The keynote address by Mr. K. Amunugama, Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs at the event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union(AU) at Hotel Taj Samudra on 06th June 2013
“It is a great honour for me to address you on ‘Sri Lanka’s expanding relations with Africa’ at an event of celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the founding Organization of the African Unity which is now known as African Union (AU). On behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, I take this opportunity to convey our sincere best wishes for the 50th Anniversary of the African Union and wish every success in her future endeavors for the benefit of mankind, especially to the developing world. When the Organization of the African Unity was established fifty years ago on 25th May 1963 with 32 signatory States, the principal objectives of the organization were to free the continent from the remainders of colonization and apartheid, promote unity and solidarity among African States, coordinate and intensify cooperation for development, to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states and to promote international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations. The establishment of this unity organization added momentum to the progress of the newly independent nations of Africa in early 1960’s and the following decades. Taking in to account the present global scenario where nation states are moving more and more towards political and economic unions and multilateral partnerships, the decision of the African leaders to gather into a single Union as far back as 50 years ago was definitely far-sighted.
Today, we are happy to see the African Union diligently working towards realizing its vision: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.” The coordinator of today’s commemoration event, South Africa should be proud that one of her most charismatic daughters is at the helm of the AU Commission; Dr. Nkosazana DlaminiZuma. Sri Lanka’s interactions with Africa, our western maritime neighbour connected by the vast Indian Ocean, are as old as our history. African visitors commonly known as Arab traders were frequent visitors to our country and the courts of our Kings. These Arab traders called Sri Lanka Serendib in the early 11th century while the Europeans called it Ceylan and Ceylon since the 14th century. Trade between Sri Lanka and Africa has a long distinguished history. The descendants of the Africans who arrived in the island with the Portuguese in 1500’s from the eastern and southern coasts of Africa and those who arrived later with the British are living in Sri Lanka as distinctive communities. They are concentrated mainly in Sirambiadiya in Puttalam District but some are living in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Negombo areas as well. These ‘Sri Lankan Kaffirs’, as they are called, try to preserve their culture which is a direct link to the distant African past though it is disappearing rapidly. Their culture, particularly their music, has made a mark in Sri Lankan culture as well. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy platform is being built mainly through her historical and cultural affinities with the rest of the world. In the light of this principle, Sri Lanka’s relations with African nations date back centuries. In the recent history, Sri Lanka’s relations with Africa are distinctive and owe their origin to the common path that Sri Lanka and African nations had to share in the past witnessing struggle against colonialism and poverty.
In the recent past, particularly during the British occupation we have seen some hyperinteractions, though not so pleasant, with African nations. Under the British rule some of the exiles of Sri Lanka including Ehelepola Maha Adikarama the first Adigar Prime Minister of the Kandyan Kingdom was sent to Mauritius. The exiled Egyptian leader Ahmed Orabi and his comrades arrived in Ceylon in 1883 and lived here for 18 years. The 1955 Afro-Asian Conference marked a very significant juncture in the Asian-African relations and it brought Asia and Africa to work together for the betterment of 1.5 billion people living in the 29 countries that took part in the Conference. Sri Lanka played a leading role in organizing that Conference. Sri Lanka also had the opportunity to closely interact with many African leaders during the 5th NAM Summit held in Colombo in 1976. It is important to note that Sri Lanka found common grounds to develop economic partnerships with Africa. In recent years, Sri Lankaâ€™s economic partnership with the African countries has developed extending beyond trade and investment to knowledge sharing and skill development, technology transfer etc. Persistent efforts are been put at the government level as well as the private sector level for a comprehensive engagement to market together as partners in progress. Sri Lanka could cooperate with Africa in many spheres and create a new platform for SouthSouth Dialogue framed as a partnership between equal partners, which could enhance their developmental aspects. With the assumption of the high office by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005, the foreign policy of Sri Lanka took a new course under the Mahinda Chinthana policy framework of the Government and we were able to re-discover our old friendships and affinities.
We were able to re-energize our relations in regional and multilateral fora such as the Commonwealth, G-15, IOR-ARC etc. where a large number of African states actively take part. We look forward to be an observer in the African Union (AU) and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) where almost half (25) of 56 membership are from Africa. Sri Lanka also wishes to be member at the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) where 4 of the 5 member States are from Africa. Sri Lanka established her very first resident diplomatic mission in the African continent in 1957 in Cairo, immediately after defending Egypt’s interests at UN General Assembly by Sri Lanka’s then Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, on the tripartite aggression in 1956. In 1970’s Sri Lanka established formal diplomatic Relations with Kenya and Libya. Our resident missions in Pretoria and Tripoli were opened in 1997 and 2009 respectively. The High Commission of Sri Lanka in Kampala was opened just last month by His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka during his State Visit to Uganda. We intend to open our resident mission in Abuja very shortly. Libya and Egypt opened their missions in Colombo in 1970’s. As an outcome of the First Sri Lanka - South Africa Partnership Forum, South Africa opened her resident mission in Colombo in 2005. The resident mission of Nigeria was established in Colombo in 2012. While there are now 04 resident diplomatic missions in Colombo representing 04 African nations, we are looking forward for opening of more resident diplomatic missions by our friends in Africa. I am happy to state that the Cabinet of Ministers granted approval to establish diplomatic relations with 15 African states in 2012. These states are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
Thus we enjoy formal diplomatic relations with 37 African Countries and await concurrence of another 13 states. Sri Lanka’s present diplomatic missions in Africa are concurrently accredited to 27 African nations. Apart from resident Ambassadors and High Commissioners, I have noticed a number of Honorary Consuls who represent Sri Lanka in African countries and who represent African countries in Sri Lanka are contributing immensely to strengthen our relations. As witness to Sri Lanka’s growing relations with Africa, last year alone there have been three state visits by the Heads of State from Swaziland, Seychelles and Uganda to Sri Lanka. During the recent past, a number of Sri Lankan Ministers undertook official visits to many African states including Botswana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Egypt, Republic of Congo, Mauritius, Djibouti, Libya, Kenya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal Seychelles, South Africa and Uganda. These visits are a clear indication of the importance attached by the Government of Sri Lanka to its African counterparts. Sri Lanka’s seriousness in building relations with Africa was evident when Hon. Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Senior Minister for Scientific Affairs attended the Inauguration ceremony of the new State of Southern Sudan in 2011 as a special envoy of His Excellency the President. In 2011, Hon. Athauda Senevirathna, Senior Minister for Rural Affairs represented His Excellency the President at the official funeral of Madam Albertina Sisulu of South Africa. Sworn-in ceremony of Kenya’s new President was also represented at the level of special envoys of His Excellency the President. As far as the Trade and Economic aspects of our relations are concerned, Sri Lanka and Africa have a lot in common in natural resources and demography. These commonalities provide the natural synergy for building partnerships. 5
Bilateral cooperation with African states is enhanced through Agreements, MoUs, Bilateral Joint Commissions and Partnership Forums etc. During the State Visits we were able to conclude many bilateral Agreements/MoUs with Swaziland, Uganda and Seychelles in many different fields. The largest hydro power plant constructed by Sri Lanka beyond her shores, was inaugurated in 2011 in Uganda while a 330km- transmission line project has been completed by a Sri Lankan private company. Sri Lanka-Uganda Friendship Vocational Training Centre would be established in Uganda after upgrading the Masulita Training Institute by the Government of Sri Lanka. Towards this project, Sri Lanka has granted US $ 1.5 million as a gesture of goodwill. Sri Lanka donated 10,000 mt. tons of rice to the famine stricken people in the Eastern Africa region with the assistance of the World Food Programme. In 2012, people affected by the explosion in Brazzaville received Rs. 3.3 million worth of medical supplies from the Government of Sri Lanka. It is our earnest hope that people to people contacts through business exchanges would enhance our existing economic and trade relations. Sri Lanka encourages her business chambers to promote close interaction with similar institutions in the African region. Sri Lanka also explores the possibilities of enhancing bilateral trade and economic cooperation, diversifying our products and encouraging public private partnership. With a view to promoting our people-to-people contacts further, I would like to propose to African states that that we should form an Africa/ Sri Lanka Friendship Association with the participation of your ancestral siblings. Today, many African nations are keen to share Sri Lankaâ€™s experience in combating terrorism. We are happy to assist Africa in this regard and encourage the partnership for the mutual benefit of our nations. 6
Before I conclude, on behalf of Sri Lanka I wish all African nations peace progress and prosperity as she celebrates 50 years of unity. My sincere thanks go to His Excellency Geoffrey Doidge, High Commissioner for South Africa in Sri Lanka for organizing this event and inviting me to deliver the keynote address. Long live the African unity and Africaâ€™s relations with Sri Lanka !