Over the past two decades, Russia’s efforts to regain its Soviet-era influence in Africa have achieved little success because “times have changed significantly, for example, a new economic and political environment, new emerging challenges, new competitive conditions and new bases for cooperation,” according to Nataliya Zaiser, a Public Policy Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs Moscow office covering Russia, the Eurasian Union and Africa, and also the Chair (Head) of the Africa Business Initiative.
Since March 2016, Zaiser has been the Chair (Head) of Africa Business Initiative (ABI), created with the support of Russian businesses as a platform for the humanitarian, economic and legal expertise, aimed at strengthening relations between Russia and Africa. The main goal of this organization – to unite the efforts in promoting and supporting the interests of Russian businesses within the framework of broader international cooperation on the territory of the African continent.
In this exclusive interview, Nataliya Zaiser explains some of the aspects of the current Russia-African relations, problems and challenges, and its future perspectives.
As one of the participants at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) held from June 16 to 18, what were some of the significant questions raised during the Roundtable discussions on Russia and Africa?
The round table was very interesting. Both sides (Russian and African) demonstrated a strong desire for cooperation. We talked about some specifics: about the main economic sectors that various African countries are interested in most; about business diversification away from a focus on mining and oil and gas towards infrastructure projects, telecommunications and biotechnologies.
We spoke on the need to encourage the participation of small and medium size businesses in Africa; on bilateral cooperation; on the importance of the legal aspects of all these and on improving the system of legal regulation of projects, from customs and tax matters to the export licenses. The panelists also touched on enhancing cooperation with Africa in the global fight against drugs and epidemiological diseases, and combating terrorism. We listened to the companies that are active and successful on the continent; they shared some of their experiences, particularly good practice in building business relationships.
Why Russia’s efforts to regain its economic influence have achieved little success, why soft power is softer than Soviet days?
We should not say whether the power is “softer” or “harder” than in the days of the Soviet Union. It’s just different. Times have changed significantly. New economic and political environment, new challenges, new competitive conditions, new bases for cooperation. People are different, minds are different, technologies are different. In all that, we have to find absolutely different approaches and strategies to building business relationships. What remains the same is a will, a very loyal mutual attitude between Russia and African countries and strong desire to push forward these mutual efforts.
In your expert view, looking at Russia’s economic power, its global status and as a staunch member of BRICS bloc, how would you assess its current investment and business engagement with Africa?
Many organizations are trying to solve local problems and find ways for business cooperation with the African continent. The issue of investment looms, perhaps, particularly large. I think that in cooperating with African states, organizations can be guided by an approach of shared responsibility, including the financial aspects. Russia is clearly showing that open partnership with and support of Africa remains a priority. In the current conditions, it will seek ways of co-financing, co-investment and co-partnership. There may also be opportunities too for international partnerships, whether BRICS or any other groupings, formal or otherwise, on African projects.
Some policy experts have attributed Russia’s economic policy setbacks to the lack of a system of projects and business financing. For instance, China has set up China Africa Development Fund as one major source of support and implementing its projects in Africa. What are your views about this?
Russia has developed a number of business councils for cooperation both with individual African countries as well as with its own regions and neighbours. For Africa in particular, the Africa Business Initiative (ABI) offers the chance of a consolidated approach, and an independent organization that can work with the business community in Russia and at the same time combine the interests of the diplomatic community, the state, academic views and so forth.
At this stage when Russia is feverishly struggling to raise its economic profile through dialogues and consultations at the state level, do you suggest that Russia’s financial institutions, especially the banks, get involved in financing corporate projects on the continent?
Investors and lenders today understand the potential benefits of investing in emerging markets like African countries. They also understand the critical importance of addressing the political and economic risks that may accompany an investment in such markets. This is the work, which needs to be carried out. MIGA (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) is one of the biggest international organizations, for example, that helps investors and lenders to deal with such risks by insuring eligible projects against losses.
In Russia, there is EXIAR (The Russian Agency for Export Credit and Investment Insurance) which was established in late 2011 as Russia’s first ever export credit agency. I am sure it has big potential and expect that they will look closely at African projects to support Russian business and guarantee the insurance and safety of their investments. In any case, for a start, it is important that Russia becomes a member or starts cooperation with key major African organizations, such as the African Development Bank, the African Union, the NEPAD, etc. That will significantly extend the boundaries for Russian-African business opportunities.
We have been talking about economic diplomacy between Russia and Africa. And it’s also important to look at the relations as a two-way road. Could you please explain the possible reasons why Africa business is extremely low or completely absent, compared to Asian countries, in the Russian Federation?
This is a good question that I want to address to you as the representative of the African diaspora (smiles). Of course, this is a bilateral cooperation. Russia is open. Africa has much to offer Russia, which is a large country and has excellent prospects in the regions, many of which are developing very rapidly and are ready to accept new partnerships, and discuss forms of cooperation. Moreover, Russian regions are facing similar problems with several African countries: the development of the agricultural sector, technological investment and progress which will support a rise in the standard of living of the population. There is a good case for creating a specific program (a roadmap if you will) for cooperation between African countries and the Russian regions.
As an expert with the reputable U.S. law firm, what would you say about the prospects of Eurasian Economic Community (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan). Explain further what African countries can make out of this economic bloc.
There’s often a compelling case for neighbouring countries to get together and engage in some kind of union because it can facilitate and stimulate trade relations, reducing barriers without overloading them with tax and customs issues, bureaucratic procedures and other things that may mitigate mutual economic progress. I am sure Africa will take an active part in working with the Eurasian Union as with other international or supra-national organizations and alliances because this kind of cooperation opens the gates to wider initiatives.
Of course, as a global firm our trade practice in particular is a leading advisor on international economic and commercial initiatives – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership are two obvious ones that spring to mind. Squire Patton Boggs works globally, with a powerful geographic reach of 46 offices in 21 countries. We advise clients on a wide range of legal and public policy matters.
As for Africa, by the way, we have a dedicated Africa Practice inside the firm which involves numerous specialist teams and industry groups and individual lawyers and public policy advisors who actively work with clients across the continent. With an understanding of key legal, economic and political issues that surround doing business in Africa we have established ourselves as a premier firm for Africa-based transactions offering in-depth market knowledge, extensive experience and unique transactional and public policy combination that helps companies to achieve their African business strategies.
Finally, tell us more about the newly created Africa Business Initiative (ABI), why it has become necessary at this time, its primary roles or tasks and its overall future plans?
The Africa Business Initiative (ABI) was launched and initiated primarily by businesses in Russia. The concept behind this is to develop a focal point for the promotion of business interests which would consolidate the efforts of existing structures: the diplomats, scientists, academics, consultants and so on. The key participation of Russia’s Institute for African Studies, as a serious platform for research, analysis and database, means that we can add significant insight to the actual experience of corporations that are successfully working on the ground.
The main goal is to create a pool of economic expertise aimed at revitalizing the “chemistry” in African-Russian business relationships. It has been widely acknowledged many times that Africa is on the path towards economic prosperity. The economies of many African states are becoming more balanced and there have been a lot of institutional transformations. We need to fundamentally accelerate the approach, backed by a program of long-term trade, geo-economic relations and strategy that would keep pace with the ambitions of individual states. What African continent needs now is the broad development of infrastructure, agriculture, consumer goods, health care and information technology.
The Africa Business Initiative (ABI) can help outline an approach for Russian companies to come to the African market as a whole, as reliable business partners. Through this framework, it will be able to consolidate the interests of companies in different sectors; to address and promote the development of a common position on a whole range of issues; to establish joint strategic initiatives and to expand its presence in the investment field. The task is not to duplicate or simulate the activity of state bodies.
The participation of and partnership with the Institute for African Studies is very important. Historically, the Institute has been and remains the alma mater for many Africans. It has the most powerful research base in Russia, a deep knowledge about developments on the continent. Education and increasing awareness among Russian businesses is key. To understand the features of successful business in Africa, people should be well-versed in the social and political organization of all African countries, especially in their internal relationships, geographical peculiarities, and culture, in legislation, public administration, and so on.
The role of the Institute, as a partner to Africa Business Initiative (ABI), is to provide maximum assistance. Good knowledge of the legal field, regulation, competent interaction with decision-makers and government structures of African states – all these constitute the key to a mutually beneficial and balanced cooperation. The international experience and global presence of the Squire Patton Boggs, which is also one of the members of the Africa Business Initiative (ABI), allows us to assist businesses in the broader international cooperation, involving foreign colleagues and contacts that are interested in doing business in Africa.
Ethiopia and Russia Need to Catch Up
“There is a need to catch up. We agreed to hold meetings regularly,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a media conference after diplomatic talks with his counterpart, Gedu Andargachew in Moscow. According to official reports, Lavrov and Andargachew held wide-ranging talks that were constructive and substantive, and focused on broadening cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is one of Russia’s main partners in Africa. Both countries are tied by years of solidarity with the African countries in their fight for independence and decolonization. The creation of the African Union headquartered in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, was the culmination of the decolonization processes in Africa.
Throughout their partnership, they have gained extensive experience in mutually beneficial cooperation that meets the interests of both countries in various areas. As a result, Lavrov said they both agreed to stimulate the work of the joint economic commission and to encourage it to implement joint investment projects across a variety of fields, including energy, such as hydrocarbon energy, hydroelectric energy and nuclear energy.
They further noted the importance and interest of companies such as Rosatom, Inter RAO, GPB Global Resources, Russian Railways, KAMAZ and UAZ in working in Ethiopia.
There is a potential for cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia in science and education. Russia pledged to support biological research under the Joint Russian-Ethiopian Biological Expedition, which has been operating there for more 30 years.
Many Ethiopian students study at Russian universities, including civilian universities and those operated by the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry. Russia will expand this practice. And at the request from the Ethiopian government, Moscow will conduct two specialized courses for Ethiopian diplomats at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy next year.
With regard to other promising areas of interaction, which has a rich history, include military-technical and military cooperation. Ethiopian Minister of National Defence, Aisha Mussa, took part in the talks as part of the delegation. Discussions here was about agreeing on additional regulatory documents which will allow more effectively to promote cooperation in supplying military equipment and in other areas.
Lavrov and Andargachew exchanged views on regional and global questions. “We are on the same page on most issues, consistently advocate for strengthening fair and democratic principles of international relations, and searching for collective answers to large-scale challenges and threats, and respecting the right of each nation to independently determine its future,” top Russian diplomat said.
With regard to the African countries and the African continent, Lavrov and Andargachew strongly support the idea that Africans should have the decisive role in deciding on the paths to resolve African problems. There is no alternative to resolving these crises, or crises in any other part of the world, through peaceful political means, while relying on an inclusive national dialogue. The situation in Africa and the goals that need to be vigorously addressed in order to overcome several crises and conflicts, primarily, on the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Somalia.
Africans Must Focus on What Unites Them Not What Separates Them
The majority of South Africans are appalled at the attacks on African migrants and refugees in the country by South Africans, said its Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on Africa.
“We welcome all Africans who have come to this conference; we welcome all Africans who live in South Africa. We are all Africans. We need to tell our people that what they are doing is wrong. These artificial barriers we have created and the hatred among ourselves must really become a thing of the past,” he said.
Responding to a question about the African Continental Free Trade Area, Mboweni said if Africa wants the free movement of goods, it also needs to ensure the free movement of people. “If free movement is supposed to happen, one cannot be in a position where you allow this person and not the other.”
Mboweni was standing in for Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, who was at Parliament to address protestors demanding action from the government on violence against women. Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum, said that addressing systemic violence against women is a top priority for the meeting and she urged all leaders to act against the problem.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said leaders at all levels, not just at the political level, must “dig deep to bring back social cohesion. We need to look at what binds us and not what separates us.”
Speaking on the issue of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Mohammed said that, while advances in technology are exciting, “the picture has shadows as well as light.”
Mohammed said technology is moving faster than the world’s ability to manage its impact and it is adding to the uncertainty of a world already unsettled by challenges such as climate change. “If governments cannot proactively manage the impacts, it will make our growth less inclusive with severe security implications.” Partnerships will be critical in addressing the challenges emerging from this new world.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said the rapid pace of technology requires renewed frameworks for cooperation to be developed to deliver an inclusive and sustainable future for Africa.
“Africa cannot afford to be left behind. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can solve many of the issues that came with the first, second and third industrial revolutions. It is a catalyst for Africa to leapfrog into the 21st century,” said Schwab.
Cyril M. Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, in remarks read on his behalf by Mboweni, said Africa, along with the rest of the world, is dealing with the same question: how to harness the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in pursuit of development and economic growth. “And importantly, how to ensure that, as we take this quantum leap into the future, we do not leave society’s most marginalized behind.”
“Disruptive trends and technologies are changing the way we live, the way we work and do business, and the way we govern. We must respond with agility to craft a roadmap for navigating this new environment. We must ensure that our citizens are prepared, and, if necessary, that they are shielded from any adverse consequences. Our response must be collaborative, multisectoral and inclusive,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said South Africa is not only working with its neighbours to develop a continental strategy led by the African Telecommunications Union, but it has also established a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to position the country as a competitive global player in this new space.
Three new Forum initiatives were also announced at the plenary session: platforms dealing with youth and employment, risk resilience and e-commerce.
Youth and Women Key to Making This Africa’s Century
Africa can achieve a step change in economic growth by addressing shortfalls in governance, reducing barriers to trade and – crucially – embracing the potential of its youth and women, heads of state from across the continent told the World Economic Forum on Africa today.
“We have the wherewithal to be able to reach for higher levels of growth,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa. “The future is great. It looks very bright for the African continent. If there ever was a time when Africa definitely could be said to be on the rise, this is the time.”
Optimism about intra-African trade is on the rise following the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which includes nearly every country on the continent.
However, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi warned that leaders must now focus on the practicalities of easing cross-border commerce. “We need to remove all the barriers and put in the enablers to facilitate free trade, beginning in our neighbourhood,” he said.
If countries deliver on this, Ramaphosa said, AfCFTA could be “the greatest opportunity for economies on the continent to generate growth through trade.”
In a world where Europe faces shrinking workforces due to ageing and much of Asia soon will, Africa’s fast-growing population also offers a “demographic dividend” to drive future growth. Crowds of young Africans represent a huge resource to man the factories and service industries of the future, as well as a big potential market.
But that demographic dividend will only pay out if the young can find jobs – and that, in turn, will depend on skilling up the young.
“We need a rebirth of education for the 21st century,” said Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
At the same time, women must be brought into the fold to a much greater extent, requiring a root-and-branch fight against gender discrimination. This must include opening up previously restricted areas of education such as science to women, said Ethiopian President Sahlework Zewde.
“The important thing is to invest in our young people … and empower women,” said Mandulo Ambrose Dlamini, Prime Minister of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. “I learnt that if you include women in leadership in your team, the level of intelligence increases.”
Hopes for Africa’s economy have been raised before. The continent enjoyed boom times prior to the financial crash of 2008, thanks to a commodities “super cycle” that saw sustained high prices for its raw materials. But prices for Africa’s minerals are well down on those heady days, while few countries have yet to escape the extractive model by managing to add value to their commodities. Now, however, there is a growing determination to achieve this, with Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Namibia’s President Hage Geingob both calling for value to be added to their country’s minerals before they are exported.
“The problem of investors or foreigners who come to Africa is that they come on their own terms. From now on, Africa must tell investors when they come, they come on our terms,” said Geingob. “Why should my diamonds go out in raw form?”
Mnangagwa, who said he is striving to rebuild Zimbabwe’s “collapsed economy”, said it is vital to understand the needs of the private sector for investment in technology that could add value locally.
The over-arching requirement is for African countries to reassure their own populations and investors that they can offer a framework for stable growth, said Seychelles President Danny Faure. “We need to deepen the reform that we are doing to better reflect the need for Africa have what is necessary in terms of good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law,” he said.
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