How to boost Africa and South East Asia cooperation

Considered one of humanity’s great early achievements is the crossing of early man from Asia to Australia. Archeological, genetic and paleontological evidence contends that modern humans spread into South-East Asia from Africa about 60,000 years ago- owing to the cooling of the Earth’s climate in the Ice Age. Their heritage today is left behind with the presence of Indigenous peoples not limited to the Aetas of the Philippines and the Semang people of Malaysia. The contacts between the peoples in South East Asia and Africa were later made possible through colonization, a history shared by both regions, by the Portuguese, British, Dutch and later American involvement.

Following the independence of states in these regions, relations took the form of multi-lateral relations, as part of the Non-Aligned Movement during the cold war led by the then Indonesia’s President Sukarno and India’s Prime Minister Nehru. The first Asia-Africa Summit- commonly referred to as the Bandung Conference of 1955, was set to be a pretext to long term engagements between the two continents, attended by 6 African states out of a total of 30 states notably Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia and Sudan.

The Second Summit would be in April 2005- Jakarta, to mark the 50th Anniversary, was attended by 54 Asian and 52 African countries and lastly the 60th Anniversary held in April 2015- Jakarta, where 109 Asian and African countries participated. Unlike this summit, the Forum for East Asia – Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) which will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year, has 36 members and managed to implement 411 national and regional projects, the ASEAN-Africa relationship lacks any formal institutional standing- noting that South Africa made a failed attempt to include the New Asian-Africa Strategic Partnership (NAASP) into the African Union’s NEPAD. At the Bi-lateral levels, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria are the largest trading partners of ASEAN in Africa, while Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have made developments on this front.

The following text examines the opportunities and challenges across various focus issues:

Why we need a Structured Parliamentary Diplomacy for Africa

Foreign Policy is Public Policy.

Foreign policy has hitherto been a prerogative of the Executive arm of government despite the globalized nature and complex interactions in the 21st century that demand creative solutions in maintaining peace and stability.  The Executive through Parliamentary bodies and committees allows the policies to be scrutinized in an effort to create harmony within government agencies. Constitutions in democratic states now demand that the State cannot engage in Wars without the approval of Parliamentary bodies. This remains the foremost engagement on International Relations for most parliaments to date.

However, opportunities are abounding when it comes to: how Parliaments interact with Foreign Policy questions; how Parliaments engage with the State on these questions; how to create form and structure on Parliamentary Diplomacy; and in the development of academic and theoretical literature on the Parliamentary Diplomacy theory in Africa. Parliamentary Diplomacy also referred to as Parlomacy[1], creates opportunities that are alternatives and complimentary to traditional diplomatic approaches that rely on the Westphalian State-Centric Model. In a world where sophisticated technology has determined the nature of interactions amongst peoples, the diplomatic options should consequently evolve to meet this level for globalization. 

Reflections on the Evolution of Parliamentary Diplomacy

Ancient history dating back during the Roman Empire, depicts an instance of parliamentary diplomacy, where the Roman Senate – though on behalf of the Roman Generals sued for peace and sanctioned war with Philip V of Macedon after the failure of the Treaty of Phoenicia (205 BC).  However, the recollection of Parliament as formed today traces to The Magna Carta, signed on the 12th June 1215 (AD) by King John “Lackland” of England and a coalition of rebel barons written by the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. The barons displeased with the rule of the King, demanded accountability, freedom and rights that cut across political, economic, social and cultural spheres of existence. Even though the process of acceptance by the King was not immediate, the barons’ efforts would show that the population had been enlightened and willing to demand and defend human dignity by peaceful means. Among the 63 rules agreed included aspects of International Trade, Treatment of Prisoners of Wars.

Since then, developments in the relations between the Rulers and the Governed has metamorphosized to have greater representation of the public in law making through modern parliament and to the election of the ruling class by the population through the secret ballot, challenges notwithstanding. The role of Parliaments having extended to enhancement of global relations and stability, both positively and negatively, is now accepted as an important move in the democratization of diplomacy. 

A report sponsored by the International Parliamentary Union (Beetham, 2006) distinguishes types of parliamentary cooperation as: technical parliamentary cooperation, inter-parliamentary cooperation and parliamentary diplomacy. This further put emphasis that parliamentary diplomacy is not just limited to parliamentary cooperation and is more institutionalized currently in parts of the world. It also precisely states that:

“A diplomat is an envoy of the executive branch and represents the positions of the state. Members of Parliament, however, are politicians who hold political beliefs which may or may not coincide with their respective country’s official position on any given issue. This allows parliamentarians a margin of flexibility that is denied to the diplomat. They tend to bring a moral dimension to international politics that transcends narrow definitions of the national interest, particularly in their principled support for democracy and human rights. Time and again we have seen that this flexibility allows parliamentarians to debate more openly with their counterparts from other countries and to advance innovative solutions to what may seem to be intractable problems”.

The spirit of parliamentary diplomacy undoubtedly takes the role of ‘Moral Tribunes’ on Foreign Affairs, the conscience of international politics, that takes a rather long-term approach by:  building trust and understanding amongst peoples through dialogues; sharing of experiences and expertise in key areas such as youth unemployment, conflict resolution, election monitoring, cultural dialogue, migration, economic issues; as well as bringing balance between values and interests, usually having to take positions that cd be lesser of the two evils[2].

Senator Gabriel Elorriaga[3] of Spain has enumerated instances of parliamentary diplomacy as: The activities of multilateral international parliamentary organizations; Bi-lateral parliamentary groups and in particular the so-called ‘friendship groups’; International agreements between parliaments; The activities of parliamentary foreign affairs committees; Plenary sessions dealing with foreign policy questions; Parliamentary participation in elections monitoring processes. The strength of parliamentary diplomacy is perceived when distinguishable from the executive diplomacy, noting that this can also considered a weakness owing to its sporadic manner which is deficient of continuity.

The Low Hanging Fruits for Africa

In view of the ambitions of the 21st Century Africans for a robust Pan-African Agenda and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, the opportunities that can be harnessed include:  Strengthening the independence of African Parliaments to not only compliment but also offer alternatives to executive diplomacy; Structuring the form of parliamentary diplomacy in Africa through a consistency in activities, reporting and follow-ups; and Enhancing research by Academia and Think Tanks on parliamentary diplomacy especially in the African Continent.  


Joel Okwemba

Managing Director- Centre for International and Security Affairs (

[1] (As termed by) Daniel Fiott, “On the Value of Parliamentary Diplomacy”, Madariaga Paper, Vol. 4, No. 7, April 2011. Pp 1. 

[2] Daniel Fiott, “On the Value of Parliamentary Diplomacy”, Madariaga Paper- Vol. 4, No. 7 (April 2011).

[3] Elorriaga, Gabriel (2004), La diplomacia parlamentaria, Imagine Ediciones, Madrid

Why Kenya’s Démarche on Somalia Maritime Dispute was Merited

While noting that the Kenya/Somalia dispute and its decision thereof rests with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the diplomatic decisions to the solution rests in the leaderships of both Kenya and Somalia.

Noteworthy is that the legal processes are actions of the last resort if any other pacific means of settlements of dispute by the parties involved is untenable. As a final resort to pacific settlement of the dispute, Kenya invited Somalia to enter into “provisional arrangements of a practical nature” pending the agreement on maritime boundary on May 25, 2016. This however did not mature into a negotiated agreement.

Later in February 2, 2017, judgement by the ICJ found that “it had jurisdiction to entertain the application as filed by Somalia on 28 August 2014 and that the application was admissible”. There is no recourse to this at this point.

This is how we can brace ourselves for Globalization 4.0

Globalisation has shaped humanity since time immemorial and in different forms. It is a phenomenon driven by technology and the movement of ideas, people, and goods.

Early recollection for instance can be traced to the trade connections that existed between Africa and Asia, or between Europe and Asia or Africa, this portrays some form of interconnectedness.  We have also witnessed a different form of globalisation through colonization, the two World Wars and the establishment of the United Nations.

Globalization is not a single notion that can be interpreted and bordered within a set time frame. 21st century globalization has opened the opportunities brought by the presence of the internet, advanced technological know-how, which has become top notch than any other time in man’s existence, while at the same time exposed the world to  the rapid emergence of ecological constraints, the advent of an increasingly multi-polar international order, and rising inequality.

Noteworthy is that the unprecedented pace of technological change means that our systems of health, transportation, communication, production, distribution, and energy – just to name a few – will be completely transformed. Managing that change will require not just new frameworks for national and multinational cooperation, but also a new model of education, complete with targeted programs for teaching workers new skills.

Globalization 4.0 according to Prof. Klaus Schwab will therefore require from us: a wider engagement and heightened imagination (systemic thinking that is beyond one’s own short-term institutional and national considerations).

How Kenya and African Countries can Avoid Chinese Debt Diplomacy

That Kenya has fallen into China’s debt diplomacy is unfortunate.

The idea that such profound contracts and investments would be made without a robust public engagement or participation brings into question the role of Parliament in oversight of government. In light of this, the revelations of the gaps in the China-Kenya Standard Gauge Railway contract by the Sunday Nation, go further to suggest the agreement goes beyond economic interests of Kenya. Perhaps there could have been political interests at play noting the timing and context of the agreement. This cannot be ignored as Kenya’s legal and international trade experts disparage the terms and conditions of the contract.

There are good examples such as the US Congress’ role to hold President Donald Trump’s push to build a wall between his country and Mexico to enhance border security. That the government would end in a shutdown demonstrates the power and independence of the Congress and the opposition — the Democrats. Contrary to that, the diminishing independence Kenya’s Parliament has come to haunt the image and prestige of the country, as well as the day-to-day living of Wanjiku, having to pay more taxes to meet the negative balance of trade and debt brought by the China-Kenya agreement.  

What then could be the immediate, medium-term and long-term stopgap measures out of the impending predicament?

Don’t sit on your idea, let it bloom (Interview)

Joel Okwemba’s life-changing opportunity came along when he enrolled at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi. “I studied a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies, majoring in security studies. The course molded me to become a liberal thinker, one who is able to view issues from a global perspective,” he explains.

While in his final year at the university, Joel, together with several classmates, founded a research think-tank and consulting outfit: Centre for International and Security Affairs, CISA.

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Why African nations need keener focus on foreign policy issues

Kenya and almost all African states were created following a foreign policy decision of 13 European countries and the United States, led by the French, British and Germans. They were marking their spheres of influence during the Berlin Conference of 1884 (also referred to as the Congo Conference/West Africa Conference).

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Rethinking Kenya’s diplomacy ahead of UN seat bid

The pride of a people is held high among nations and is judged by the level of diplomacy held by the state. In the recent past, there have been efforts by Kenya to secure important positions and promote certain agenda at the multilateral level — the African Union and the United Nations.

Most notable remain the campaign for the seat of the chairperson of the African Union Commission, and the infamous shuttle diplomacy campaign that sought to postpone action for a period of 12 months against the Ocampo Six following the 2007-08 post-election violence to allow for local trials.

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Industrial Revolution: The African Civilization Question

While our ancestors have been around for about six million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. The Civilized man is only about 6,000 years old- creating various civilizations to fit their way of life and surroundings. Industrialization, however, started in the earnest only in the 1800s, led by the First Industrial Revolution in Europe then the Second Industrial Revolution in the Americas and now with us the Third Industrial Revolution originating from various influences in Asia, Europe and Americas.

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