Towards Stronger Africa-Middle East Relations: A Report of the International Conference on Africa-Middle East Relations, August 25-26, 2021
The HORN International Institute for Strategic Studies (the HORN Institute) held a hybrid conference on August 25 – 26, 2021 themed Shared Peace. Shared Security. Shared Prosperity to deliberate recent political, economic, and security engagements between African and Middle Eastern countries. Experts, policy makers, investors, and practitioners had robust discussions on geopolitical considerations of Africa–Middle East relations; security and diplomatic engagements; foundations and expressions of extremist Middle Eastern ideologies in Africa, and trade, investment, and cooperation. The conference heard that relations between Africa and Middle East are deepening and intensifying; being driven by renewed economic, geo-political, ideological, security, trade and investment needs of the engaging nations, and Middle Eastern states’ pursuit of ideological spheres of influence and sibling rivalry. All these bear mixed fortunes for both regions. United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are the most visible Middle Eastern countries in Africa. UAE is the largest investor in Africa after China. The conference also heard that manipulation of geo-historical realities such as the ‘Arab Spring,’ and the geo-political competition enshrouding Red Sea region to suit interests of different global actors is hindering effective and beneficial engagements between Africa and the Middle East. The conference made several recommendations to improve relations between the two regions. These include bettering diplomatic strategies for a stable balance in engagements in economic, political, and security spheres. Such strategies include recalibrating relations between the two blocs to enhance trade cooperation (the most visible aspect of engagements between the two regions) while reducing competition; shifting engagements from security, resource extraction, and aid to economic partnership on equal as opposed to unequal basis; and reconceptualize ‘North Africa and Middle East’ (MENA) region, and reorient other problematic phrases and labels such as ‘Arab Spring,’ and ‘Red Sea states,’ which are narrowed, expanded, or misplaced to suit the interests of different actors, inhibiting bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The conference also recommended the creation of a security and economic community that could include Africa, the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Middle East to enhance prospects for shared peace, security, and prosperity.