Africa-Azerbaijan Relations: The Need for a New Vision

Africa is changing rapidly, and Azerbaijan should take note.

Azerbaijan’s relations with African states have traditionally concentrated on humanitarian matters but Africa’s major economies have grown over the past decade, and it could play a much greater strategic role in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy.

Baku’s relationship with the continent continues to suffer from a lack of deep engagement and political myopia, despite being the subject of a series of diplomatic initiatives in the past two decades. However, realpolitik can push Azerbaijan to act in other parts of the world.

From the lens of Azerbaijan’s own interests, it is beneficial for Azerbaijan to contribute to positive development in Africa and to nurture new political and economic partnership with African states that benefits both sides. 

Developing and expanding Azerbaijan’s footprint in Africa is not just a matter for the government. The reset could bolster cooperation between public, private and civil society across Azerbaijan and Africa. A timely, diverse and accurate depiction of African states and of opportunities for cooperation on the continent is vital for attracting the interest of these actors.

Why Africa matters

As home to a huge share of the world’s water resources, untapped arable land, and by 2050 around quarter of the world’s population, Africa is one of the most important regions in the world. 

The continent’s economic growth is primarily due to the growing global demand for raw materials such as oil, minerals and timber. The commodities industry offers vast potential for further economic development in Africa, but it is important that natural resources are used sustainably that will result in future growth and prosperity for the continent and its people.

The continent has also become an arena where global and regional powers compete with each other. It should be noted that African states represent more than a quarter of UN membership and the continent can offer Azerbaijan an important strategic landscape to back its domestic and foreign agenda. 

Challenges and threats

Africa’s primary security issue is the existence of areas of persistent instability, armed conflicts and forced displacement. The armed groups and terrorist organizations operating in Africa are often linked to the sphere of trans-Saharan organised crime. Ultimately, encouraging peace and security in Africa is one of the primary goals set out in the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. It is in the interests of Azerbaijan to support the accomplishment of this goal. 

For some countries on the African continent, uncertainty in Africa looks set to rise, with nearly one-third of the continent’s 420 million young people having little employment prospects in the future. In many regions there remains a risk of territorial disputes, along with regimes’ deficiency of political legitimacy forms additional instability such as client politics and human rights violations.

The continent’s economic growth is vulnerable to inadequate regional integration, protectionist policies, poor infrastructure and electrification, and unskilled labour. Growing national debt is a hazard to many African states and some areas of the continent’s population face lingering poverty. Even today, many Africans have no access to basic social services and these issues are likely to degenerate because of the rapid population growth.

Africa is steadily entering a new period of heightened interest from external world powers like China and Russia. The revival of geopolitical rivalry in recent years is one of the main reasons for this. As a result, Azerbaijan’s sovereign presence in Africa could boost Baku’s position differentiate itself from the continent’s former colonial powers as a partner without any imperial dogma or colonial past. 

From a Western perspective, the overall political situation in Africa is one of decline, although this appears to be occurring quite erratically. It appears that southern Africa retains its comparatively democratic and functional governance systems but, in other regions, the deterioration is noticeable, and instability threatens to leak into more stable places. 

The mixture of economic hardship, demographic issues, corruption, effect of climate change, and some flawed governance systems further discredits African countries. Furthermore, there has been a major weakening of external backing for democratisation and better governance on the continent.


In the longer perspective, though, Africa could provide opportunities for Azerbaijan in a variety of spheres. For example, if the diplomatic economic relationships are strengthened there may be opportunities in the future for Azerbaijani companies to relocate some industries and parts of their production chains from Asia to Africa. Moreover, Africa’s young workforce, increasing middle class, growing consumption, and vast need for infrastructure of all types could benefit the African communities and the Azerbaijani economy. 

Despite their challenges, African states negotiated their first continental free trade agreement, where the deal sends a significant political signal and is a breakthrough in the formation of dynamic local economies. According to one of the former bosses of Goldman Sachs, Africa is “the last frontier of global growth”.

For many years, humanitarian concerns have dominated Azerbaijani engagement with Africa, precisely because Baku rarely considered the continent a zone of strategic interest. Today, in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, Azerbaijan needs to rethink its relationship with the continent.

Azerbaijan must focus on developing its bilateral relations with the African states where it has embassies, or look to expand into other countries, which means where it is in the beneficial position to reach its foreign policy aims. A new foreign policy toward Africa requires to echo the realities that competition among major geopolitical actors will be good for the country. The continent should be regarded through the lens of partnerships for collective opportunity rather than threat.

Africa does not yet play a significant role in Azerbaijan’s foreign trade so the country’s economic diplomacy must focus on the sectors where it has considerable know-how and experience namely: oil and gas production, agriculture, forestry, fishing, defence and security industry, transportation and construction.

Azerbaijan’s primary advantage over some foreign states’ presence is the lack of a colonial past and we also share an experience of being part of foreign empires. Overall, by bolstering the many ways that Azerbaijani companies and citizens engage in Africa for mutual benefit will help ensure that Azerbaijan remains relevant as well as influential in a growingly diverse and competitive global scene.

[Photo by, via Wikimedia Commons]

Fuad Alakbarov is a freelance foreign policy analyst from Glasgow with a focus on South Caucasus, Africa and Central Asia. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Among Conflicts and Sanctions: Kazakhstan’s Role in Navigating Peace and Resolving Crises

In the tense and complex geopolitical landscape, marked by conflicts and disputes, Kazakhstan is emerging as a potential pivotal intermediary, capable of contributing to...

Counter-Revolution: The need to Safeguard the State From Political Machination in the New Age

With an abundance of threats globally, from external actors seeking to inflame subversion vis-à-vis election interference to internal ‘flashpoints’ ranging from economic, social and...

Building Economic Bridges: Kazakhstan’s Thriving Connection With the US

In the dynamic landscape of global economics, Kazakhstan stands as a beacon of growth and resilience, solidifying its role as a regional leader in...