Jakarta – There is a new scramble for Africa, and Indonesia wants in the race. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo embarked earlier this week on a tour of four-country tour of the continent, visiting Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique before arriving in South Africa to attend the BRICS Summit.
While in Johannesburg, Jokowi may have the time to meet with the leaders of other African nations to explore any untapped economic opportunities for Indonesia, but he is primarily there to deliver a speech in the capacity of Indonesia's 2023 ASEAN chairmanship.
It is the President's first African tour since he entered office nearly nine years ago, far too long by some accounts, especially given Indonesia's historical connection to the continent.
For what it's worth, his trip seems to have been deftly planned, taking into account the emerging sense of disappointment among the Global South in the multilateral forums currently dominated by wealthy Western powers, a running theme at the BRICS Summit.
With last year's Group of 20 presidency under its belt, which was considered a success amid trying times, Indonesia has intimate experience of the breakdown in international cooperation precipitated by the war in Ukraine.
From the reluctance among a number of Asian and African countries to pressure Russia, the G20's big takeaway was that the West's geopolitical games often come at the expense of developing countries around the globe.
Jokowi's message that his Africa tour aimed to "strengthen solidarity among the nations of the Global South" encapsulates the sense of urgency surrounding this issue, and it has already paid dividends for Indonesia's economic expansion into "nontraditional" markets.
It almost makes up for the fact that realizing this vision took the Jokowi administration nearly a decade, when it could have taken China's example of becoming the continent's lead partner in the space of the last 20 years.
Perhaps it's better late than never, but many questions remain about the region's strategic importance for Indonesia.
By most metrics, the 55 countries in Africa carry real value that leaves no one country indifferent. Many are keen to ride the wave of the so-called African Century and benefit from the next fast-growing economic region of the world.
African nations have never been so eagerly courted and China aside, Brazil, India, Japan, Russia, Turkey and the United States have all made their intentions clear.
For Indonesia, there is obvious room to expand and do business in Africa. At least one financial analyst has said the continent holds around US$4.6 billion in unrealized trade potential for Indonesian businesses, obstructed mainly by high trade tariffs. And now that Jakarta is developing its critical minerals sector in earnest, establishing partnerships with African nations that have ample reserves is a no-brainer.
The only thing the government needs to work on is to rekindle Indonesia's ties with the continent and find ways to update our shared experiences.
Historically speaking, Indonesia is forever etched in the minds of many Africans as a country that lit the spark for the postcolonial movement to take root.
As the founding host of the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia presided over the drafting of the "Bandung Spirit", a declaration of 10 principles to promote peaceful coexistence. This spirit was encapsulated in the constitutions of some African nations that were emerging at the time, and Sukarno's name rings loudly in many history books on Africa.
In recent years, however, this formative bond and the Non-Aligned Movement that long represented it has been relegated mostly to historical nostalgia.
Fortunately, contemporary disappointment in the global status quo could provide just the impetus for Indonesia to reignite its friendships on the African continent, for the sake of strategic autonomy in a world mired by uncertainty.