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Russia: Attempting a Bridge to Africa

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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While Russia’s interest in the sub-Saharan Africa is nothing new, Russian authorities have realized that it’s time to move back primarily to reclaim its economic footprints and to find old Soviet-era allies, but that step comes with new challenges especially from other foreign players and the changing internal political and economic conditions in Africa.

For the past few years, Russia authorities have taken steady and strategic steps at the possibility of pushing huge investments in lucrative sectors as ways to strengthen bilateral relations and expand economic cooperation in a number of African countries.

That show of corporate investment and business interests have been sealed into various agreements, for instance, were the results from high-powered state delegations that frequently visited both regions, Russia and Africa, last year and during the first half of 2015.

Keir Giles, an associate fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London explained to me in an email interview that “Russia’s approach to Africa is all about making up for lost time. The Soviet Union’s intense involvement in African nations came to an abrupt halt in the early 1990s, and for a long time Moscow simply didn’t have the diplomatic and economic resources to pay attention to Africa while Russia was consumed with internal problems.”

According to Giles “that changed in the last decade, thanks to two things: the arrival of President Vladimir Putin with a new foreign policy focus, and the massive influx of cash on the back of increased oil prices, which transformed Russian state finances. Russia is interested both in economic opportunities and in rebuilding political relationships that had in some ways been on hold for over a decade.”

In order to raise Russia’s economic influence and profile in Africa, in June 2009, the Coordinating Committee on Economic Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa, popularly referred to as AfroCom, was created on the initiative of the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Vnesheconombank to help promote and facilitate Russian business in Africa. Since its creation, it has had full-fledged support from the Russian Government, the Federation Council and State Duma, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the African diplomatic community.

The vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, Georgi Petrov, noted at the AfroCom’s annual executive meeting held in April 2015 that “in view of the current geopolitical situation in the world and the economic situation in Russia Russian businesses have to look for new markets. In this regard, of particular interest is the African continent, which today is one of the fastest growing regions in the world with an annual GDP growth – 5%. In addition, opportunities for projects in Africa are opened with the accession of South Africa to the BRICS bloc.” Brazil, Russia, India and China are members of BRICS.

Reports also showed that Russia has started strengthening its economic cooperation by opening trade missions with the responsibility of providing sustainable business services and plans to facilitate import-export trade in a number of African countries.

But, these Russian trade centers must necessarily embark on “Doing Business in Africa” campaign to encourage Russian businesses to take advantage of growing trade and investment opportunities, to promote trade fairs and business-to-business matchmaking in key spheres in Africa.

Maxim Matusevich, an associate professor and director, Russian and East European Studies Program at the Seton Hall University, told me in an interview discussion that “in the past decade there was some revival of economic ties between Africa and Russia – mostly limited to arms trade and oil/gas exploration and extraction. Russia’s presence in Africa and within African markets continues to be marginal and I think that Russia has often failed to capitalize on the historical connection between Moscow and those African elites who had been educated in the Soviet Union.”

“It is possible that the ongoing crisis in the relations between Russia and the West will stimulate Russia’s leadership to look for new markets for new sources of agricultural produce. Many African nations possess abundant natural resources and have little interest in Russia’s gas and oil. As it was during the Soviet times, Russia can only offer few manufactured goods that would successfully compete with Western-made products. African nations will probably continue to acquire Russian-made arms, but otherwise, I see only few prospects for a diversification of cooperation in the near future,” added Maxim Matusevich.

As Buziness Africa gathered in May 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has held talks during the first quarter of this year with a number of state delegations at various levels and that included Foreign Ministers from Burundi, Tanzania, Algeria, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Libya and Zambia.

And also at the start of this year, the high-ranking Russian delegation headed by special presidential representative for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov, participated in the 24th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union and on the sidelines held series of diplomatic discussions with representatives from some African countries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“On the sidelines of the forum, Mikhail Bogdanov had meetings and talks with President of the Republic of the Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Mauritania, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, President of Madagascar Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President of Equatorial Guinea Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Gabon Ali Bongo, Vice President of Angola Manuel Vicente, Deputy Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Ben Helli.”

“The parties discussed current bilateral and regional agendas, further improvement of diverse cooperation between Russia and Africa, including cooperation with sub-regional organizations of the continent,” according to the transcript posted to the official website of the Foreign Ministry.

Further to that, Lavrov held a meeting on the sidelines of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The meeting was attended on the SADC side by representatives of Zimbabwe (the SADC presiding country), Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, the Republic of South Africa, as well as SADC Executive Secretary.

Without doubts, Russia’s strategic return to Africa has sparked academic discussions at various levels where academic researchers openly admitted that political consultations are on track, arms exports has significantly increased, but other export products are extremely low. Russia’s involvement in infrastructure development has also been low for the past decades on the continent.

In an interview, Themba Mhlongo, Head of Programmes at the Southern Africa Trust, thinks that Africa should not expect higher trade flows with Russia simply because Africa has not engaged Russia.

Mhlongo told Buziness Africa media that “there is still low Africa-Russia Dialogue or mechanism for dialoguing with Russia, and on the otherhand, Russia has not been as aggressive as China in pursuing opportunities in Africa because Russia has natural resources and markets in Eastern Europe, South West Asia. Russian exports to Africa might be dominated by machinery and military equipment which serves their interest well.”

He suggested that Africa must engage all BRICS members equally including Brazil and Russia in order to build alliances and open trade opportunities including finance and investment opportunities. Also African countries must not seem to show preferences in their foreign policy in favour of Western Europe if they want to benefit from trade relations with Russia. They must learn to be neutral!

Mhlongo suspects that Africa still holds an old view about Russia being a communist state and less technologically developed or unsophisticated compared to Western Europe. But, Russia never colonized Africa and therefore there are no colonial ties between the two.

“If you look at African trade flows to Europe they reflect colonial ties most of the time. However, modern Russia is now one of the important emerging market countries and a member of BRICS. The Russian society is also closed and orientation is towards Western Europe in particular the United States (probably as a result of the period of bi-polar global power system that existed before). Although Russia exports to Africa but rarely sets up businesses. The language (or culture in general) could be one of the barriers to the development of trade relations with Russia,” he pointed out.

He further proposed that both Africa and Russia can initiate a dialogue in the form of Africa-Russian business summit to explore economic opportunities between them. However, there are other avenues to engage each other through the BRICS bloc or through bilateral diplomatic channels. Russia has embassies in Africa and African countries have diplomatic representations in Russia. Africa may have to pay special attention to cultural issues and try to understand Russia in this ever changing environment and find an entry point to engage Russia.

On her part, Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a senior researcher at the Institute of African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences and a staff lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics told Buziness Africa in an interview that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”

The signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in the interview.

The revival of Russia-Africa relations should be enhanced in all fields: political, economic, trade, scientific, technological, and cultural. Obstacles to the broadening of Russian-Africa relations should be addressed. These include in particular the lack of knowledge in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.

“As we witness rapid deterioration of relations between Russia and the West unfold, Russia’s decision to ban the import of some agricultural products from countries that have imposed sanctions against Moscow offers great opportunities for the expansion of trade of such products from Africa,” the academic professor observed in her discussion.

Experts, who have researched Russia’s foreign policy in Africa, at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies, have reiterated that Russia’s exports to Africa can be possible only after the country’s industrial based experiences a more qualitative change and introducing tariff preferences for trade with African partners. As a reputable institute during the Soviet era, it has played a considerable part in the development of African studies in the Russian Federation.

“The situation in Russian-African foreign trade will change for the better, if Russian industry undergoes technological modernization, the state provides Russian businessmen systematic and meaningful support, and small and medium businesses receive wider access to foreign economic cooperation with Africa,” according the views of Professor Aleksei Vasiliev, the director of the RAS Institute for African Studies and full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Evgeny Korendyasov, an expert at the RAS Institute for African Studies.

Statistics on Africa’s trade with foreign countries vary largely. For example, the total U.S. two-way trade in Africa has actually fallen off in recent years, to about $60 billion in 2013, far eclipsed by the European Union with over $200 billion and China, whose more than $200 billion is a huge increase from $10 billion in 2000, according to a recent “Africa in Focus ” website post by the Brookings Institution. According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, Russia’s trade with Africa, south of the Sahara, is only $3.2 billion.

In one of his speeches posted to the official website, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted frankly in remarks: “it is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russian and African partners know more about each other’s capacities and needs. The creation of a mechanism for the provision of public support to business interaction between Russian companies and the African continent is on the agenda.”

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.

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Oil: A blessing or a curse for Somalia?

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Somalia recently reached a landmark agreement with Shell and Exxon Mobil to develop the vast petroleum reserves believed to lie off the troubled country’s coast. The deal rekindles a previous joint venture with the two oil giants that was cut short in 1990 when the ousting of Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre threw the country into a prolonged period of instability—and rekindles debates over whether oil will present greater opportunities or risks to Mogadishu.

Somalia’s new petroleum law, passed by the federal parliament earlier this year, has paved the way for this renewed exploration of the country’s extensive natural resources—estimated at as much as 100 billion barrels. The government hopes that drawing on these riches will help kickstart economic regeneration as the country’s security situation slowly but steadily improves after decades of conflict, terrorism and piracy.

Talks are now being held to enable the agreed concessions to be converted into revenue sharing agreements (RSAs) that will return 55 percent of offshore oil revenues to Somalia’s central government, with the remainder being channelled to member states. A new licensing round, covering another 15 offshore blocks, has begun, with concessions expected to be awarded early next year.

Rebuilding a damaged economy or fuelling rifts?

Concerns are nevertheless rising that the possible influx of petroleum resources may exacerbate existing rifts between Somali states. The adjacent states of Somaliland and Puntland have disputed the ownership of the oil-rich Sool and Sanaag regions for decades; if an exploration licence were granted to a foreign company, the situation could easily descend into war.

Meanwhile, the prospect of oil revenues has also added fuel to the fire of a long-running maritime border row between Somalia and Kenya. In February this year, Nairobi accused Mogadishu of an ‘illegal land grab’ after Somalia attempted to auction off oil and gas blocks from disputed territory on the border between the two countries – a flashpoint which resulted in the recall of the Kenyan ambassador and the tit-for-tat expulsion of the Somali diplomat in Nairobi. The Somali government responded by withdrawing the disputed blocks from sale, pending a judgement by the ICJ.

Learning from experience: Senegal and Equatorial Guinea

As Somalia wrestles with the question of how to benefit from its oil reserves while eschewing further strife, it has examples – both good and bad – among fellow African nations who’ve uncovered fossil fuel deposits.

Senegal, not historically an oil-producing nation, has been the site of a number of promising discoveries recently. Industry analysts have suggested that the Senegal Basin could be the “next offshore boom”—particularly likely following the announcement earlier this month that new, high-quality gas reserves have been discovered at the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim site straddling the Senegalese-Mauritanian border.

Senegal has already faced some of the troubles which inevitably accompany rich petroleum finds. The African Energy Chamber has suggested that recent allegations that the Senegalese president’s brother improperly benefitted from the awarding of oil and gas contracts in fact stemmed from an attempt to taint the reputation of both President Macky Sall and the Senegalese fossil fuel industry in general.

Senegal’s oil hopes have not been derailed, however, and Dakar is making a concerted effort to reap the maximum benefit from its oil reserves. The country’s new petroleum code, voted into law earlier this year, has brought Senegal’s legal framework for natural resources in line with industry norms, increased transparency and upped the state’s share of oil revenues.

If Dakar is so far managing to avoid the notorious “resource curse”, other African countries flush with oil have not found the fuel to be such a boon. Equatorial Guinea is practically a textbook example of a country squandering its oil reserves without returning tangible benefits to its citizens. In fact, while Equatorial Guinea’s per-capita wealth is the highest of any country in sub-Saharan Africa, government spending in areas like health and education are way below average.

That’s not to say some haven’t benefited from the oil millions: President Obiang—who has ruled the country with an iron fist since he had his uncle shot and killed in 1979— has managed to shore up the family coffers nicely, collecting race cars and mansions in Europe and America. Obiang once questioned “what right does the opposition have to criticize the actions of a government?” and spent his early years overseeing Black Beach, the most notorious prison in Africa.

Since Equatorial Guinea discovered oil, however, the despot has been more or less accepted by the international community. The once-shuttered U.S. Embassy in Malabo was reopened and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to Obiang as “an old friend”.

Somalia needs to tread carefully

The cases of Senegal and Equatorial Guinea, among others, offer Somalia guidance as it attempts to use its oil to further its progress towards peace and reconciliation. The involvement of US troops has helped to push back the terrorist group al-Shabab, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that Somalia could qualify for debt relief as early as next spring – which would enable the government to plan public spending programmes and invest in job-creation schemes. However, regulators have cautioned that more needs to be done in the interim to tackle poverty and build a more resilient economy.

Against this backdrop, an oil boom could help Somalia rise to the challenges it faces. But it’s also possible that the influx of wealth could serve to fuel already-serious corruption. In the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Somalia received the highest score out of all 180 countries ranked, making it the most corrupt in the world. Tapping into oil revenues could help lift Somalis out of endemic poverty—almost three-quarters of its population survive on less than two dollars a day— but the vast cash flow this would release may also cause political corruption to thrive, as Equatorial Guinea has shown. Carefully managing any oil finds, as Senegal is trying to do, will be essential for Somalia to maintain recent progress.

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The ambiguity and the ambivalence of the EU position in Western Sahara

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Morocco enjoys an extraordinary geo-strategic position thanks to its Mediterranean Atlantic coastline and its proximity to the European continent, but at the same time, the Moroccan diplomatic influence comes from its occupation of Western Sahara, which is considered as lungs and a Gateway for all connection of Morocco with Africa across the road of El Guergarate. This situation has direct geopolitical and  geoeconomic consequences on Moroccan relations with the European Union and Sub Saharan Africa.

Morocco and the European Union (EU) are bound by an association agreement signed in 1996 and entered into force in 2000, which is concretized in October 2008, by an “advanced status”.

In this context, the 14th meeting of the EU Association Council with Morocco of 27 June 2019, witnessing a new European approach to the issue of Western Sahara, which has been relegated to the second plan, without any declaration that respects the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. It must be admitted, that only the European Court of Justice, which has an indisputable position respecting the international law of non-self-governing territories in the case of Western Sahara.

Indeed, the judgment of 21 December 2016 of the CJEU on the EU-Morocco agricultural agreement (Polisario v. Council), and that of 27 February 2018 on the fisheries agreement (Western Sahara Campaign judgment), distinguish the territory of Western Sahara from Moroccan territory.

However, on 16 July 2018, the EU Council of Foreign Ministers adopted the amendments to the protocols on agricultural products of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, which have the effect of extending its scope to the territory of Western Sahara. The text was approved by the European Parliament on 16 January 2019. Thus born the new position of the EU in favour of Morocco and against the interests of the Saharawi people.

The reasons for the EU’s position are purely strategic and economic

If in post-imperialism the power is vital for the defence of peace, however, be aware that at the age of postmodernism, the use of force is a failure of policy rather than an instrument of policy. The principal objective of foreign policy is to maintain peace and prosperity.

You have to know, at every crisis between Morocco and the EU concerning the Western Sahara issue, it is Morocco that wins politically, because it has other elements of the game such as immigration, security, terrorism, smuggling, cannabis and drugs ,to decrease the risk of these all threatening, EU help Morocco to play the role of the guardian for European security, and the only compensation for Morocco is the change of the EU position in favour of Moroccan thesis.

With the same idea, it is the European companies and especially those of France and Spain that take advantage of the natural resources of Western Sahara, in complicity with the Moroccan authorities whether in agriculture, fishing, phosphates or other metals. But there is another factor, that pushes the EU to change his position.

The divergence between the Polisario Front and Morocco push EU to impose its agenda

It is important to make clear, that Morocco is not the administering Power, but the Occupying Power, with a legal status similar to that of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. The United Nations has never recognized Morocco as the administering power, in fact, has on several occasions disavowed such an occupation.

Since the blockage of the referendum process by Morocco in 1993 (hypothetically where can the Saharawi people choose their destiny), and despite the negotiations and the good offices of UN, the two parties Morocco and Polisario Front are far from choosing the path of reconciliation.

In fact, the Moroccan approach, finds its origin in the idea of Clausewitz, for who war was the continuation of policy. On the other hand, the approach of the Polisario Front accommodated with that of Sun Tzu, the Chinese Taoist military philosopher, who argued that the best war was one that did not have to fight.

This situation has led the EU to choose a new approach.

The EU solution is based on the political approach of enlarging the system

The end of the cold war and the subsequent development was caused by the defeat of the Soviet domestic system has consecrated the victory of the American capitalist system. It is in this sense that the EU wants to strengthen its domestic affairs to have strong diplomacy outside the EU. To exercising influence abroad, you must obtain power at home.

George Kennan had already noticed, ” what must always be accompanied by, or be made subordinate to, a different sort of undertaking, aimed at widening the horizons and changing the motives of men”. We think this observation of the famous American diplomacy, summarizes the diplomacy followed by the EU over Western Sahara since the advent of the Moroccan- European association.

Likewise, the remark of Jean Monnet one of the instigators of the creation of the EU stipulates when you have a problem you cannot solve, enlarge the context. For the UE it is a tactical equation, to find other temporary alternatives solutions against the cardinal principles of international law that govern the relations between different sovereigns states (Morocco and SADR) ,in order to engage larger interests.

You have to notice, the absence of a conflict management policy related to the Maghreb area, whether from a point of view of the military, political, economic and cultural, with the exception of 5+5 dialogue( and where the Saharawi’s are not present), suggests that the European approach is far to be unanimous because of the contradictions of interest between Northern Europe and those of South. The Nordic countries are for the decolonization of Western Sahara, while those of South are for a negotiated solution according to realpolitik situation.

There are other differences of opinion between Germany and France,  for example,if Germany attaches greater importance to respect UN resolutions and respect international law by using the soft power in all its forms of influence, persuasion or negotiation, instead of, France maintains a traditional approach of military design and in a colonial vision.

However, it is important to mention, that the linkage between economic cooperation and conflict resolution, could lead to a definitive peace agreement between Morocco and Polisario Front, if  the EU pushes Morocco and SADR after their accession to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), to join an economical sharing in order to find a peaceful solution to their territorial dispute.

Finally, can the EU come to the same conclusion like John Bolton the security advisor of President Trump, when he say( in a statement to the US magazine on Dec. 13, 2018, on the sidelines of the presentation of the new US strategy in Africa) “ we must think of the people of Western Sahara, think of the Saharawis, many of whom are still in refugee camps near Tindouf, in the Sahara desert, and we must allow these people and their children to return. and have normal lives”.

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Kenyan universities aim to be “greenest in the world”

MD Staff

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Strathmore University students, pictured here with the Flipi-Flopi boat made of recycled marine plastic, organized a garbage clean up in their community. Photo by Canaan Owuor, Strathmore University student.

In Kenya, over 70 universities are being called on by the UN Environment Programme and the Kenyan Government to work together and transform their campuses to be the “greenest in the world”. This comes as Strathmore University in Nairobi has put in place one of the greenest campuses in Africa and is offering its support to other Kenyan universities.

“Universities across Africa can run on the power of the sun and set new standards for sustainability,” says Professor da Silva of Strathmore University. “But it’s just not on the roofs of our campuses that we need to take action. We also need to support students to take action in support of the planet in their personal lives.”

Strathmore University set up its own 600-kilowatt photovoltaic grid tie system about five years ago and is not only enjoying free energy from the sun but also selling the excess to Kenya Power under a 20-year contract.

Another initiative on campus involves “green buildings” which utilize natural lighting, water evaporation cooling systems and rain water, making them much more affordable to run than conventional buildings. Students and faculty members are also working together on projects around plastic recycling and using food left-overs to produce natural gas.

Support is now growing to re-establish the Kenya Green University Network in the country with network members including 18 Universities, such as Karatina University, University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University. At a recent meeting, they

committed to a new plan of action including greening campus operations while also enhancing student engagement and learning.

Apart from the desire to go green, many universities are seeing the shift to adopting green technologies as a way to reduce costs and further sustainability. Strathmore University and Karatina University were selected to lead the effort to commit universities to going green.

Working closely with the Ministry of Environment and the National Environment Management Authority, UN Environment will be hosting a Kenya University Summit in the coming months, calling on other Kenyan universities to join the network.

“Kenyan universities not only define the learning and careers of the next generation, they can also shape their behaviours,” says Juliette Biao, Africa Director for UN Environment. “We look forward to supporting the Green University Network to inspire Kenya’s students and to become a point of reference to other universities on the continent.”

Professor Abutho from Karatina University says: “The [Kenya Green University Network] meeting was timely and has helped me establish relevant contacts to support Karatina University’s solar energy project. Karatina University is at a very advanced stage to implement this project and intends to go 100 per cent solar in the near future.”

The Green University Network in Kenya draws on the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment’s Arusha Declaration “to strengthen environmental education and training and develop an action plan for Africa” and the lessons from Kenya will be shared at a ministerial meeting in South Africa in August.

“I’m particularly happy about the proposed green campuses plan and incorporation of environmental studies into the curriculum,” says Daystar University student Chris Waweru. “This will help students gain the awareness, knowledge and skills needed to impact the environment, thus fast-tracking the movement to a greener and cleaner Kenya.”

UN Environment

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