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.”
South Africa: Returning tostatism?
The South African state of disaster has been evolving since its declaration on March 15th. Following local and global acclaim for its responsive, science-based approach, the government has come under increased scrutiny for its turn towards command and control. Following the extended 35-day lockdown, President Ramaphosa announced a staged relaxation which paradoxically included strict limitations which were not part of the preceding ‘hard’ lockdown. For the first time in its democratic history, South Africa is under a nightly curfew. While the global health pandemic associated with COVID-19 may be novel, the government’s response appears awfully familiar. Different as the situations may be, to understand the present one should turn to past.
Since 1994, South Africa has abided the post-Cold War international order to pave its path along Western liberal norms. The newly elected liberation party assumed the power of government at a time when it had little choice but to accede to these prevailing internationalist truths. It could either stand secure inside a global arrangement of states which ensured wealth and privilege along mandated rules and lines of thought or it could perilously go at it alone.
Based on hegemonic international practices and due on the injustices and vagaries of country’s brutalized past, the ANC sought to salvage the state it inherited in accordance with the international system; it gave up an element of sovereign independence, chose to reconfigure its revolutionary strategy and became a casualty of its time by acquiescing to fantastical end of history persuasions. South Africa chose indirect governance over direct government.
This approach to power is captured in the dogma of good governance, the conformity to a set of prescribed indicators of administrative best practice; a managerial approach to political authority. Good governance does not interrogate peculiarities, nor is it based on the lay of the land. Instead, it accedes to specific standards. Having never executed power, the ANC alliance assumed leadership by following.
Through efforts to advance the rights-based democratic ideals which gave expression to the Constitution, it pursued development along international governance norms. The constitutive initial phase of democracy, characterized by consultation, policy formulation and institutional consolidation adhered to this dogma. Government’s aspirational approach aligned to the aspirational character of the new Constitution. The modalities of good governance were, however, as foreign to the ANC as they were to South Africa. In according international norms, the history of the state was suppressed.
When Nelson Mandela assented to the presidency, a new nation was not birthed. The South African state remained; it was given another life. This is the reason the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rebuffed Fw de Klerk’s presence at the SONA earlier this year. This was no argumentum ad hominem.It was a politically astute move to delegitimate the government. It charged the ANC with ruling over the state of De Klerk. By rejecting the government’s legitimacy, its authority over law and order, the EFF seeks to bring down the edifice upon which government rests. Potentially portending a move toward coup d’etat, it presciently recalls the architecture and history of the state. While the ANC government prefers to limit the debate about the history of the state, the EFF critically reminds South Africans of their history. It invokes an awakening to the history of the state.
To accurately perceive the frenzied national condition, South Africa needs to shed the veil of ignorance that conceals the history of the state.
The late 1970s saw the introduction of a total national strategy that was legitimised by what the state labelled a total onslaught; today benignly referred to as the ‘struggle’. These analogous approaches shaped the national order which emerged in 1994. The total national strategy as laid out in the 1977 White Paper on Defence called for a “comprehensive plan to utilize all the means available to a state… A total national strategy is, therefore, not confined to a particular sphere, but applicable at all levels and to all functions of the state structure”.
As was the case under the total strategy, today’s concern is security. Security oriented government by decree is being justified in the fight against the nebulous COVID-19.
The ominous rise of the ambiguous National Coronavirus Command Council begs serious questions. It reminds of how under the total national strategy, power moved from cabinet to be concentrated into the State Security Council and later the National Security Management System. Vigilance must persist against decreed rule by selective committees.
Whereas the pragmatic Prime Minister PW Botha essentially portrayed the role of a crisis manager, today the similarly astute administrator Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, regarded by some as a sort of Prime Minister, rules by regulation. Botha was obsessed with security; to maintain law and order Botha insisted upon an expanded militarisation despite the government recognition that there was no military solution. Today command and control again reign supreme. Reminiscent of the 1980s, the defence force is again (mainly) wielding sjamboks in townships. With more than 70 000 troops deployed to maintain law and order, South Africa is clearly no longer in the domain of governance, it has returned to statist government. The state is again seeing a total strategy whereby the resources of war are mobilised at political and economic levels. What really is the perceived threat upon which government’s strategy is based? Is the defence force called upon because the state is fearful of its ability to maintain trust and legitimacy? Is it facing a potential loss in law and order? Though the virus is new, South Africa has been here before.
The ongoing state of exception presents a Manichean situation whereby claiming one’s rights, one necessarily stands outside the law. The threat of a normalised state of exception isthe temporary if not permanent loss of freedom. In the words of famed American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden: “a virus is harmful, but the destruction of rights is fatal”.
South Africa’s bewilderment has largely been based on the perception that there is no precedent to demonstrable state control. COVID19 may be novel, but limitation, South African government by regulation, is not. There is an urgent need to wake up to history, to view the past in order to discern the present. While the ANC government has consulted widely and the state of exception is administered under the relevant Act, any limitation of rights and privileges must be challenged. Learning from the past, South Africans must be cautious of securocrats’ use of security as a central means of government.
Despite Criticisms, Madagascar Moves Ahead With COVID-Organics
While Western and Europeans and Asians race to find vaccines for coronavirus, Africa can no longer wait for that scientific discovery that experts have said it would, most probably, be ready in a year or two. Some experts have argued that coronavirus would never disappear, but rather becomes endemic.
Indeed, the crisis has put the global science to practical test. Every individual country is busy fighting the pandemic in its own way, trying to make sure that it gains from the crisis. As the virus persistently sweeps across the world, southern African island of Madagascar seems desirous with an initiative to tap into its local herbal science to produce COVID-Organics to save human lives.
Madagascar, a southern African island in the Indian Ocean, has found an alternative to fight the fast spreading coronavirus, beginning on experimental basis and with a rudimentary approach at home. With increasing number of coronavirus, Madagascar is steadily depending on its natural resources to help Africa. As a result of the island’s isolation, Madagascar is home to various unexploited plants found nowhere else on Earth. Many native plant species are used as herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions.
On April 21, the President of Madagascar Andry Rajoelina officially launched a local herbal remedy claimed to prevent and cure the novel coronavirus. The drink is simply called COVID-Organics and is derived from Artemisia – a plant with proven efficacy in malaria treatment.
During an African Union meeting late last month, he stressed the importance of the herbal cure – a variant of which prevents the virus, while another cures it. Speaking to colleague heads of state with a bottle of COVID-Organics on his table, he reiterated the viability of the herbal cure.
“There are two treatment protocols (curative and preventive). The state of health of COVID-19 patients who took Tambavy CVO CovidOrganics improved after 7 days and fully recovered after 10 days. These patients have taken no other product than COVID-Organics,” Rajoelina said.
In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 and RFI, Rajoelina defended his promotion of a controversial homegrown remedy for COVID-19, stressing that COVID-Organics works really well. He further claimed that if a European country had discovered the remedy, people would not be so skeptical. “What if this remedy had been discovered by a European country, instead of Madagascar? Would people doubt it so much? I don’t think so,” the president told FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman and RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier.
“What is the problem with COVID-Organics, really? Could it be that this product comes from Africa? Could it be that it’s not OK for a country like Madagascar, which is the 63rd poorest country in the world… to have come up with (this formula) that can help save the world?” asked Rajoelina, who claims the infusion cures patients within ten days.
“No one will stop us from moving forward – not a country, not an organization,” Rajoelina said in response to the WHO’s concerns, and added the proof of the tonic’s efficacy was in the “healing” of “our patients”, calling it a “preventive and curative remedy,” according to the report.
In a similar argument, Dr. Charles Andrianjara, Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) Director General pointed out straight “COVID-Organics will be used as prophylaxis that is for prevention, but clinical observations have shown a trend towards its effectiveness in curative treatment.”
In a response to an email media query, an official at the presidency wrote: “We are committed to taking the traditional therapies through the same clinical trials as other medication. It’s about time to participate and not only observe. As the opportunity emerges, we have the resources to use as a remedy against coronavirus, and to save lives. We need to think how to use it productively and profitably now.”
The global scientific community has become curious. Scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute in Potsdam are among a group of researchers from Germany and Denmark collaborating with the United States company, ArtemiLife, to explore whether the Artemisia plant can really be used against the coronavirus.
“It is the first study in which scientists are investigating the function of these plant substances in connection with COVID-19,” the Head of the Study Group, Peter Seeberger, said in an interview with DW.
On April 28, while in a video conference with Foreign Ministers from Brazil, China, Russia and South Africa, the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted that the pandemic not only poses a great risk to the health and well-being of humanity but also severely impacts on the global economy.
According to Jaishankar, India is providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries, including many countries in Africa, to support their response to the pandemic, and emphasized the need to provide support to businesses, especially small and medium scale enterprises, and the efficacy of traditional medicine systems.
Chinese are highly sensitive to opportunities, leverage indiscriminately to almost all sectors in Africa. Now China is showing interest in adopting and collaborating with Madagascar’s herbal initiative. China has already promised to scale up its assistance to Africa by creating a health care initiative that allow African countries to access funds to address challenges in the healthcare delivery. It plans to build the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
One area that presents the world with opportunity, and has be explored in the search for treatment is the field of herbal medicine. So far, many countries are adopting supportive care and non-specific treatment options to relieve patient symptoms. Chinese traditional medical practices in China and herbal preparation from Madagascar raise hopes for COVID-19. The potential here gives credence for consideration as traditional and herbal remedy for COVID- 19, argued Justice Ray Prah from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
Madagascar’s scientific initiative has drawn wide criticisms, instead of encouragement and support. The World Health Organization (WHO), established to monitor and tackle global health problems, research for innovative ways to ensure health of people, was rather the first to punch Madagascar. The officials have explained that the local African brew safety and effectiveness have not been assessed internationally, nor has any data from trials been published in peer-reviewed studies. Mainstream scientists have warned of the potential risk from consumption of untested herbal brews.
The African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have made similar claims and said they would only support and endorse products that proved effective through scientific study.
But, the African Union, all African Governments and Regional Organizations have to get committed to taking “traditional therapies” through the same clinical trials as any other medication. It is worth to say that it is necessary to make collective or continental efforts toward finding a remedy against coronavirus.
African leaders have to understand that an effective COVID-19 vaccine, if it ever arrives, has to be treated as a public good for the whole of the global society, but at a cost not as a humanitarian aid. The combination of national self-interest and pressure for the pharmaceutical industry to make a profit is already triggering a geopolitical bust up over who actually gets access to the vaccine first.
Several media reports said an increasing number of African countries are opting for the COVID-Organics. About 10 African leaders have, already ordered for it since its launch in April. The countries include Chad, Comoros Islands, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and United Republic of Tanzania.
With COVID-19, Africa has to explore its own resources. African countries and the African Union (AU) have to reinforce scientific cooperation among its member states so that the continent can be ready for quick and concerted efforts to deal with unexpected health crises such as coronavirus, recently argued Dr Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal and currently President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council in Dakar, Senegal.
It is certainly too soon to draw some lessons on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic since it continues to dramatically affect significant segments of the world population and still remains a puzzle, an enigma for the world scientific community. Some African governments, at different levels, have mobilized their resources and expertise, elaborated innovative strategies and carried out bold and strategies to contain the spread of the coronavirus, she explained.
“The African Union has to reinforce the scientific cooperation among its member states in order to ensure our common health sovereignty. This is urgent today, to put in place a genuine scientific partnership between our African universities so that we can identify anticipatory and preventive therapeutic and pharmaceutical solutions to human suffering. We must actively encourage the African scientific diaspora to build solid cooperation, exchange network systems with our counterparts from the continent in order to build African centers of research and laboratory excellence,” suggested Touré.
Touré explicitly concluded that only these would be capable of helping to inspire widely recognized African initiatives on the cutting edge of research and development for medicinal and vaccine cures. This is the true path to health sovereignty.
Nearly a quarter of a billion people across Africa will catch coronavirus during the first year of the pandemic, the World Health Organization has said in a new study published in the British Medical Journal. The study further warns that 190,000 Africans could die of COVID-19 in the first 12 months of the pandemic unless urgent action is taken.
According to the latest figures from the WHO, Africa has more than 60,000 cases of COVID-19, which implies that Africa has been spared the worst of the pandemic. Experts say that the low number of tests in Africa is certainly hiding the true scale of the crisis. The African countries most affected by the pandemic included South Africa and Maghreb countries of Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. Ghana and Nigeria have disturbing infected numbers in West Africa.
Thirty-five (35) African countries have each recorded less than a thousand cases. Eritrea is among a handful of African countries that have not recorded deaths as of May 15, others are Madagascar, Central Africa Republic, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Lesotho, Rwanda and Uganda. Mauritius declared total recoveries (332) from coronavirus infections (332) as of May 11.
Madagascar reported no deaths. Out 238 cases, it claimed 126 active and 112 have recovered. Madagascar’s natural resources include a variety of agricultural and mineral products. Its major health infrastructure, in poor conditions, similar to many African countries. Madagascar, located in southern Africa, has 26.3 million population and belongs to the group of least developed countries, according to the United Nations. It is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU).
In the Era of COVID-19, Russia’s Strategic Politics of Aid Takes the Stage in Africa
With coronavirus rapidly spreading among the population of 148 million, Russia took the third position in the world. According to the official data provided on May 11, Russia had an aggregate total of 221,344 COVID-19 cases. The United Kingdom and Italy earlier reported 219,183 and 219,070 cases, respectively. Spain comes in second with 224,390 coronavirus cases, and the United States ranked first with nearly 1.4 million cases.
That is a huge gap compared to over 50,000 cases among 1.3 billion population of Africa, at a first glance, and readily offered an understandable story. South Africa and Maghreb region are the hardest hit and worse affected with the coronavirus in Africa. As expected, the pandemic places diverse impact on the global economies and the society, recommended measures have been taken in a bid to prevent the coronavirus spread.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report, Africa still behind European countries when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak and is far from seeing its peak. While Africa has only reported more than 50,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus early May, the UNECA-released report “COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies” said “anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.”
According to the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), the hardest hit are South Africa and mostly Maghreb countries of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These Maghreb countries have strengthened information controls, instead of upholding transparency during the health crisis, but generally reported to have more than 5,000 infections, while in Tunisia, there are 1,018 patients and 43 people have died. In sub-Saharan West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are also among the top ten African countries affected the pandemic.
While Russia, for a time, appeared to escape a serious coronavirus outbreak, the situation there has changed drastically during these two months of April and May, – passing Germany and France to become the third most-infected country in the world, according to The Moscow Times. Russia now has the fastest rate of new cases in Europe, and second-fastest rate of new cases in the world behind the United States.
In an important part, Russian health workers are still reporting a shortage on protective equipment. With the picture getting highly scary, Russian President Vladimir Putin worries about any slightest missteps when, in one of his live television speeches, he warned: “We cannot jump ahead of ourselves. Any carelessness or haste may cause a setback.”
Despite its internal difficulties, Russia has been offering coronavirus assistance to a number of Africa countries. Russia is using it bilateral and multilateral mechanisms in addressing these requests filed by African countries since March after the coronavirus pandemic had spread to the continent that consists of 54 countries. However, Lesotho and Comoros are free from the coronavirus.
Russian Foreign Ministry said a number of African countries have requested Moscow’s assistance in combating the coronavirus. “A number of countries on the African continent have requested Russia’s assistance in combating COVID-19. African nations need a wide range of medical equipment, including ventilators, as well as testing systems, individual protective gear, disinfectants and consumables. These requests are carefully studied and the situation in a particular country is taken into account,” it reported, adding that coronavirus spread rates were relatively low in African countries, with the exception of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.
“However, this issue is causing serious concern to many countries on the continent. The social and economic situations in many of these countries are complicated, while high population density, poor healthcare systems, various crises and conflicts, transparent borders and uncontrolled migration can lead to a sharp rise in cases and unpredictable consequences,” the statement said.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the pandemic may negatively affect African countries’ ability to carry out major tasks to overcome poverty, ensure sustainable development and implement integration projects. Russia had been assisting African countries in responding to natural disasters and the spread of infectious diseases, including the Ebola fever. “We will do what we can to help the continent combat the coronavirus pandemic, using bilateral mechanisms and those of international organizations,” the ministry said, noting that “when making decisions, we will take a whole set of factors into account, including Russia’s coronavirus spread rate.”
Understandably, wholesale provision of coronavirus assistance is, absolutely and practically, impossible to Africa. Therefore, in the shadow of COVID-19, Russia is strategically choosing for its coronavirus aid destinations inside Africa, experts argued. Historically, Russia has had a high preference for the Maghreb region and southern African countries. Thus, in the months of April and May, aid was delivered to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. Ethiopia and Djibouti in eastern Africa. In southern Africa, the beneficiaries included Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to various media reports inside Africa.
On May 11, at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more than 28 thousand units of laboratory supplies and 8 thousand units of personal protective equipment including protective clothing, respirators, reusable full-face masks with a set of filters and gloves were delivered. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs media report, the cargo was sent by Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor.
The delivery event was attended by the DRC Minister of Health, Dr Eteni Longondo, Advisers to the President, P. Muanda Congo and S. SialSial, as well as the Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI), Professor J.M. Muyembe Tampam and Russian Ambassador Aleksey L. Sentebov.
According to WHO, Congo confirmed its first case of coronavirus mid-March, and as of May 5, there were only 264 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in a country of some 80 million people. Therefore, the Russia’s assistance provided is extremely timely, since epidemics of coronavirus, Ebola, Cholera and Measles broke out, at the same time, in the country. In difficult sanitary and epidemiological conditions, DR Congo is experiencing a sharp shortage of equipment, tests, medicines, vaccines, and there are not enough masks, gloves, and disinfectants.
In this regard, the Congolese are looking forward to the arrival of two mobile laboratories at the end of May this year, which, due to their versatility, can be used to combat the spread of a number of especially dangerous infections, including COVID-19. Russia plans to train Congolese personnel in these microbiological complexes.
In addition, as part of the provision of gratuitous anti-epidemic assistance, Rospotrebnadzor plans to send modern laboratory equipment, diagnostic preparations, vaccines against BVE, cholera, plague and measles, test systems for the detection of Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, cholera and coronavirus to Kinshasa.
Russian-Congolese health contacts are quite extensive and are backed by an agreement signed between the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Humanitarian Affairs and the DRC on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 in Sochi. Over the course of several years, Russian virologists have repeatedly visited this country in order to identify its urgent needs, held meetings with local specialists and, in the most difficult period of the global spread of coronavirus in the Republic of Congo.
Russia’s Sputnik News, under the headline, “Tunisia Asks Russia for Respirators, Masks, Medical Equipment Amid Pandemic” quoted the Tunisian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Tarak ben Salem who said: “This request for assistance is a part of friendly relations between Tunisia and Russia. Tunisia, like many other countries, is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. We need respirators, masks and medical equipment that will help provide services in public hospitals.”
“Tunisia, a country close to Italy, appreciated the assistance provided by Russia to this neighboring friendly country,” Salem explained and added “Tunisia hopes for a step forward from Russia, which has promised to consider our request. This can only confirm the quality of friendly and fraternal relations between our countries and our peoples.”
Nevertheless, Russia is also exploring the opportunities in Tunisia, and as part of its geopolitical expansion and influence in Maghreb region. According to the ambassador, Russia has pledged to look into Tunisia’s request.
The United States had granted $500,000 in health assistance to address the coronavirus outbreak in Djibouti. Shortly thereafter, the Russian Foreign Ministry also posted to its official website that Russia had delivered humanitarian assistance to Djibouti in East Africa. Late April, Russian humanitarian aid to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Djibouti was delivered and was described as part of a joint project with the World Health Organization. It was financed by the Russian Government to enhance Djibouti’s potential in the field of medical emergency readiness and response.
“This humanitarian action comes in response to an official request from the Djiboutian authorities in view of the serious deterioration in the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country caused by heavy floods and the spread of the novel COVID-19 infection. A consignment of humanitarian aid weighing a total of 13.5 tons and consisting of more than 20 multi-purpose medical modules to fight dangerous infectious diseases was delivered to Djibouti’s seaport. The shipment included tents and components to build two medical units for rendering skilled assistance to over 200,000 people,” according to report of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The report indicated that “the ceremony was attended by Russian Ambassador to Djibouti Mikhail Golovanov, WHO Representative Dr Ahmed Zouiten and Djiboutian Minister of Health Mohamed Warsama Dirieh. The Djiboutian leadership expressed its sincere appreciation to the Russian side for the assistance amid such a complicated epidemiological situation.”
Djibouti has seen a rapid spike in coronavirus cases with the Horn of Africa nation, as the population largely ignores measures imposed by authorities. As a tiny country, it shares borders with Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north and the Red Sea. Djibouti is a multi-ethnic, with a population about one million, but strategically important country that hosts the United States and French military bases, has recorded 1,116 positive coronavirus cases — small on a global scale. Only two (2) people have died to date, according to the report from the Ministry of Health.
With its burgeoning commercial hub, it serves strategically as the site for various foreign military bases. The hosting of foreign military bases is an important part of Djibouti’s economy. The United States pays $63 million a year to rent Camp Lemonnier, France and Japan each pay about $30 million a year and China pays $20 million a year. The lease payments added up to more than 5% of Djibouti’s GDP of $2.3 billion in 2018.
China has, in recent times, stepped up its military presence in Africa, with ongoing plans to secure an even greater military presence in Djibouti specifically. China’s presence in Djibouti is tied to strategic ports to ensure the security of Chinese assets. Djibouti’s strategic location makes the country prime for an increased military presence.
Undoubtedly, Russia has shown interest in strengthening its ties with the country. Russians believe it could take steps to overcome the impasses in the disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea, between Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as international support for Somalia’s efforts to restore its statehood in the Horn of Africa. It has proposed an elaborate plan from maintaining peace and security to promoting socioeconomic development in the Horn of Africa and that includes Djibouti.
Over the past few years, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had extensive discussions on investment in high technology and transport logistics in Djibouti and Eritrea, both neighboring countries in the region.
It is worth to note that Russia and Algeria has friendly sustainable relations. A Russian cargo aircraft has delivered personal protective equipment to help tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic in Algeria. Algeria’s Minister of Health, Population and Hospital Reform Abderrahmane Benbouzid and Russian Ambassador Igor Belyaev were at the air base of Boufarik, Blida (50-km south of Algiers), to take delivery of the cargo, Algeria Press Service reported April 30.
According to the information made available, the Russia’s humanitarian aid, consists of medical protective equipment was purchased by the Rosoboronexport, the State Arms Exporter, it was done upon the Russian government’s instructions in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic. “Among the medical items delivered to Algeria are infrared thermometers, suits, medical masks and other goods, needed by the friendly nation of Algeria and its healthcare sector,” the media said. Cooperation in fighting COVID-19 strengthens the humanitarian aspect of Russian-Algerian relations.
Given this global scenario of COVID-19, it becomes a conduit to play some game cards. For instance, Russia’s pursuit of playing a bigger role in global political realm is grounded on the consequences Russia faced in the aftermath of the collapse of USSR. That was followed by a huge political chaos and instability of its socio-economic space. However, Russia cling to it as the new game changer and now plays the catch-up. Russia seems to have neglected the potential opportunities in Africa, according to PunsaraAmarasinghe, a former research fellow at the Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and now a PhD candidate in international law from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.
“Perhaps, Russia needs a lot more of efforts to revive old ties in African countries, to engage in a large scale investments and energy. Humanitarian assistance could be a strategic mechanism, the lack of Russian soft power in African states is another main trouble that continues to hinder Russia’s realization of its policy projects,” Amarasinghe wrote in his emailed discussion.
He further compares how Britain, France and even India are performing with the use of their soft power in African space, added finally that “Russia still has the opportunities, Moscow only needs to address more on African states beyond arms trade and offering assistance, but covering much important issues such as education, energy politics and investment. These have to be taken in practical terms, not just mere rhetoric.”
On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a powerful autonomous Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference under theme “The Future of Africa in the Context of Energy Crisis and COVID-19 Pandemic” – with participation of foreign policy experts on Africa. Chairing the online discussions, Igor Ivanov, former Russian Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech. He pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa following the pandemic is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, built on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in Sochi in October 2019.
On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Igor Ivanov strongly reminded that “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”
The speakers presented scenarios of the development of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on the continent, the impact of the coronavirus on various industries, the economic and social development of African countries. Experts discussed the role of integration associations on the continent, the existing and the expected problems in the work of humanitarian missions and programs supervised by international organizations.
For many African countries, it is the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to COVID-19. It is time to take the opportunity it offers to catalyze action on structural deficits. The current predicament triggers long-term shifts toward universal access to health and education. It is time to think of improving communities with the necessary infrastructure. Although it has abundant natural resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, the result of a variety of causes include corrupt governments, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.
With its 1.3 billion people, Africa accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population. Africa, comprising 54 countries, is the world’s second largest and second-most populous continent after Asia. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, many foreign eyes, such as the United States and Canada, Europe, China, Russia and the Gulf States, are still on Africa.
Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), Regional organization and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable economic development and subsequent integration. It sets further as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significance of these in the context of tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
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