The 24th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was celebrated virtually on 25th March 2021 with participation of IORA Secretariat, Member States and Dialogue Partners. Dr Gatot Gunawan, the acting Secretary General welcomed the Member States and Dialogue Partners and stated that the virtual celebration of the IORA anniversary was an opportune moment to reflect on the progress made during these twenty-four years of its existence as also the challenges for the IOR amid the outbreak of the pandemic of COVID-19 which has “crippled our economy and put burden on the health infrastructures across the world”. The Acting Secretary General, also launched a unique academic initiative ‘Connecting the Youth of the Indian Ocean Region’ aimed at seeking writing contributions on any topic of interest based on IORA’s Priority and Focus Areas, or a specific theme such as climate change, marine plastic debris etc.
The Member States expressed great pride in their membership of the IORA and looked forward to bright future for the organisation. In his inaugural speech, as Chair of the IORA for 2020-21, H.E Ahmed Al Sayegh, Minister of State, United Arab Emirates, appreciated the growth of IORA since its inception on 07 March 1997 as a regional organisation with 23Member States and ten Dialogue Partners. He was hopeful of the meaningful contribution of the UAE in its last year of chairmanship of IORA in 2021.
As Vice-Chair and the next Chair of the IORA, H.E. Prof. A. K. Abdul Momen, Minister of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, recognised the milestones achieved by IORA in its six priority areas and two cross-cutting areas. He commended IORA for fostering cooperation and collaboration in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
H.E. Nadeli Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Republic of South Africa, as past Chair of IORA,reminded of the vision of late President Nelson Mandela which pioneered the creation of IORA keeping in mind multilateralism, peace and development in the IOR. The diverse membership of IORA remains a core strength of the institution and today, the geo-strategic position of IORA is soaring. Human development is a main goal of IORA which will foster unity, stability and peace in the region.
Undoubtedly, the Member States of IORA form the core of the institution and their increased engagement, dialogue, cooperation and collaboration play a key role in sustainable and inclusive development in the IOR. The outbreak of the pandemic of COVID-19 has raised concern about the need for fostering more meaningful partnerships between Member States in order to combat this common threat.
The pandemic has reminded the IORA Member States of the need for strong and robust early-warning mechanisms and for enhanced communication and data-sharing among countries in the IOR. It also warned about the differing development levels of the countries and the need to bridge expectation and capabilities gap in order to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic. The pandemic has spill-over effects on all the six priority and two cross cutting focus areas of IORA.
It is critical central that Member States work together to review the progress of the organisation in the realisation of the IORA Action Plan 2017-2021 and articulate a feasible and impactful IORA Action Plan 2022-2026. In line with this objective, the UAE has hosted on 20-21 October 2020 a Workshop to review the progress of the IORA Action Plan (2017-2021) and undertake preparations of a new Action Plan (2022-2026).
The new IORA Action Plan 2022-2026 requires greater reflection and incorporation of current challenges such as health crisis, pandemic management, technology, human development, and access to resources, maritime issues, pre-emptive risk and disaster management, transnational crime, gender issues, amongst others. A network approach to diplomacy can be explored in order to generate momentum between various stakeholders and actors in the region which will pave the way for better solutions to regional challenges.
IORA has the potential to be catalytic to achieving higher progress in the region but the ambitions should be complemented with adequate and high caliber capacity building, technology transfer, resources of all kinds, robust regional policies, dynamic engagement and dialogue amongst countries and a common vision for the region. A clear mechanism for engagement with the Dialogue Partners is also required in order to maximise their contributions to the organisation. Revitalisation of the various Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) signed by IORA with different institutions can also be envisaged so that the Member States can benefit sufficiently from their signing of these collaborations through effective partnerships.
There is no doubt that IORA can potentially benefit from the creation of think tanks and policy centers in order to garner the best academics and policy specialists/advisers in order to advise Member States and also to articulate mutually beneficial regional policy structures. National and regional centers of research and policy-building capacity can outsource tailor-made qualitative and quantitative research on relevant fields and devise appropriate policies to guide member states. Sub-regional approaches to policy in the IOR are also needed because the diverse membership of IORA creates opportunities and challenges for multilateralism. The vision for a Free and Open Indo Pacific can also be potentially used to maximise the benefits of the geographical delineations. At its 24th anniversary, IORA holds much promise for the region and the roadmap for a glorious future needs to be charted wisely.
Ms Madvee Jane Moteea is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).