Timbuktu Institute – In a context strongly marked by an irreversible process of multipolarization, the First Saudi Arabia-Africa Summit represents a turning point in international relations, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s aspirations to play an increasingly central role on the world stage and offering Africa new opportunities for development and cooperation. The outcome of this summit will be closely watched, as it will help redefine international partnerships and shape the future of relations between Saudi Arabia and the African continent.
With this Summit, Saudi Arabia seems to have wanted to mobilize the leaders of its important sphere of influence, represented by the Arab, Muslim and African worlds, on a burning international issue: the Palestinian cause. The Iranian President’s participation in the Summit was a highlight for Saudi diplomacy. In his weekly column, the Regional Director of the Timbuktu Institute looks back at the stakes of this summit, which could be part of the process of revitalizing a South-South axis.
Dr. Bakary Sambe, on November 10, at the King Abdelaziz International Conference Center, Riyadh welcomed – for the first time ever – many African heads of state to take part in a Saudi-African summit. What signification for this important diplomatic event?
The Summit marks a significant milestone in the evolution of international relations and global economic dynamics, particularly in the South-South strategic partnership. Several African leaders have responded to Riyadh’s invitation, seeking opportunities for economic cooperation and the strengthening of political ties. Even some countries in transition, which seem to be neglected on the international scene, see this summit as a golden opportunity to explore new partnerships and diversify their international relations. Traditionally, Saudi Arabia’s influence in Africa has manifested itself since the 1970s through religious diplomacy, although development aid and investment have not been absent from Riyadh’s African policy, especially with the Saudi Development Fund since 1975. In fact, as the Summit’s final communiqué highlighted, there was already “a depth of historic relations between Saudi Arabia and African countries, with more than $45 billion in development aid provided over the past 50 years in many vital sectors”. But for Saudi Arabia, it is above all an opportunity to mobilize the diplomatic support of Africa, the largest regional bloc within the UN, particularly on international issues of great interest to the Kingdom.
So, you recently said that this summit is also part of the progressive multipolarization that has begun in recent years. But what is at stake for the continent, which is also in a crucial phase of opening up and diversifying its partnerships?
You know, there was already, a boosting movement back in 2018, the marker of which was the appointment of a Secretary of State for African Affairs. Let’s not forget that Saudi Arabia is diplomatically committed to resolving crises in the Horn of Africa and funding the G5 Sahel. Among the major issues at stake at this summit is the assertion of Saudi Arabia as an alternative to Western countries, a kind of transition towards a more global approach that is less focused on religious diplomacy. But; also, the challenge of countering the influence of rivals such as Qatar and Iran. Naturally, for Africa, there are high expectations of economic development and investment opportunities, as well as the challenge of consolidating political partnerships and increasingly asserting its position in the construction of a multipolar world. This is no mean feat when it comes to strengthening Riyadh’s regional influence.
But in other words, Dr. Bakary Sambe, with this rush to the continent by all the classic and emerging powers, how will Africa really benefit from such a situation, which seems to be consolidating an African positioning unprecedented in the history of international relations?
Saudi Arabia has announced significant investments in Africa, with pledges reaching nearly $25 billion by 2030. These investments are intended to support development projects in key sectors such as health, education, water and transport, marking a new investment strategy for the kingdom in the region. As an immediate and concrete spin-off from the Summit, twelve African countries, including Guinea and Niger, under sanctions from ECOWAS and Western countries, and in particular Angola, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Rwanda, will benefit from a loan worth $580 million aimed at stimulating sustainable development on the continent. In fact, Saudi Arabia wanted to mobilize the leaders of its important sphere of influence, represented by the Arab, Muslim and African worlds, on a burning international issue: the Palestinian cause. The Iranian President’s participation in the Summit was a highlight for Saudi diplomacy, demonstrating its remarkable agility.
Timbuktu Institute – November 2023