Time to rejuvenate Africa-Malaysia ties, says Egypt ambassador

Malaysia Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is greeted by Senegal President Macky Sall on his arrival to Dakar January 16, 2019. — Twitter screencap/Bernama
Malaysia Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is greeted by Senegal President Macky Sall on his arrival to Dakar January 16, 2019. — Twitter screencap/Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 — Malaysia-Africa relations at the economic and commercial levels are not up to expectation on both sides despite a vast potential which is yet to be explored and implemented in a regular manner, said Egypt’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Gamal A. Metwally.

He said that while the relations between the 54-nations continent and Kuala Lumpur are excellent at the political level — sharing similar views on many international and regional issues as well as South-South Cooperation — the same cannot be said about the economic relations.

Metwally explained that a huge focus and attention on Africa happened during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first stint as prime minister where he mooted the Langkawi International Dialogue attended by African countries, but the subsequent governments failed to conduct a follow-through and failed to give the right focus in what he described as a “gradual withdrawal” from the continent.

Speaking to Bernama International News Service on behalf of the 21 African Heads of Mission recently in conjunction with Africa Day, Metwally, however, pointed out that there is a “new hope” whereby the new government in power under Dr Mahathir since May 2018 signals new developments pointing towards better Africa-Malaysia relations.

Egypt is the current chair of the African Union (AU), which has 55 members.

African nationals in Malaysia celebrate Africa Day 2019 on June 27 this year instead of the annual commemoration date of May 25 due to Ramadan and the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festivities.

This year’s observance of Africa Day marks the 56th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — the precursor of the African Union (AU). This year’s celebration, themed “Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to forced displacement in Africa”, is marked by a reception organised by the African Heads of Mission in Kuala Lumpur at a hotel here.

Metwally said the African countries’ expectation for stronger ties with Malaysia have started following the new government under Dr Mahathir, adding that the African heads of missions had also met Dr Mahathir recently.

“Dr Mahathir is known to have special feelings towards Africa. I believe relations are going to be developed...more impetus on all aspects, political, economic, culture and investment,” he said.

“And from the experience with Wisma Putra (Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry), we feel they wanted to start a new page a new chapter,” he said, adding that there is a strong political will on the part of the present Malaysian government to restore its focus on Africa.

He believes that the development, coupled with the fact that Africa is the world’s fastest-growing region for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), will spur Malaysian business and investment delegations to visit the continent from 2020.

“Once Africa got such an impression...I believe they will also push for more cooperation,” he explained.

The ambassador pointed out that African countries have huge potential for investment and trade in areas such as infrastructure development, mining, oil and gas, agriculture and agriculture products, manufacturing, “halal” industry and the automotive industry.

“What we are talking about is also a continent of huge market for trade with some 1.3 billion people, and projected to increase to 1.7 billion in 2030,” he explained.

“Africa can absorb all type of goods, not only from Malaysia but also from other countries,” he said adding that there is also a need for better direct trade between Malaysia and African countries rather than goods going through third countries.

Metwally said African countries possess the advantages for business and investment, such as a young and educated population — where 60 per cent of the population is young, cheaper labour cost, and abundant natural resources such as oil and gas reserves, gold, coltan, diamond, iron, uranium, and copper.

Metwally further said that the total trade volume between Africa and Malaysia in 2018 was about US$32 billion (RM132.6 billion), which only represents about 1.7 per cent of Malaysia’s whole external trade.

“With 54 countries in Africa, it represents nothing. The potential for expansion in trade is bigger than this,” he said, adding that the current trade volume favoured Malaysia.

Among Africa’s exports to Malaysia are crude oil, rubber, processed food and agriculture products while Malaysia’s exports to Africa are rubber, palm oil, petrochemical products, machinery, furniture, electrical and electronic products, and processed food.

He said the Malaysian business community could also find opportunities through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which could help facilitate Malaysian investors and also the North-South Corridor Project.

The AfCFTA — the largest free trade area in the world in terms of participating countries since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in 1995 — came into force on May 30, 2019, and it is aimed at accelerating intra-African trade while boosting the continent’s trading position in the world market, among others.

On the other hand, the corridor project to connect Cairo in the north to Cape Town in the south will mainly allow for more efficient transportation of goods and travelling within African countries, thus helping to enhance trade and speed up regional integration. — Bernama