Tuesday 21 Aug 2018 | 12:57 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 21 Aug 2018 | 12:57 | SYDNEY

Africa on the mind


Fergus Hanson


17 June 2009 16:29

If you enjoy reading press releases as much as I do then you probably already noticed the string of African visitors coming to Australia this month. Today Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, announced his Botswanan counterpart was in Australia — the first visit from a Botswanan foreign minister. The Minister will also open their new High Commission building in Canberra. 

You have to feel a little sorry for the drafters of the press release given the paucity of our official ties with Africa. They made an admirable effort: 'Education links are also strong, with around 400 Botswanan students in Australian academic institutions' and even the Commonwealth got rolled out, but, of course, there are bigger interests at stake. 

Other African visitors this month include the Rwandan and the Kenyan foreign ministers — the first official bilateral visit to Australia by the latter's foreign affairs minister. This flurry of engagement follows the Governor General's visit to Mauritius, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles in March and Smith's own trip to Ethiopia in January. A new aid strategy towards Africa is also under development with news in the budget of increased funds for that purpose.

As the Lowy Institute Blue Ribbon Panel report on Australia's diplomatic deficit pointed out, there are good reasons to expand our diplomatic reach in Africa, including growing resource interests. A big motivating factor at the moment though seems to be our UN Security Council bid. In that context it will be interesting to see how Australia walks the tightrope on issues like Zimbabwe and the ICC's arrest warrant for Sudan's president.   

Photo by Flickr user WildImages-In Botswana and SA until 6/18, used under a Creative Commons license.