Pakistani officials to discuss the expanding ties between the two countries.

A ministerial delegation from Somalia led by the interior minister Ahmed Moalim Fiqi Ahmed paid a visit to the advisor to the prime minister on Kashmir affairs, Qamar Zaman Kaira.

They discussed the various issues concerning Pakistan and Africa and how more collaboration in multiple domains can strengthen the relations. The discussion also revolved around the Kashmir issue.

South Africa

General Nadeem Raza, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, visited South Africa from July 24 through July 28, 2022, at the invitation of the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, General Rudzani Maphwanya.

The purpose of the visit was to strengthen military ties between the two militaries. The visiting chairman discussed strategies for deepening the institutions’ already cordial relationship.

In November, General Rudzani Maphwanya, Chief of the South African National Defense Force, paid an official visit to Pakistan.

He met with General Nadeem Raza, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, at the Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

During the meeting, both sides discussed various areas of mutual interest and bilateral cooperation, such as security, counter-terrorism, and the current regional environment.

West Africa

A delegation headed by Nigeria’s Minister for Defence, Bashir Salihi Magashi visited   Pakistan for six days, from 14 March to 19 March.

During his visit, he met with various high officials in Pakistan including Prime Minister Imran Khan. The discussions revolved around the prospects of the growing relationship between Pakistan & African region.

South Africa

In November, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif visited Egypt to attend Climate Implementation Summit, COP-27.

During his visit, he participated in several high-level events, held bilateral meetings with his counterparts, and also interacted with the international media.

He was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari & Minister of Climate Change, Sherry Rehman.

Trade and Economic Ties

The year 2022 has seen an upsurge in trade, the economy, and high-level delegation meetings between Pakistan and African countries.

African countries and Pakistan are among the non-industrialized nations focusing on development and economic independence. As a result, Pakistan has sought closer financial and social collaboration with African countries.

Pakistan has a long trade history with African countries, dating back to the early years of independence. In the 1970s, Pakistan provided economic assistance to several African nations, including Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

More recently, Pakistan has focused on increasing trade with African countries, particularly on exporting textiles, pharmaceuticals, and other manufactured goods.

Pakistan’s main export markets in Africa are Egypt, South Africa, and Morocco. In 2019, Pakistan’s exports to Africa totaled $3.9 billion, with textiles, leather products, and pharmaceuticals being the top categories.

Africa is also an important source of imports for Pakistan, with the main countries of origin being South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco.

In 2019, Pakistan’s imports from Africa totaled $7.7 billion, with the main categories being mineral products, vegetable products, and machinery and transport equipment.

There is great potential for further growth in Pakistan-Africa trade ties. African countries, many of which are still developing and have large, growing populations, represent a potentially lucrative market for Pakistani exports.

Additionally, African countries have natural resources, such as oil, gas, and minerals, that could interest Pakistani businesses.

Efforts to strengthen Pakistan-Africa trade ties have included the establishment of joint business councils and the participation of Pakistani companies in trade fairs and other events in Africa.

The Pakistan-Africa Business Forum, held in 2016, was a particularly significant event to foster increased trade and investment between the two regions.

Look Africa Policy 

Political and diplomatic relations between the two regions have been stale for a long time. This was due to the absence of Pakistani consular representation in African countries.

However, Pakistan has initiated a new initiative called the “Look Africa Policy” in order to increase its political and consular representation in African countries.

Pakistan’s “Look Africa” policy aims to strengthen economic and political ties between Pakistan and the countries of Africa.

The policy was announced in 2015 by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who stated that Pakistan was “determined to enhance our economic, political and cultural relations with African countries.”

As part of the Look Africa policy, Pakistan has focused on increasing trade and investment with African countries, as well as promoting cultural exchange and cooperation in areas such as education, health, and science and technology.

Pakistan has also sought to increase its participation in regional and international organizations, such as the African Union, that are relevant to Africa.

One of the main goals of the Look Africa policy is to increase Pakistan’s exports to Africa, which currently account for a small share of Pakistan’s overall exports.

Pakistan’s main export markets in Africa are Egypt, South Africa, and Morocco, and the main categories of exports are textiles, leather products, and pharmaceuticals.

The Look Africa policy has also included efforts to increase the number of Pakistani businesses operating in Africa, as well as to attract African investment to Pakistan.

In addition, Pakistan has participated in various initiatives aimed at promoting economic development and infrastructure building in Africa, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which includes projects in several African countries.

Overall, Pakistan’s Look Africa policy represents an effort to deepen economic, political, and cultural ties with African countries and to increase cooperation between the two regions.

In this context, the Pak-Africa Trade Development Conference took place in Nairobi in 2020, and the meeting of African envoys with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad in 2021.

According to a report submitted by the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2022, the initiative revitalized Pakistan’s relations with African nations. Pakistan had only 14 missions in 54 African nations before the Look Africa initiative.

It has allowed Pakistan to open five new missions in Africa and relocate six commercial wings. Additionally, Pakistan has appointed 26 honorary councils and established a $1,215,456 fund from the Africa Fund.

Most importantly, it has increased the high-level delegation meetings between Pakistan and African leaders.

Business exchanges and agreements

The Engineering & Healthcare Expo 2022 in Pakistan took place in Lahore from February 25–27, 2022.

It attracted 35 business titans from the public and private sectors as well as journalists from South and East African countries like Mozambique, Botswana, and Swaziland.

The private sector met with exhibitors from various industries, such as pharmaceuticals, surgery, cosmetics, and electronics. Various prospects for enhancing business ties were discussed.

The president of the Mozambique Chamber of Commerce & Industry has met with the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Lahore Chamber, the Faisalabad Chamber & Gujranwala Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pakistan, and Business Eswatini, the premier business chamber in the South African Kingdom of Eswatini, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on July 1, 2022.

It was noticed that exports from Pakistan to the Kingdom of Eswatini have surged three times in the past 12 months. Pakistan’s exports totaled approximately US$ 327,000 and US$ 972,000 in fiscal years July-June 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, respectively.

Pakistan and Africa signed a memorandum on November 30th, following a bilateral meeting between Mozambique’s Minister of Industry and Commerce, Silvino Augusto, and his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Naveed Qamar.

The purpose was to establish the Joint Committee on Trade and Investment between the Republics of Mozambique and Pakistan.

The Memorandum called for the exchange of information and experiences and the adoption of international standards and conformity assessment procedures in mutually beneficial areas.

Additionally, an agreement on sanitary standards, animal quarantine, technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures was signed.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has established a Pak-Africa Special Engagement Fund with a 100 million Pakistani rupee capital. It is also trying to deepen connections with the African Union and other economic organizations.

Africa’s Imports from Pakistan

Grains, synthetic textiles, cotton, salt, precious stones, pharmaceuticals, and synthetic staple fibers are all produced in Africa. The average value of Pakistan’s imports from Africa during the past three years was USD 1.5 billion.

Cereals rank among the top imported goods and make up the majority of Pakistan’s exports to Africa. Last year, Pakistan exported grains worth $642 million.

Due in part to lockdowns related to COVID, the export of cereal fell by USD 642 million. Made-up textile items are Pakistan’s second-most popular export to Africa. However, the exports of manufactured goods dropped over the past year.

Africa’s exports to Pakistan

Pakistan imported products worth USD 2.25 billion from the African region. These products include mineral fuels, mineral oils, coffee, inorganic chemicals, fertilizers, and edible fruits and vegetables.

Pakistan imported mineral fuels worth $1.3 billion from Africa. The second most imported product from Africa is coffee and tea. Pakistan imported $547 million worth of coffee and tea in the last year.

Anomalies in trade relations

In the past year, Pakistan’s trade volume with Africa has surpassed all previous records. However, since 2015, the trade balance has been significantly skewed in Africa’s favor.

Imports increased significantly last year, rising by a healthy 70.5% to $4.5 billion from $2.6 billion. Exports, however, only increased from $1.4 billion to $1.48 billion over the same time period, indicating lackluster development.

A report by the 27th meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs held on October 24, 2022, revealed that over the past year, imports and exports between Pakistan and Africa have significantly decreased.

The inflation surge that has gripped the entire planet may be one factor. However, Pakistan and Africa should strive to focus more on trade and commerce because it has great potential for both regions.

The rationale is that both regions have good geographic locations, so closer economic ties will benefit them.

Pakistan can get vegetable items like onions and tomatoes from African countries, as they produce and export them in massive amounts.

This will relieve Pakistan from importing these items from foreign countries where they are currently incurring large import bills. Similarly, African nations can invest in Pakistan’s textile and cement industries.

Education cooperation and initiatives

In August 2022, the Air University of Pakistan welcomed a National Defense University of Kenya delegation. The delegation was headed by the Vice Chancellor of the University, Lieutenant General Mwangi.

They discussed collaboration opportunities in many fields like research, teaching, incubation centers, and exchange program opportunities in Kenya and Pakistan.

In November, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and the National Global Strategic Institute (INESG) Algeria.

The ceremony was attended by Brahim Romani, the Ambassador of Algeria to Pakistan, and the Ambassador of Pakistan to Algeria, Khalid Mahmood.

The purpose of the agreement was to further the relationship between Pakistan and Algeria but also wish to establish institutional linkages between both sides for collaborative research and dialogue on issues of mutual interest.

Scholarship & Exchange programs

The education collaboration between both regions is increasing gradually. As of 2022, various scholarship opportunities were available from various Pakistani private and public institutions for African students.

The COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI), in collaboration with the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), has announced postgraduate and postdoctoral fellowships for African students in 2022.

Secondly, a joint Fellowship Program of the Aga Khan University’s Brain and Mind Institute and the Global Mental Health Program of Harvard University is working.

The goal of this fellowship program is to strengthen the capacity for global mental health implementation science in South and East African countries.

Similarly, African universities have provided many scholarships and exchange opportunities to Pakistani students in 2022.

These opportunities include the Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program, the Royal Society International Exchange Program, and Banting International Postdoctoral Fellowships, among others.

Although these programs have increased cooperation in the education sector, there is still a huge potential for progress in this field.

The Higher Education Commission of both countries should encourage grants and funding for attending conferences and research fellowships in Africa and Pakistan.

Additional exchange programs and learning opportunities should be introduced through seminars and webinars. Joint publishing in African studies with western, African, and Pakistani publishers should be encouraged.

Lastly, both regions should establish a curriculum in consultation with the chambers of commerce to bridge the gap between academia and the industrial sector.

Challenges

Pakistan and Africa have much room to grow their cooperation in several areas. However, the expanding links between the two countries are hampered by a few challenges.

The Engage Africa Initiative’s chosen policy may benefit trade relations between both nations, but Pakistan is also experiencing difficulty accomplishing the initiative’s stated objectives.

The fundamental issue is Pakistan’s lack of diplomatic representation on the continent of Africa, which restricts its capacity to foster collaboration. There are just 20 Pakistani diplomatic missions in Africa.

These missions certify other nations on the continent. Second, Pakistan faces numerous economic difficulties that make it challenging for the nation to engage with all the African nations. Exports have been hampered by the nation’s energy issues.

A way forward

To strengthen relations with African nations, Pakistan should boost the number of its diplomatic missions there. Meetings between businesses and governments, which are desperately required, should be facilitated.

It is important to look for areas and industries that can be used to increase trade with African nations. Pakistan needs to address the worsening energy situation.

Pakistan should stop prioritizing connections with major states in its long-standing foreign policy strategy. The nation ought to make an effort to establish friendly ties with all the African nations.

Islamabad may gain from the backing of these nations in numerous international forums, not just economically but also politically.

Secondly, there hasn’t been much political participation on the ground, and Pakistan’s relations with some African countries are still in their infancy. Pakistan should try to improve its economic and diplomatic ties.

Additionally, Pakistan and African nations like Kenya, Somalia, and Nigeria can collaborate on training, combined military operations, and cultural exchange initiatives.

Thirdly, to strengthen relations, Pakistan can also make use of regional organizations like the African Union (AU), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East Africa Community (EAC), and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

It is pertinent to note that Pakistan’s international strategy has as its main objective the advancement of economic diplomacy in international relations.

Despite challenges, African countries have exceptional potential. At the same time, Pakistan’s expanding turn toward Africa will aid in the expansion of its export market and the bolstering of its political influence.

 

*The writer is a Fellow at The Diplomatic Insight, published by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies 

*The views presented by the author do not reflect the position of The Diplomatic Insight. Nor does The Diplomatic Insight bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the information cited.