TheJournal.mt interviewed Ronald Micallef, Ambassador to Ethiopia and Representative of Malta to the African Union, who states that Malta’s relations with Africa are long-standing, often under-estimated and certainly significant.
Malta has a deep and historical engagement with the continent of Africa through trade, commerce and education. Under the Knights of St. John, Malta was one of the first countries in Europe that imported coffee from Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). Significant numbers of Maltese have lived and worked across Africa as missionaries and educators making a very important contribution to the building of hospitals and school systems. Eminent Maltese administrators have even made their mark on the Civil Service of countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia. Ambassador Micallef believes that these connections, based on education, hospitals and trade, characterise Malta’s proud engagement over many years with our neighbouring continent, Africa.
In more recent years, Malta’s dialogue with Africa has been through the Commonwealth and the European Union – an important and unique dual role in view of the European Union position as Africa’s key trading partner. The EU is now formulating a long-term Strategy for Africa and the launch of Malta’s Strategy in early 2020 was a timely turning point reflecting a growing local and international recognition of the importance of the African Economy in both volume and sophistication:
“As an English-speaking Commonwealth country bordering both Europe and a growing Africa, this is all clearly relevant to Malta as it places us in a strong position to provide a wide range of products and services for emerging markets. Malta has Embassies or Consulates across the North of Africa but this has not been the case up to recently for Malta’s presence in wider Africa. It is in this context that the opening of Malta’s first Embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa in Accra, Ghana, is a reflection of Malta’s growing confidence and willingness to engage with Africa through trade and development.”
The opening of Malta’s first Embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa in Accra, Ghana, is a reflection of Malta’s growing confidence and willingness to engage with Africa through trade and development.
Ambassador Micallef tells us that there has been impressive growth in African economies in recent years. He believes that our approach should be to partner with Africa in specific areas where there are clear needs which Malta can address and where Maltese companies can add value. This often requires a revision of business models, an understanding of funding, banking, regulatory systems and product branding to suit African requirements and needs:
“This is a complex undertaking that takes time, but we are making good progress. The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs has played a key role in this regard with the opening of Malta’s Embassy in Accra. Advanced plans are now in place and imminent to open a second Embassy in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) which is the seat of the African Union and an entry point to the Horn of Africa.”
Malta’s trade with Africa is already significant but it has the potential to grow even more once presence is established in these emerging markets. In 2018 trade with Africa from Malta already stood at 12% of overall trade and tangible results were registered through Malta’s presence in focus countries. With a concerted effort, Malta can achieve more once the right partners, countries, products and markets that correspond to our strengths and aspirations are identified.
Advanced plans are now in place and imminent to open a second Embassy in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) which is the seat of the African Union and an entry point to the Horn of Africa.
Ambassador Micallef tells us that Malta is building up a presence in Africa through a ‘hub and spoke approach’ to maximise its reach:
“We are re-establishing our diplomatic presence in Libya and strengthening our programmes in North Africa where Embassies are already up and running. Our new High Commission in Ghana provides an entry point for trade with West Africa while our planned Embassy in Ethiopia will enable us to develop new markets in the Horn of Africa. In addition, through TradeMalta, we have used these pandemic months to set up successful virtual trade missions with Namibia and Rwanda as both countries provide important opportunities for Malta to reach larger countries in Southern and Central Africa respectively.
The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has also appointed non-resident Ambassadors in South Africa and Senegal in addition to new Consuls and representatives across Africa. This concerted approach – a network of representation- reflects Malta’s commitment to Africa. We have also increased our Overseas Development Agency (ODA) activity and our education engagement as well as our cultural diplomacy as we see ourselves as Africa’s trade and strategic partner in the EU while also seeing opportunities to collaborate with more distant countries such as Japan, China, The US and others in Africa. We see ourselves as a safe and stable country that can deliver results in Africa.”
Ronald Micallef is also Malta’s Representative to the African Union, which brings together over 54 African countries through its Vision 2063 in a bid to attain an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. The African Union has made some notable progress in recent years, particularly with the launch of the African Continental Trade Agreement (AfCTA) which commenced on 1st January 2021. The headquarters of AfCTA is in Accra, Ghana while the political capital of the African Union is in Addis Ababa. Malta, Ambassador Micallef says, iswell positioned to engage with important trade and political discussions that will form the basis of the future of Africa. Africa will be a single market, a continent-wide entity for goods and services which promotes the movement of capital and people. This opens up tremendous opportunities for Malta, which is so close to Africa, as a service and logistics hub for international trade with Africa.
Malta is well positioned to engage with important trade and political discussions that will form the basis of the future of Africa.
In view of this, how can Malta serve as a link between Africa and the EU?
Ambassador Micallef believes Malta must strive to become the link. The proximity and potential of Africa compels Malta and the EU to urgently explore emerging opportunities in a neighbouring continent of great potential. This is Malta’s opportunity to project itself in Africa as a partner for trade, development, science and peace. He believes Malta can be an excellent operational base not only for EU companies seeking proximity to Africa but also for other key countries that are looking for a stable operational base within the EU from where they can deliver business services safely and with confidence.
“I am glad to report that we are witnessing a number of international companies in high-yielding new technology areas which are choosing to invest in Malta specifically as a platform to reach markets in Africa. This is encouraging as it further confirms that we need to be on the ground through our official representations in North Africa, West Africa (Accra) and East Africa (Addis Ababa) while cultivating links with countries such as Rwanda and Namibia which are going through very interesting and fast changes as they develop their own specialities and niche areas. There are very interesting growth opportunities in Artificial intelligence, energy, drone technology or the creative industries which Malta can learn from and where we can bring added value and market access thanks to our own, connected economic eco-system. Information sharing, like trade, works better when it designed to benefit both sides and this mutuality of partnership approach is very much the spirit of Malta’s engagement with Africa.”
There are very interesting growth opportunities in Artificial intelligence, energy, drone technology or the creative industries which Malta can learn from and where we can bring added value.
Ambassador Micallef adds that Malta’s ongoing engagement with Africa permits us to utilise our strengths in terms of position, language and culture as well as strengthened political and economic links to create opportunities for growth for Africa as well as for Malta and for countries or companies that will be attracted to invest in Malta as a base for their African operations:
“Malta can certainly be a bridge between the EU and Africa, but to do this effectively, we need to be in Africa:contributing to solutions and participating effectively in the economic growth and potential of our neighbouring continent. The opening of Embassies and enhanced representation in selected countries in Africa, the channelling of Overseas Aid and the nurturing of growing trade links and opportunities for Maltese and international companies, clearly highlights that Malta is committed to making its presence in Africa relevant and effective, in line with the wider EU and national objectives of supporting efforts to create a more prosperous Africa for all.”