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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2012

New Zealand and Africa: Leveraging off a "Rising Sun"

James Kember, NZIIA, Christchurch, 22 August 2012

Thank you for this very welcome invitation to share some thoughts on Africa with members of NZIIA’s Christchurch Branch. 

This is very timely as it was just two years ago that the NZIIA National Office had the prescience to organise a conference entitled “Africa on the Move”.  Some of you will be familiar with  the proceedings of that conference, that were published last year.

In the notice for this meeting, you will have seen reference to  an issue of The Economist  from last December to “Africa rising: the sun shines bright”.   Some of you might remember that the venerable journal recalled in somewhat chastened tones another of its editions ten years earlier when Africa was characterised as “the hopeless continent”. 

Tonight, I would like to explore some of the economic and political change on the continent.  Then I  propose to hone in on New Zealand’s own relations with the countries of Africa and on my role in this as New Zealand’s ambassador to the African Union and to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

It’s probably best if I start by putting “rise” into context.

 Of the 54 countries in Africa, eleven have an annual GNI per capita of less than $US 1,000.     Average life expectancy barely exceeds 50;  many people live on as little as $US2 a day; and there are enormous environmental challenges from desertification and deforestation.

Drought is taking a huge toll in the Sahel region that stretches from Mauritania across to Chad, with around 19 million at risk of  malnutrition.  The World Food Programme, to which New Zealand has contributed funding,  has been providing assistance to nearly 6 million people.  That crisis is set to deepen over the next few months.  

On the Horn of Africa, the drought last year impacted over 50 million people.    In Southern Africa, around 7 million are at risk of food security, with nearly half of these in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

All this acknowledged, it is Africa that has witnessed the greatest economic growth in the last ten years - after Asia.  Six of the ten fastest-growing economies are African. 

This year the global economy might see growth in the region of 2.6%: in Africa, even with the challenges faced by economic slowdown in Egypt and Libya, the economic outlook is for growth of around 5.1 – 5.4% 

Of course,  the needs for technical and infrastructural development are huge.  However, if mobile phone usage is an indicator,  it’s worth recalling that at around 600m users, the current market penetration exceeds that of Europe or the US.  Seven out of ten people should be on line by 2020.   A 1% rise in penetration is understood to translate into a 0.5% rise in per capita GDP.

The  big challenge for Africa is to add value to the extraction of oil, gas, minerals and the production of commodities like cocoa and coffee.   To some extent the practice of the 19th and early 20th century colonialists have been replaced with the same attitudes of some of the new investors.

A continent with half the world’s gold reserves and a third of the diamonds needs to get the most for all these finite deposits.

Along with this economic growth, we have witnessed an increase in political stability.   To be sure, despotic regimes have not entirely disappeared;  and there remain some depressing governance situations.  Coups have not disappeared entirely from the political landscape.

But two of the most recent transitions this year (the succession of deceased presidents in Ghana and Malawi) have offered hope that not all changes take place at the end of a gun barrel.    Electoral processes are not always flawless, but many are of a more acceptable standard than previously.   It’s a little early to talk about Ethiopia post-Meles, but there too are signs the transition will be benign.

At the continental level, efforts are well advanced towards integrating the disparate regional economic groupings, the first step towards reducing transactional costs and making intra-African trade cheaper and more effective.  

For the last two summits of the African Union, leaders have debated the prospects for achieving a continental free trade area by 2017. 

This will be a massive task, given that the regional groups are differently constituted But the mandate from leaders has been taken as clear instruction to governments and organisations like the African Union Commission to work towards this goal.   

At present, intra-African trade accounts for no more than 13% of total volume, so the potential to lift this figure is considerable – especially against the backdrop of growing income. 

This then is the context in which to consider New Zealand’s own relations with Africa.  

It would be easy to characterise this as a somewhat thin set of linkages, bound by sporting contact (not always in the most benign of circumstances), and the shared Commonwealth history. 

The overall trading picture reflects the challenges of distance and access – only 3% of our exports go to Africa, and our imports make up a mere 1% of our total.  
But dig a little deeper and one finds that three of New Zealand’s top 20  dairy export markets (and seven of the top 40) are African

Overall, New Zealand exports over $NZ 1.3  billion of goods to four African countries: Algeria, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria – while the imports from those countries, apart from South Africa, are negligible.

It’s not just commodity exports:  Fletcher Building have generated good sales of roofing tiles in parts of the continent;  Datatorque, based in Wellington, has won contracts for supplying revenue management systems to several administrations. 

What we lack in the African context of course are sizeable diaspora linkages such as have helped cement relations with Asian countries.  

Only around 6% of migrants to New Zealand are from Africa; and Africans make up less than 1% of our total population. 

But this doesn’t mean the absence of contacts or support. 

While we are always conscious of the needs of our own region, around 60% of all current humanitarian assistance outside the Pacific by government goes to Africa.  

New Zealand has participated in a great many of the peace support operations in Africa in recent decades.

I recall vividly from my own time in New York  the work involved  to organise for a police contingent to take part in the transitional arrangements for the new Namibia in 1989.  

Over the  years, New Zealand military have taken part in operations in Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Zimbabwe.   Currently there are three New Zealand officers with the mission in South Sudan.   The Military Adviser to the UN’s Special Representative in Somalia is a New Zealander.    Distance has thus been no barrier to New Zealand support.

With Africa’s growing economic clout, especially  in the south, as well as the political changes in the north, where as I have said our economic interests are strong, what has become clear is that we need to focus more attention on the overall footprint. 

As I mentioned earlier,  others, like the NZIIA, have recognised and picked up on the signals. 

For a long time, our only government presence on the continent was in the south (Harare and then in Pretoria), and, much more recently,  the embassy in Cairo. Pretoria is responsible not only for South Africa but also for ten other countries stretching as far north as Kenya, while Cairo’s sphere of responsibility stretches across the countries of the Maghreb.  Nigeria has been covered by our High Commission in London.  

In a speech to the Wellington branch of NZIIA just over a year ago, Foreign Minister McCully expressed a personal view that, in ten years’ time, business people would be saying about economic opportunity in Africa what is being said today about India and was said ten years ago about China.  

The Minister indicated that New Zealand needed to be better represented, and not necessarily through the standard embassy model which could not be considered, in the prevailing fiscal environment and after the tragic events in Christchurch.

Later in the year, the Minister described the appointment of an ambassador to the African Union as part of the groundwork towards closer engagement. He said more ministerial engagement was needed, together with effective delivery of agricultural capacity building from New Zealand’s modest aid contribution in Africa.

True to his word, Mr McCully made his first-ever visit to Ethiopia and to the African Union in January this year.

In a message to African ministers, he confirmed the government’s policy of developing a broader engagement with Africa, growing two-way trade, and developing agribusiness and support for public-private partnerships. 

In meetings with African ministers there, and elsewhere during the course of the year, the minister has continued to  reaffirm this commitment. 

There are of course limits on what New Zealand can do in reaching out to the countries of Africa -  a continent larger than China, the US, Japan, India and Europe combined.  Remember,  it  covers one-fifth of the earth’s land.

As I indicated,  New Zealand must continue to prioritise the needs of its own region.    It is simply not possible to forge meaningful links with 54 countries on the basis of two resident posts, a non-resident ambassador in Addis,  and a series of cross-accreditations by and into New Zealand.  

This is where a presence in Addis Ababa, Africa’s “political capital” and working with the African Union, come in. 

The African Union Commission - with its own focus on peace and security, economic development, social affairs and capacity building - provides a way in for a small contributor to extend its cooperation more effectively. 

All up, our total aid effort for Africa runs to around $50 million a year, including the humanitarian assistance, scholarships, support for the work of NGOs and the private sector, and small programmes such as the one that is associated with my position as ambassador. 

Let me give you one or two examples. 

Over the last few months, we have contributed to the African Union’s peace mission in Somalia, particularly around developing new governance structures.  We have provided funding for training of African parliamentarians to improve their capacity to respond to AIDS; training programmes for conflict prevention, some specific assistance to Mozambique for mine clearance and to Ethiopia on developing a seed regulatory framework. 

In that latter case, there is a Canterbury involvement through  the  Ashburton-based Carr Agricultural Group Limited. 

With my colleague heads of mission in  Cairo and Pretoria, my task is to help create the best conditions for New Zealand to improve its political and economic relationships with African countries.  

It applies also to our security interests – something perhaps for a different discussion.   Keeping sea-lanes open for maritime traffic or maintaining a watch on terrorist groups whose tentacles have a long reach are very much critical to direct New Zealand interests.

These moves to lift engagement, through increased contact, increased assistance, more representation,  are all part of a long-term policy of investing in these relationships.  

There is of course another development that brings all this into sharp focus. 

New Zealand is once again seeking a term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2015-2016. 

African issues tend to dominate the agenda of any Council.  It is imperative that we are more familiar with these issues if New Zealand is to make a constructive contribution. 

Some of that familiarity will come in the work at UN headquarters in New York, and in Geneva.   But as Mr McCully has said, it will also require more direct encounters by ministers and officials in Africa itself. 

At present I am spending about one month in three in Addis Ababa or in other capitals, calling on ministers and officials to explain the government’s desire not only to be elected in 2014 but also to be best prepared to follow and understand the particular issues of concern to other governments. 

This pattern of travel and interaction is explicable  in the current fiscal climate.   When I meet other representatives – and I have now paid calls on over thirty of the African ambassadors as well as envoys from other countries and organisations -  I am told they are glad we have a foot in the door, and asked when are we going to finish building the house?  

To which the answer is:  this remains part of the longer-term planning;  and  we are making a start through greater engagement, more activity and becoming better attuned to the principal concerns and priorities.

To some extent, that is assisted by New Zealand itself being one of the more than 100 small states in the United Nations and understanding the need to work flexibly and nimbly.  That strikes a chord because, despite the physical size of the continent, half of Africa is made up of countries with populations of less than 10 million, with all the familiar challenges that come from being a smaller player.

I hope by painting the broader canvas this evening, I have given you some of the rationale for New Zealand changing and increasing its own activity in Africa. 

While I have concentrated on the work of government, I should readily admit that there are many others from  business, NGOs, and individuals,  who are  making their own important contributions.   

For the first time this year, the New Zealand Government participated in the annual ANZAC Day ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Addis Ababa.  

What struck me on that occasion was the number of New Zealand and Pacific Island families who (in addition to Australians) have for now made Addis their home. 

Like the growing African diaspora in New Zealand, these well-travelled New Zealanders are also part of the fabric of engagement, and representing the values and traditions that help make us partners of choice. 

As the Minister has indicated on several occasions in recent months,  there will be more of a government face around Africa in the coming years. 

It won’t necessarily entail the opening of a lot more embassies, but it will involve a targeted engagement within the confines of our Pacific priorities and the global economic climate. 

So tonight, I would like to leave you with the assurance that  a “rising” and “on the move” Africa is very much in our sights.   The government generally, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in particular, is also “on the move” in managing relations with Africa. 


James Kember
Ambassador to the African Union and to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.


Africa: A Continent on the Move: Implications for New Zealand, Wellington, NZIIA, June 2011

Ghana, Liberia, DRC, Mozambique, Angola and Ethiopia

Economic Commission for Africa, Economic Report on Africa 2012 (5.1%), IMF (5.4%)

Huawei and ZTE are dominant in 50 countries, with network involvement in 30. 

  Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria are the top three; the others are Sudan, Morocco, Ghana and South Africa.   Angola comes in at 46th.  

As trading partners, Algeria ranked 29th in 2011, South Africa 37th, Egypt 38th and Nigeria 43rd. 

Opened in November 2007

Currently representation or accreditations to 18 African countries and 23 inward accreditations.  Two others are pending.


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Page last updated: Wednesday, 09 January 2013 14:49 NZDT