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.”
The new role of formal and informal academic diplomacy for the China-Africa Forum
Chinese think tanks and research centers play an important role in political decision-making by developing general visions for formulating important political and development decisions in the Chinese and western states. In the recent time, there are seven Chinese study centers entered the global ranking of the best Chinese think tanks around the world, and occupied the first global ranks, most notably:
(China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China Institute of International Studies, Development Research Center of the State Council, Institute of International and Strategic Studies of Peking University, Center for China and Globalization, Shanghai Institute of International Studies)
The (Union of Cooperation of Research Countries for the “Belt and Road” initiative) was established on April 8, 2015, which cooperates with most research centers in China to study the “Belt and Road” initiative and its projects. The Chinese side has officially announced the inauguration and opening of (a committee for the cooperation of international research centers for the “Belt and Road” countries) in the capital, Beijing, under the joint sponsorship of 15 Chinese, foreign and African research centers. Here, the strength of the research centers working on studies of the “Belt and Road” initiative projects in achieving Chinese development around the world and facilitating academic, research and knowledge communication between China and the world increases. There is no doubt that these research centers are now playing a greater role in deepening political communication and popular communication in building the “belt and the Chinese Road” in the future.
At present, Chinese think tanks and research centers play a new and influential role, especially after the announcement of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, through its new practice of what is known as “academic diplomacy”, which is entrusted with sending Chinese experts and academics working in think tanks. Chinese scholars with different disciplines, by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or others, either to find out the prospects for a settlement or to participate in mediation or negotiations about certain political crises, and this is formally or informally, in an announced way or in a parallel track, and sometimes these Chinese researchers and academics are assigned to participate in international conferences to learn about the latest political information and theses to serve the goals of the political decision-maker in Beijing.
The most applicable example of this is what was announced by the ruling Communist Party in Beijing in 2015, to develop between 50 to 100 Chinese research institutions by the year 2020, in addition to the Chinese Communist Party’s call in particular for the development of think tanks specialized in strategic issues and policies related to studies of the Belt and Road. China is also currently working on a large scale to open think tanks outside the geographical scope of the Chinese state in order to enhance international cooperation within the framework of its huge Belt and Road initiative.
Chinese think tanks and research centers are now playing a new role, known as the revolving door policy between diplomats, officials, or senior positions in the Chinese state and its ruling Communist Party, and between experts and workers in those think tanks for research and studies, in terms of alternating various positions in order to assume senior leadership positions within the party. The ruling communist and its various grassroots and party branches in all Chinese provinces and cities. In addition to its most important role in political and partisan education of the masses.
In this context, we note that Chinese think tanks have now become one of the most important actors influencing the decision-making process, and we see this through the arrival of many researchers of these centers to work in various sectors related to the Chinese Communist Party, in addition to their most important role in looking forward to the future by completing future studies, or forward-looking, especially with the emergence of the science of futurism in the world, the results of which have become one of the basic requirements for strategic planning and for making the most correct decisions in the Chinese state.
In analogy to this, the Secretariat of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum through a number of researchers and academics associated with Chinese think tanks and research centers, led by: (The Chinese African Institute, the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, the Peking University Center for African Studies) that have been played a major role On advancing the spirit of friendship and cooperation between China and Africa and working together to implement global development initiatives and achieve the following three goals, as follows:
- First: Enhancing the level of comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Africa
- Second: Accelerating the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
- Third: Enhancing coordination between the vision of Chinese-African cooperation 2035, China’s vision 2035, the United Nations Plan for Sustainable Development for the year 2030, and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
The China-Africa Forum for Think Tanks has played a major and important role in the new Chinese academic diplomacy, whether formally or informally. Majors, the most prominent points of convergence between China and the African continent and activating this through the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, in light of this delicate and sensitive time, in which peace in the world is threatened, and development faces great challenges, especially after the Coronavirus pandemic caused waves of shocks that swept the global economy, and caused the largest global economic crisis, and led to a sharp increase in inequality within and between countries.
Therefore, the role of Chinese experts and academics associated with the Chinese Belt and Road think tanks came to discuss China’s role and its effects through a round table with their African counterparts after the formation of what is known as the China-Africa Think Tank Forum, which is a major quantum leap in the field of academic and research cooperation between Chinese think tanks and their African counterpart in the new era, according to the vision of Chinese President “Xi Jinping”. This was evident as well, through China’s hosting of the meetings of the eleventh session of the China-Africa Forum for Think Tanks, which was hosted by the Chinese capital, Beijing, under the title of:
“Strengthening the spirit of friendship and cooperation between China and Africa through joint action on the Chinese global development initiative”
Through my analytical vision as an expert in Chinese political affairs, I found that the role of Chinese think tanks and research in African affairs has become significant in advancing cooperation and coordination between the two sides, through the China-Africa Forum for Think Tanks, which was officially launched and publicized to activate research and academic cooperation between the two countries. China and Africa. What stopped me most, on a personal, analytical, and academic level, was the fruitful and extensive meetings and discussions that took place in November 2021 between the experts of the China-Africa Forum for think tanks, both Chinese and their African counterparts, which was discussed at length over two full days of dialogues and discussions between the two parties, in the presence of More than 200 participants of African and Chinese officials and specialists, in addition to the participation of about fifty experts, academics and specialized researchers representing all Chinese and African think tanks and research related to the topics of discussion, from about 19 African countries and regions via the Internet. Several important issues were discussed between Chinese and African experts in the context of the comprehensive strategic cooperation relations between China and Africans, and the results of the eighth ministerial conference of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, which was held in the Senegalese capital “Dakar” in November, discussed the important results, and what Beijing put forward, with new programs and initiatives for the future development of the world.
This has been confirmed by Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister “Ding Li”, that the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, the China Global Development Initiative and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) are a Chinese response to contribute to global development, as well as the development of the African continent, and this was discussed at length through China and Africa experts through several meetings, meetings and round tables between the two parties, and convey what was agreed upon to the decision makers of the two parties.
Hence, we will find that Chinese thought and research centers linked to Africa have a major role in making and influencing the political decision of Beijing and the leaders of the ruling Communist Party with regard to the development component of the African continent, as Africa is for the Chinese an important model for promoting cooperation between the countries of the South, as well as being a model for global development cooperation promoted by China in Africa and the world.
Sergey Lavrov to Choose between Illusions and Reality for Africa
Late January, four African countries – South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea – officially hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He went visiting these African countries, as part of laying the groundwork and testing the pulse, ahead of the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit set for late July in St. Petersburg. The first such summit was held in Sochi from October 2019 under the motto “For Peace, Security and Development” which attracted a large number of African representatives.
As Russia prepares to strengthen its overall corporate economic profile during the next African leaders summit, many Russian policy experts are questioning bilateral agreements that were signed, many of them largely remained unimplemented, with various African countries.
At the prestigious Moscow-based Institute for African Studies, well-experienced policy researchers such as Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Arkhangelskaya have argued that Russia needs to be more strategic in aligning its interests and be more proactive with instruments and mechanisms in promoting economic cooperation in order to reap the benefits of a fully-fledged bilateral partnership.
“The most significant positive sign is that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, and authorities are seriously showing readiness to compete with other foreign players. But, Russia needs to find a strategy that really reflects the practical interests of Russian business and African development needs,” said Arkhangelskaya, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics.
Currently, the signs for Russia-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 entered into these years will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in an interview.
The revival of Russia-African relations have to be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russia-African relations have to be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.
While answering questions from the “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin” television programme, December 25, 2022, Lavrov explained that Russia’s motto is the balance of interests. “This balance is the core of our foreign policy. It is the only approach that has prospects in international affairs,” he reiterated, so Russia should balance its interest (not to describe them as enemies) with other external players in Africa.
Lavrov has been in the ministerial seat these several years and, of course, seems to be up to the existing challenges and the comprehensive policy tasks in continental Africa. In Pretoria, Lavrov held discussions with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor. While talking later about Russia-Ukraine crisis at the media briefing, Lavrov said Moscow appreciated “the independent, well-balanced and considerate approach” taken by Pretoria. South Africa has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has been hit by unprecedented stringent sanctions, suffers from isolation.
South Africa has now assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS, a grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India and China. It will, however, host joint maritime drills with Russia and China in February 17 to 27, off the port city of Durban and Richards Bay. Some experts say BRICS grouping, especially in the emerging new geopolitical world, throws many challenges to United States and European-led global governance structures.
In August 2023, South Africa will host the BRICS summit. In this context, the sides expressed confidence that Pretoria’s upcoming chairmanship of this group opened up new opportunities for its future development, including in the context of expanding the partnerships between the five BRICS countries and African states.
Currently, South Africa has little trade with Russia but champions a world view – favoured by China and Russia – that seeks to undo perceived U.S.-hegemony in favour of a “multipolar” world in which geopolitical power is more diffuse.
Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor called for greater economic cooperation between South Africa and Russia at the start of her meeting with Lavrov. “Our countries share growing economic bilateral relations both in terms of trade and investments,” she said. “It is my view that both countries can and must do more to develop and capitalize on opportunities to increase our cooperation in the economic sphere.”
Besides that as indicated above however, Lavrov mentioned peaceful space, high technology, smart cities, and nuclear energy as promising areas of collaboration with South Africa. Pretoria expresses readiness to collaborate, but the question is how to build a supply chain and financial services for collaborative projects in the face of Western sanctions imposed on Russia.
The two are members of BRICS, a grouping of major emerging economies, although they remain relatively insignificant markets for each other: Russia ranked as South Africa’s 33rd-largest trading partner in 2021, with two-way flows amounting to just $1.46 billion. In comparision, South Africa trade with the United States were $10.2 billion in 2021.
Reports have also pointed to the negative effects of Russia’s opaque transactions with South Africa under Zuma administration. “There is a split in the South African establishment between the ruling ANC party and the opposition, which is fiercely against Russian-South African collaboration. There are fears that the country’s frenetic anti-Russian media campaign may gradually tip the scales against Moscow. Nonetheless, for the time being, South Africa is interested in broadening its foreign relations, particularly through the BRICS,” Researcher at the Institute for International Studies at MGIMO, Maya Nikolskaya, told local Russian daily Kommersant.
Maya Nikolskaya underlined the fact that 2022 was generally not an easy year for Russian-African relations. Majority of African countries found themselves under tremendous pressure from the West. However, Moscow still has great potential in Africa: Russia is a major grain exporter and in turn, “Moscow is interested in new sales markets, so building alternative value chains is in the interests of both parties,” the expert explained about Russia’s relations with South Africa.
On his second stopover in the Kingdom of Eswatini, Lavrov expressed deep worriness about the Western dominance, and situations guided mostly by the orders of the former colonial powers. “We understand the painful feelings of the US and Europe, as the structure of international relations is changing, becoming multipolar, polycentric. We cannot change our Western friends and make them polite, behave democratically,” Lavrov said at a news conference following talks with the Kingdom of Eswatini’s top diplomat, Thulisile Dladla.
Reports indicated that King of Eswatini Mswati III has been invited to the Russia-Africa summit to be held this year in St. Petersburg. And Moscow plans to deepen its interaction with Eswatini in the area of Russian grain supplies, the construction of irrigation systems, energy and mineral resources mining. “We stated that efforts should be focused now on the economic sphere, which by its indicators so far lags far behind other areas of our cooperation, above all the excellent level of political dialogue,” the Russian top diplomat said.
About 50 Swazi nationals are receiving military education at Russian Defence Ministry colleges, further agreed to step up cooperation in the field of security. Tongue-twisting Lavrov repackaged a long list of projects, nearly all the sectors including industry, agriculture, information communications technology, digital, education, culture and many others. With a small population of 1.2 million, Eswatini is a the tiny landlocked country in Southern Africa.
During the media conference, he made references to his previous tour in Africa (Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia) and also to the Arab League headquarters. He also discussed BRICS at length, particularly proposals for its expansion, as well as its role in the global economy, globalization and global finance. “BRICS is not planning to shut the door to the rest of the world. On the contrary, we would like to cooperate with all countries as much as possible, equally and based on the balance of interests. The BRICS countries’ approach to global affairs is winning the sympathy of more and more countries across the world, including in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” he asserted.
Wrapping his “business-as-usual” meetings in Eswatini, Lavrov referred to countries as China, India, Turkey et cetera that are emerging together as new multipolar world. But these countries have good economic footprints in Africa. For Russia to recognizably play dominating role similar to China, India and Turkey, it has to make a complete departure from frequent rhetorics and work seriously on its economic policy dimensions in Africa.
The Kingdom of Eswatini, officially renamed from Swaziland in 2018, is a constitutional monarchy with the current constitution in force since February 8, 2006. The country is a member of the British-led Commonwealth. Eswatini, with an approximate population of 1,2 million (2021), is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. It has had diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation since November 19, 1999.
Upon his arrival on January 24, Lavrov and his delegation were welcomed by his Angolan counterpart, Tete Antonio. On the next day, he held an in-depth discussion with President João Lourenço. According to the transcript, the focus was on the preparations for the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, and Scientific-Technical Cooperation and Trade in Luanda in late April. Both, however, outlined steps to advance strategic partnership across all areas.
With Minister of External Relations Tete Antonio, there were questions relating to the launch of Angola’s AngoSat-2 satellite and that allows to continue cooperating in the peaceful exploration of outer space and other high-tech areas. Lavrov and Antonio have ultimately agreed to expedite the coordination of several new intergovernmental agreements, including those on the opening of cultural centres and on the nuclear power industry, humanitarian missions and merchant shipping.
Eritrea was Lavrov’s final working station. With an estimated population of 5.8 million, it is located on the Red Sea, in the Horn of Africa region of Eastern Africa. Russia and Eritrea have had diplomatic relations since May 1993. President Isaias Afwerki has ruled Eritrea with an iron fist since independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Eritrea was one of the countries that voted against a UN resolution condemning Russia over the situation in Ukraine in March 2022.
In April 2022, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed made a visit to Moscow. Both Lavrov and Mohammed reaffirmed Russia’s strategic interest to make coordinated efforts aim at building logistics hub along the coastline. During their meeting, Lavrov promised Moscow’s contribution towards stronger stability and security in the Horn of Africa.
As far back 2018, Lavrov spoke extensively about economic cooperation. According to him, Russia’s truck maker KAMAZ was already working in Eritrea, supplying its products to that country, as was Gazprombank Global Resources, which was building cooperation in the banking sector. The same year 2018, concrete talks were held to build a logistics centre at the port of Eritrea, that makes world’s class logistics and services hub for maritime transportation through the Suez Canal and definitely set to promote bilateral trade.
According to the transcript posted on the website, Lavrov said: “we cooperate in many diverse areas: natural resources, all types of energy engineering, including nuclear and hydroelectric energy, and new sources of energy, infrastructure in all its aspects, medicine, the social sphere, transport and many more.”
Still that same year, Eritrea was interested in opening a Russian language department at one of the universities in the capital of the country, Asmara. Lavrov further indicated: “We agreed to take extra measures to promote promising projects in the sphere of mining and infrastructure development and to supply specialized transport and agricultural equipment to Eritrea.”
As always, Lavrov’s discussions with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki focused on “strengthening bilateral relations as well as regional developments of interest to the two countries.” He, however, reaffirmed Russia’s unconditional commitment to fulfilling all of its obligations under export contracts to send critical food supplies to African countries in need, including under the package agreements reached with the participation of the United Nations.
Isaias Afwerki further listened carefully as Lavrov listed mountains of proposals including those relating to the economy, mining, information and communication technologies, agriculture, infrastructure projects, the possibilities of the sea and air ports of Massawa, as well as Russian proposals for the development of industry in Eritrea. “All these are topics for the upcoming consultations between our ministries of economy. We agreed to start them soon and give them a regular character,” he convincingly assured.
In summary, Lavrov’s trip to Africa, which has become a renewed diplomatic battleground since the Ukraine war began, has taken him to Angola, Eswatini and South Africa. As previously, not a single development project was commissioned in any of the those African countries he visited. It was the usual diplomatic niceties, “dating and promising” but, at least, with a bouquet for the bride.
During his four-African country visit, Lavrov did not hold meetings with any youth and women groups neither did he address a gathering African entrepreneurs. He did not visit any Russian-funded project facility sites to first-hand assess developments and progress there, not any educational establishment especially those dealing with international relations. His meetings were state-centric and mostly office-centered. Throughout his speeches, not a single reference to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). While exploring more opportunities, there was absolutely nothing on Covid-19 and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines or offer practical proposals to develop vaccines for other deadly diseases across Africa.
Lavrov left Moscow the next day after his three-hour media conference, summing up foreign policy achievements and the way forward on 18 January. During that conference, Africa only appeared at the bottom of the discussions. And yet Africa is considered as “a priority” in Russia’s policy. Lavrov made a sketchy response about Africa, and then reminded the gathering of the forthcoming summit planned for late July 2023. He, however, mentioned that there were drafted documents to reset cooperation mechanisms in this environment of sanctions and threats, and in the context of geopolitical changes.
“There will be new trade and investment cooperation tools, logistics chains and payment arrangements. The change to transactions in national currencies is under way. This process is not a rapid one, but it is in progress and gaining momentum,” he told the gathering in quick remarks, then swiftly closed the media conference that day.
Nevertheless, African leaders are consistently asked to support Russia against Ukraine. Since the symbolic October 2019 gathering in Sochi, extremely little has happened. With high optimism and a high desire to strengthen its geopolitical influence, Russia has engaged in trading slogans, and many of its signed bilateral agreements have not been implemented, including all those from the first Russia-Africa summit. The summit fact-files show that 92 agreements and contracts worth a total of $12.5 billion were signed, and before that several pledges and promises still undelivered.
Since his appointment in 2004 as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov has succeeded in building high-level political dialogues in Africa. But, his geopolitical lectures have largely overshadowed Russia’s achievements in Africa. Throughout these several years of his official working visits to Africa, unlike his Chinese counterparts, Lavrov hardly cuts ribbons marking the completion of development projects in Africa.
That however, he needs simultaneously to understand how to approach ideas from inside Africa. These ideas could offer Russia hopes for raising its economic cooperation to a qualitatively new level and ultimately contribute to the building of sustainable relations with Africa. The new scramble for Africa is gaining momentum, therefore Russians have to face the new geopolitical realities and its practical existing challenges. But in the nutshell, Russians seem to close their eyes on the fact that Africa’s roadmap is the African Union Agenda 2063.
For more information, look for the latest Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn” (Part 2) devoted to the second Russia-Africa Summit 2023.
Janet Yellen: U.S. Focuses on Business Investment and Infrastructure Development in Africa
United States officials, at least, are strategically moving to reset multi-dimensional relations with Africa after the last African leaders summit held in Washington. President Joseph Bidden and Vice President Kamala Harris, in well-coordinated working agenda, with the White House, the Department of African Affairs and the U.S. Treasury are up to the task. This challenging task is backed with $55 billion budget publicly announced during the African leaders gathering.
It all began with series of working visit to Africa late December and early 2023, which underscored the message delivered by Biden at last summit: “The United States is all in on Africa, and all in with Africa.” The $55 billion budget and along with private sector investment for Africa, well-built institutionalized structures and the African-American diaspora are distinctively linking together the United States and Africa.
On January 20, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went for a 10-day trip to three African countries that aims to revitalize and expand U.S.-African ties and address challenges such as climate change, food security and debt in Africa. After decades in which China has dominated investment on the continent, the U.S. is pitching itself as a more sustainable alternative. In the sub-Sahara, Yellen visited Senegal, Zambia and South Africa.
That will be followed by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who travelled to three Republics of Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya starting Jan. 25 and another round trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken official visits to Eastern Western and Southern Africa.
In Dakar, Yellen had an extensive and fruitful discussions with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also the rotating Chair of the African Union. The African Union is a 55-member continental organization with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With President Macky Sall, she highlighted United States efforts to boost economic ties with the region “by expanding trade and investment flows,” according to official reports.
Later, she also interacted with Senegal’s Minister of Economy, International Planning, and Cooperation Oulimata Sarr, who, like Yellen, is also the first woman to serve in her current role. In a meeting with Finance Minister Mamadou Moustapha Ba, Yellen said the two officials had “much to discuss on how best to meet the challenges both of our countries face, including in the context of global financial tightening and an increasingly uncertain global economic environment. The U.S. is committed to working with Africa to realize that promise, because we know that a stronger African economy is good for the world, and good for the United States.”
In a speech delivered at a business event in Senegal’s capital Dakar, Yellen mapped out the United States vision for strengthening African relations, eyeing the massive economic opportunities created by its demographic boom.
Currently, Senegal is participating in a G-20 programme that helps finance a shift from fossil fuels to clean power generation, it’s also on the verge of becoming a significant fossil-fuel producer. A new offshore project straddling its border with Mauritania is projected to bring Senegal $1.4 billion of oil and gas revenue from 2023 to 2025. The project may also provide Europe with energy relief as it turns away from Russian gas and oil.
Reports indicated that Treasury Yellen gave the concrete go-ahead on rural electrification project in Senegal. The new rural electrification project estimated to bring reliable power to 350,000 people while supporting some 500 jobs in 14 American States.
Our monitoring shows that Yellen traveled to the site of the project, headed by Illinois-based engineering firm Weldy Lamont. The new project received technical assistance from the U.S. Power Africa initiative, capacity building through the U.S. Agency for Trade and Development, and a $102.5 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank.
“Our goal is to further deepen our economic relationship and to invest in expanding energy access in a way that uses renewable resources spread across the continent,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen underlined in her remarks. Senegal has among the highest rates of electrification across Sub-Saharan Africa – between 70% and 80% – but access to electricity remains far more limited in rural areas.
Such disparities can hinder opportunity for households and businesses in areas otherwise ripe for economic development, Yellen said. The project includes an important renewable energy element with a solar grid to power 70 villages. “This groundbreaking will create a higher quality of life in many communities, and it will help Senegal’s economy grow and prosper. It will also help Senegal get one step closer to its goal of universal electricity access by 2025,” she said.
Yellen, who met women and youth entrepreneurs in Dakar, said the electrification project would allow Senegal to rely on energy sources that are within its borders, cost effective and not prone to the kind of volatility in energy prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. Power Africa project has helped connect 165 million people to reliable electricity across Africa. Its goal is to add at least 30,000 megawatts (MW) of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.
Yellen, then, travelled to Zambia to meet President Hakainde Hichilema as well as other finance officials. President Hichilema, who took office in 2021, has promised to restore the copper-rich nation’s credibility and creditworthiness after inheriting a cash-strapped economy. Here, she spoke on efforts to improve global health and prepare for future pandemics, as well as on food production.
Yellen cited $11 billion in commitments by the U.S. Development Finance Corp and $3 billion in programmes by the Millennium Challenge Corp in 14 African countries, with more in the pipeline. On a wider scale, the G7 group of wealthy Western nations also planned to mobilise some $600 billion for global infrastructure investments over the next five years.
“We are saying that African countries firmly belong at the table. Their communities are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of global challenges. And any serious solution requires African leadership and African voices,” she said.
In South Africa, which recently assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS emerging economies group, Yellen held talks with Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and South Africa Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago. She also visited the Ford assembly plant to showcase successful examples of U.S.-Africa economic relations.
Washington provided about $13 billion in emergency aid and food assistance last year, and was now setting up a U.S.-Africa strategic partnership to address the short-term food needs of more than 300 million Africans, Yellen said. It is also helping to build more resilient and sustainable systems for the future.
In practical terms, Yellen focused on building relationships and understanding the barriers to investment and business in Africa. Our monitoring shows that Chinese trade with Africa is about four times that of the United States, and Beijing rapidly expanded its lending by offering cheaper loans, although the opaque terms and collateral requirements are now being questioned by some African countries.
United States is currently looking to broaden investment in South Africa, which is developing new legislation to speed up energy projects. There are a number of external players showing interest in the energy sector, these include Russia, China, United Arab Emirates and others in the Arab world.
Former US ambassador Susan Page told AFP that despite positive developments like the major summit in Washington last year, “the proof is in the pudding” when it comes to pledges of support for African countries. “Are they really going to come up with the serious money… Or is it going to be a trade-off?” asked Page, now a professor at the University of Michigan. She added that while US moves have been largely framed as countering China’s advances, it “is a shame because African countries want to be treated as Africa, and not as a wedge between great power competition.”
Joseph Siegle, who leads the Africa Center for Strategic Studies research programme, said the scope of Yellen’s visit was far broader than the matter of China’s influence. “From an emerging market standpoint there is a lot going on there – with its resources and growth and a large African diaspora in the U.S. Arguably the U.S. has not paid enough attention to Africa with the rigor that’s warranted,” he said. “I think the significance of this trip is trying to rectify there hasn’t been enough high-level engagement on the part of the U.S. in Africa.”
In fact, despite criticisms especially over neo-colonialism and unipolarism, the United States and Africa are culturally, and by biological blood, are inseparable. According to the latest World Bank report, remittances from the African diaspora to the continental was $49 billion in 2021.
With rivals China and Russia competing for influence and opportunity in Africa, the United States has been working to stave off an erosion of its once-powerful position in the region. But as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen strongly noted the histories of the United States and Africa were “intimately connected” by the “tragedy” of slavery, as Washington seeks to strengthen relations with the continent. Speaking at Goree Island off the Senegalese capital of Dakar, the largest slave trading centre on the African coast.
For their part, many African countries say they are keen for increased investment and financial support for infrastructure development across Africa. And that Africa is only ready for potential credible investors, and not for active sloganeers and ideological choristers. Africa is not a field for confrontation, but for cooperating on transforming the economy and operate the single continental market.
In the emerging multipolar world, the United States still shares cultural values and democratic principles with Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade is an integral part of both American and African history. United States is their second home, nowhere else. United States and Africa are ‘intimately connected’ by slavery, have culturally indivisible bondage, and currently with the growing African-American diaspora it is completely absurd and awkward for external geopolitical rival countries asking African leaders and Africans to abandon their history and the United States.
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