The Indian Ocean is the world's
third largest ocean. It carries half of the world's container
ships, one third of the world's bulk cargo traffic and two thirds
of the world's oil shipments. It is a lifeline of international
trade and transport. The region is woven together by trade routes
and commands control of major sea-lanes.
The Indian Ocean Rim is a region
comprised of the states whose shores are washed by the waters of
the Indian Ocean. The region is home to about two billion people.
It is a region of much cultural diversity and richness - in
languages, religions, traditions, arts and cuisines. The countries
of the Indian Ocean Rim vary considerably in terms of their areas,
populations and levels of economic development. They may also be
divided into a number of sub-regions (Australasia, Southeast Asia,
South Asia, West Asia and Eastern & Southern Africa), each with
their own regional groupings (such as ASEAN, SAARC, GCC and SADC,
to name a few).
Despite such diversity and
differences, these countries are bound together by the Indian
Ocean. For many centuries, explorers, pilgrims, fishermen, traders
and merchants have traversed the Indian Ocean, establishing
networks of communication and developing the economic and cultural
interconnectedness of the region.
After the Second World War, the
decolonisation process ended British hegemony in the Indian Ocean.
Superpower rivalry in the region escalated, due to the strategic
importance of the area. These common historical and geo-political
experiences engendered a sense of shared identity among the states
of the region. This, in turn, rekindled an awareness of the
centuries-old littoral economic, social and cultural community that
exists all along the shores of the Indian Ocean.
As Nelson Mandela put it (during a
visit to India in 1995): "The natural urge of the facts of history
and geography should broaden itself to include the concept of an
Indian Ocean Rim for socio-economic co-operation and other peaceful
endeavours. Recent changes in the international system demand that
the countries of the Indian Ocean become a single
This is the sentiment and rationale
that underpinned the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative in March 1995, and
the creation of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (then known as the
Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation) two years
later, in March 1997. Today, IORA is a dynamic organisation of 21
Member States and 7 Dialogue Partners, with an ever-growing
momentum for mutually beneficial regional co-operation.