Mutual experiences demonstrate that “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

It is a common knowledge that Georgia’s foreign policy is defined by the priorities of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. All successive Georgian Governments have been implementing these priorities, based on the national consensus. However, it is frequently overlooked that, for several years already, as the part of a genuine multi-vector foreign policy, Georgia has embarked on the path of forging global partnerships, the African dimension being one of the important tenets of this very policy. Few years ago, Georgia expanded its diplomatic reach by opening Embassies in Ethiopia and South Africa, with a view of tapping opportunities of increased bilateral ties throughout the African continent. 

The difficult legacy of the colonial era (in Georgia’s case – the decades of Soviet occupation) and subsequent bitter experiences in the course of a state-building by the newly independent states, posed tremendous and, in many ways, similar challenges for Georgia and for its African peers. In both cases, the overall and ultimate objective has been to advance the state based on the rule of law, democracy, human rights and free market. Achievements are already tangible on this complicated path, in Georgia as well as across the African continent, whilst it is an imperative to turn the remaining challenges into opportunities. Georgia has managed to position itself as a hub for doing business throughout Eurasia.

The African nations have, on their part, managed to stabilize into democratic political structures, after living through the post-colonial mayhem. And nowadays, by all accounts, including that of the UN and the World Bank data, Africa, as a Continent, is truly rising, hence, the scramble of investors from top economies like the US, the European Union, China, Turkey, Japan and elsewhere to seize the emerging vast business opportunities in Africa. The 60% of the world’s available and still unutilized arable land, 95% of platinum, 40% of Diamonds, large quantities of oil, gas and numerous other natural resources as well as an ever-growing young and dynamic population suggest that Africa offers highly lucrative avenues for exports, investments and development. Therefore, one can observe a global trend of adopting, developing or rethinking “Africa Policy” by many states across the globe.

The Republic of South Africa is the Continent’s major political and economic powerhouse, with its 53 million population and eleven official languages, 1,221,037 million sq. k. territory, functional and well-tried democratic parliamentary system of governance, internationally-acclaimed Constitution, decentralized provincial Governments in nine provinces, independent and prominent judiciary, vibrant media, innovative and diverse society and effective financial system, with exceptionally prudent fiscal policies. South Africa’s foreign policy is driven by Pan-Africanism and the nation adheres to multilateralism, is devoted to dialogue and negotiations as the main tool for resolving conflicts, promotes human rights globally and is a proud member of G20, BRICS and many other global and continental multilateral frameworks.

The Rainbow Nation, as South Africa is frequently mentioned because of it unique racial and ethnic diversity, 20 years ago, showed a remarkable example that, if determined, a Nation can walk away from the abyss of a divided society, apartheid, from the brink of civil war and armed conflict and ensure peaceful transformation. The reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and redemption for unimaginable crimes of the apartheid era, through Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were indispensable parts of the South African transition. In fact, South Africa offered a master-class of the gravest societal conflict resolution ever that merits careful consideration also from Georgian perspective.

Apart from the mentioned critical lessons to learn from, South Africa is a real gateway into Africa, with its accessibility and a world-class infrastructure. Despite relatively low level of current economic growth (2%), the country remains among top destinations worldwide for multinational companies. All major brands are present here, Starbucks being the latest one, to announce the entry into South Africa from 2016.

Recently strengthened cooperative ties between Georgia and South Africa, after establishment of Georgia’s diplomatic presence in Pretoria, has opened up opportunities for both nations to forge bilateral political dialogue at various levels, including, via inter-parliamentary dimension. It also unveiled new avenues of cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, mining, wine, tourism and sport. South Africa is a prominent country of the Sub-Saharan Africa region, offering a sophisticated, modern and well-equipped environment to work from and to explore trade/business opportunities in the countries of the Sub-Saharan region. Likewise is Georgia attractive for South African companies of which some are amongst the largest in the world in their respective fields. These South African companies are global players in the Wine, Paper, Steel, Mining (Coal, Gold, Platinum and Diamonds), Processed and Frozen Foods, real estate, construction and Pharmaceutical industries. The very fact that Georgian and South African industries, seasons, food production and sport are complementary to each other is of an added value for the pending rapprochement between the two nations. 

The newly established South Africa-Georgia Chamber of Commerce (SAGCC) (see web-site: www.sagcc.biz) is promoting Georgia as a gateway for the Southern African countries into the Caucasus and Eurasia, with Georgia as an investor-friendly base and hub to work from. Most of the countries in the Sub-Saharan region offer opportunities for Georgian companies in the fields of mining, retail, wine and mineral water. Georgians and South Africans share various cultural goods such as sport (rugby/swimming/mountain biking), exquisite food and wine. Georgia’s Black Sea resorts, skiing, warm water spa, mountain resorts and world-renowned unique wine regions should attract hundreds if not thousands of South Africans who are known as frequent travellers. There are daily flights with Turkish Airlines from both Cape Town and Johannesburg via Istanbul to Tbilisi and Batumi. During September a group of 100 South Africans will participate in the World Biathle and Triathle Championships to be held in Batumi. The SAGCC is planning a visit by a business and trade delegation from the Cape Winelands District to Tbilisi and Telavi during October 2015 to further cement opportunities. Both South Africa and Georgia will participate in the 2015 Rugby World Championship to be held in the UK in September 2015. These synergies are highly promising for advanced bilateral cooperation. 

A single largest business opportunity in South Africa as much as in the African continent, in general, is its growing consumer market. Georgian businesses should look at these opportunities in terms of the need for diversification. The strength of Georgia and Georgians rests in maintaining open-minded approaches to the challenges lying ahead, be it economic prospects or foreign policy dilemmas. Georgian entrepreneurs should show more inquisitiveness and boldness in exploring new possibilities, in developing export-import and other business links with yet unexplored regions like Africa, while the Government facilitates the overall process of diversification – so important for national security in the current global trends and circumstances. Georgia, as a nation, has the geo-strategic location, the cultural depth and enough intellectual capacity to set ambitious agenda of attaining new and strong partnerships adding up to the usual neighborhoods and beyond traditional partners. In a globalised world, Georgia will be a stronger and a safer place, with an improved international outreach, multiplied options and diversified alliances not only in terms of Government-to-Government, but also in the context of business-to-business dimensions. As Nelson Mandela - the prominent son of South Africa and the author of the country’s miraculous peaceful transformation has noted: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” It can be done.