Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.
A lack of focus and lack of interest are hindering what could be a beneficial economic and political relationship between Russia and the African continent. Russia today does not have a concrete policy agenda for Africa, and offers much less to the continent now than it did during the Soviet era, at least according to Irina Filatova, professor emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and a professor at the National Research University at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
Lack of credit support and investment guarantees from the Russian government and financial institutions have been cited as the major impediments for Russian companies willing to invest in the African continent. These setbacks have culminated in the world’s biggest country by size lagging behind such economic powerhouses as the United States and China in expanding a footprint in Africa.
Recognizing the widening gap and huge untapped potential in their economic cooperation, Russia and Africa are gearing up efforts in raising the level of trade and business, Lyubov Demidova, Deputy Chairperson of the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Moscow Region, explained in an interview with me, while emphasizing unreservedly the importance of increasing business and economic cooperation with the African countries.
Over the past two decades, Russia's efforts to regain its Soviet-era influence in Africa have achieved little success because "times have changed significantly, for example, a new economic and political environment, new emerging challenges, new competitive conditions and new bases for cooperation," according to Nataliya Zaiser, a Public Policy Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs Moscow office covering Russia, the Eurasian Union and Africa, and also the Chair (Head) of the Africa Business Initiative.
As already well-known, since Soviet days, Russia has pursued a pragmatic policy aimed at enhancing multidimensional ties with the countries of the continent on the bilateral and multilateral basis. Experts say while building mutually beneficial cooperation remains one of the main priorities of Russia, its economic cooperation with Africa has hit stumbling blocks, for example, trade turnover with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa for the period from January to December 2015 was estimated at US$ 3.3 billion.
After the collapse of the Soviet empire, Russia has steadily shown interest in many spheres, ranging from political consultations through business and economic cooperation to culture with African countries. Of a special focus, Russia attaches significance to deepening trade and investment cooperation with Africa.
Over the past few years, Russian authorities have been prioritizing media cooperation and the use of soft power to address the falling image of Russia among the political and business elites in Africa. The authorities have also made persistent efforts to inform the elites and business community about the positive developments and emerging economic opportunities in Russia, but Russian media and policy experts say there is still much room for improvement.