Among the fulcrum points of contemporary international affairs, the relationship between China and the more than fifty countries that make up Africa is among the most closely watched. Critics and defenders alike cannot say enough about Beijing’s ties with the mysterious continent.
Contemporary realities and prospective gains are what drive a state’s foreign policy. Thus, while it may have been a different set of motives that drove Africa and China to one another between the 1960s and 1980s (this interesting history and its impact on the relationship today will be returned to at a later section), to students watching and studying the relationship between China and African countries, there are three main motives to Beijing’s interest in Africa today. Firstly, there is the oft-stated prospect of natural resources on which most critics tend to end their analysis. Secondly, there are the opportunities to be gained in the vast markets in Africa’s growing middle class. Thirdly, there are political considerations that Beijing has as its main aims and tries to hasten at all times; chief among these is its being recognised as the “one China” instead of Taiwan by African states and, some argue, the alienation of the west within Africa in a battle for economic frontiers and political allies.
Likewise, Africa has a set of its own motives in engaging with China. A cursory look at the African Union’s Vision 2063 will reveal these in depth. But very briefly, we can state here that they include funding for its initiatives to do with industrialisation, infrastructure, as well as education and healthcare in face of the structural adjustment programmes which prescribed austerity measures such as cutting government spending beginning in the 1980s under conditional aid and loans from Bretton Woods institutions.
The relationship between Africa and China has so far not been particularly perfect and harmonious. The most salient example of this is perhaps the reality that China has tended to export more to the continent than the other way round. Even though there are more than fifty African countries, the balance of trade is tipped in favour of China. Looking at the characteristics of the trade, an even more oblique picture emerges as it is clear that China mainly imports mineral resources (timber and forestry from Gabon, copper from Zambia, cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and oil from Angola to mention a few) and in turn exports into the continent manufactured textiles and technologies which, because of their affordability, tend to bring about a crowding-out effect on the continent’s domestic producers. In fact, trade unions have been at the forefront of attempting to curb China’s access to African markets. The Congress of South African Trade Unions in South Africa launched a “buy local” campaign that was motivated by a perceived threat posed by China in 2012. Moreover, more jobs have allegedly been threatened in the West African coast by alleged illegal fishing by Chinese nationals. Furthermore, less than optimum conditions in Chinese-owned factories in Zambia led in 2004 to the death of close to 40 employees in an explosion. And throughout the window period in which African countries were given access to US markets by the American Growth Opportunity Act, Chinese companies allegedly took advantage of that and set-up and registered businesses in Africa so as to gain access to the US market for themselves.
Facts and allegations such as these have become ready points to those who claim that China is neo-colonial in its relations with continental Africa. According to the view, the lopsided and imbalanced trade is reminiscent of the “scramble for Africa” which characterised the colonial relations between the Western European states and their African colonies. In what has been termed the “New Scramble for Africa”, China is cast as the new colonial power in the continent taking advantage of the continent’s citizens and taking away valuable commodities in exchange only for trinkets. Yet, this is a view of the relationship that is grossly over-simplistic. The nuances are not completely appreciated. For example, the risks that China has taken in taking over tottering projects in the continent (Nigeria’s oil sector, and Sudan after allegations of terrorism sponsoring, for example) are overlooked. Overlooked too, are the billions of aid that the People’s Republic gave without conditions to the continent while it was itself still a developing entity in the twentieth century, and even today. The high watermark of Africa and China’s relationship has been formed on the back of these contributions. The People’s Republic also has as one of its claimed principal aims the improvement of the relations into a win-win scenario.
Despite claims to do with China’s “neo-colonialism”, China has differentiated itself from the West by being avowedly non-interfering in internal African governance issues. This has been its niche. But some scholars read into this a lack of long-term orientation in Beijing’s interest in Africa. In other words, China seems to be only – and temporarily so – interested in extracting resources to complete its developmental project. Otherwise, the critics claim, she would be much more interested in improving Africa’s polities as a sign of long-term orientation.
On the other hand, some argue that China is fostering good governance in a manner that is both prudent and organic. As one Chinese government-associated scholar, He Wenping, sees it, “the fact is China is striving to develop economic and trade cooperation in Africa, helping African countries in large scale infrastructure development, raising people’s living standard, reducing poverty and vigorously developing African personnel training programs, which are all helping to build an economic and human resources foundation for Africa to realize democracy and good governance.” Under this view, China may be, coincidentally or otherwise, promoting (at least the conditions for) democratization through bringing in social and economic development and therefore – if democratization theorists are to be believed – will create a middle class that is capable of bringing about democratic change. Economic development also means a rooting out of “careerism” in African politics; alternative forms of enrichment apart from politics in the private sectors improves governance and leads to declines in corruption. Furthermore, according to a Brookings Institute report, China has not been a funder of unscrupulous dictators as is nominally argued. The greatest volume of China’s investment, the report states, is concentrated in democratic or semi-democratic states – Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia. And South Africa, largely considered the most democratic state on the continent, is China’s largest trading partner on the continent.
The earliest contact between China and Africa can be traced to the Han dynasty around 200 BC and more sporadic contacts between then and the seventeenth century when the Qing Dynasty famously began an inward turn and the Emperor banned all outside visitation and either burned sea-going vessels or let them rot without maintenance. But no understanding of the current set of relations between the two entities could be proper without appreciating the immense impact of the Cold War era between the late 1940s and 1980s in which so much of the present world order was forged. It was in these years that USSR-aligned China sponsored and even trained communist and other left-leaning movements in Africa. After the outright break with Moscow, China went on its independent, and in many ways more successful tirade to win allies on the continent by sponsoring those independence and revolutionary parties that were not only anti-West but also not yet in cooperation with the Soviets. The most noteworthy among these movements was perhaps Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and its encompassing Zimbabwean African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) which was fighting a bush war against Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia and went on to become the ruling party of independent Zimbabwe. The great result of this being that the relationship between the two countries is extremely positive today. China also has close relations with Angola and Mozambique for almost similar, though perhaps more controversial reasons.
Other outcomes for the present relations between Africa and China were not entirely positive. Due to its zeal for funding and aiding particularly leftist parties in Africa, in the throes of the Cold War, China may have also alienated some African countries who were pro-West – Cameroon, whose President Ahidjo at the time (1963) stated that “China is one of the states supporting terrorism in Cameroon. We have proof, for Cameroonian terrorists are in Communist China,” is a particular example. Perhaps because of this, Cameroon was among the last African countries to recognize mainland China over Taiwan as the One China. Still, China and Africa share a common and painful history of sufferings under colonial invasions. Today in the modern era, they also share the goal of common development for survival and development in a self-consciously Western-dominated international order.
The almost exponential spike in Chinese investment in Africa occurred in the years succeeding 2000. It cannot be coincidence that this is the year in which the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was established. To date, there have been five such meetings between Chinese and African statesmen. A cursory look at each of these fora will reveal the extent to which they have been a launching ground for initiatives that have gone a long way in pushing African development further.
The first conference, which took place on Chinese soil, passed the Beijing Declaration of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation and the Programme for China–Africa Cooperation in Economic and Social Development which has laid the basis of future forums and engagement. The second conference, which took place in Ethiopia, saw an increase in attendance and awareness as more than 70 ministers from China and 44 African countries attended the conference. The Conference passed the Addis Ababa Action Plan (2004-2006) which had among its declarations both entities’ plans for further trade plans as well as debt relief and development commitments. In the third conference, which returned to Beijing in 2006, PRC President Hu Jintao and heads of state from 35 African countries were in attendance. President Hu rolled out $5 billion worth of concessionary loans to Africa during the summit. As one of the “Eight Measures” for Sino-African relations, President Hu announced the creation of the China-Africa Development Fund to further Chinese investment in Africa with US$1 billion of initial funding with its fund expected to grow to US$5 billion in the future. On the fourth conference, held in Egypt, there was a great deal of introspective reviewing of the Forum and in addition to this, A $10 billion low-cost loan was announced on November 9, 2009, double the $5 billion loan announced and implemented at the 2006 Beijing Summit. Furthermore, Wen announced that China will write off the debt of some of the poorest African nations. He said China will construct 100 new clean-energy projects on the continent covering solar power, bio-gas and small hydro-power and gradually lower customs duties on 95 percent of products from African states with which it has diplomatic ties. He also stated that China would undertake 100 joint demonstration projects on scientific and technological research, receive 100 African postdoctoral fellows to conduct scientific research in China and assist them in going back and serving their home countries. The number of agricultural technology demonstration centres built by China in Africa will be increased to 20. Likewise, 50 agricultural technology teams would be sent to Africa and 2,000 agricultural technology personnel would be trained for Africa, in order to help strengthen Africa’s ability to ensure food security. China also would provide medical equipment and antimalarial materials worth 500 million yuan to the 30 hospitals and 30 malaria prevention and treatment centres built by China and train 3,000 doctors and nurses for Africa. It was further stated that China will build 50 China–Africa friendship schools and train 1,500 school principals and teachers for African countries and increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to Africa to 5,500 by 2012. China will also train a total of 20,000 professionals of various fields for Africa over the next three years. Already, Africa, as a result of these initiatives, became the second largest engineering services contract market for China. Statistically, there are nearly a million Chinese in Africa, with 1,600 Chinese enterprises doing business on the continent.
The presence of China in Africa, and particularly the creation of the Forum has proven effective in ways that could not have been predicted. It has made other entities ever more willing to reconsider their relationship with the continent. In what economists term the “crowding-in effect” the United States under President Obama in particular set itself on a new, China-like path in the wake of the Forum. In what Lauren Dickey, writing for The Diplomat in 2014, labelled the US’s “belated beginning” in “its treatment of Africa as a strategic continent,” the country launched in 2014 the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington; historically, marking the first time a sitting American president had invited all the leaders of Africa to a single event to discuss regional issues and the macro US-Africa relationship (a la FOCAC). If indeed emulation is the highest form of flattery, then FOCAC must rightfully exalt at its exemplary stature. In the meeting, promises were made by President Obama of, amongst others, a $14 billion commitment by U.S. companies for investments in Africa’s construction, manufacturing, energy, finance, and technology sector. With President Donald Trump’s unpredictable administration, we cannot yet say for certain whether this reconsideration of the relationship will continue, but so far there has been evidence that it may not, as the budget for international aid, for example, got considerable cuts proposed (at the time of writing, US Congress was opposing the motion, however).
Nevertheless, regarding the prospect of a far-reaching full win-win relationship, usage of the Forum beyond just as an aid-granting and investment platform must involve tackling other implicative and negative issues. The Forum, for example, has spoken very minimally on perhaps one of the most important issues facing Africa today: climate change. This, no doubt, would be a major bone of contention as Beijing is one of the leading polluters in the world today. But the Forum cannot be said to be living up to its mandate if it fails to delve into potentially polarizing issues of the contemporary age. But it may not be, as shown in an article in Modern Diplomacy, China is ready to be the leader of the clean energy revolution; and even a cursory look at China’s current Five-Year Plan for the years between will reveal quite the extent to which Africa is crucial to China’s aims and will thereby paint a clear picture of the Forum and its significance. The list of the aims include economic growth with a “medium-high” GDP target of 6.5 percent; double GDP and per capita income by 2020 from the 2010 base; foreign investment increase; yuan convertibility by the year 2020; and increase in welfare as well a relaxing of the One Child policy to a Two Child policy all show just how crucial it is for China to have as many economic partners as attainable and Africa, as a source of both natural resources and market frontiers, is indispensable to the rising giant. The Forum, while far from perfect, has an important and increasingly central role to play in harmonising the gains between China and Africa.
Russia and China: Geopolitical Rivals and Competitors in Africa
The growth of neo-colonial tendencies, the current geopolitical developments and the scramble for its resources by external countries in Africa: these are some of the issues researcher and business analyst Lipton Matthews recently discussed with Kester Kenn Klomegah for InDepthNews (IDN). Matthews is associated with Merion West, The Federalist, American Thinker, Intellectual Takeout, Mises Institute, and Imaginative Conservative.
In particular, Matthews gives in-depth views on China’s valuable contribution to various economic sectors especially infrastructure development spanning three decades and on the possible implications of Russia-China collaboration in Africa.
Matthews talks also on the positive prospects and significance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and advises both African leaders and corporate business leaders to collaborate in strengthening trade networks within the continent, take up the emerging challenges and seize the opportunity to build a better Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:
What do you think of China’s and Russia’s engagement with Africa in general? What would you say comparatively about these two foreign players in Africa?
Matthews: African experts like Peter Kagwanja and Rahamtalla Mohamed Osman have rubbished the claim that China is colonizing Africa. In general, African leaders perceive China to be the driving force behind modernization in the region. For example, during 2001-2002, China’s Foreign Direct Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 53% yearly, dwarfing American investment that grew by a mere 14%. Moreover, neither were African countries among those at the UN rebuking China for its treatment of the primarily Muslim Uyghur population in 2020.
Nevertheless, reports deriding China’s influence in Africa are pervasive in the West, but in reality, Africans are appreciative of China’s role in the region. Since the days of the Cold War, developing countries have viewed China as an ally. Therefore, the ascent of China is perceived favourably by African policymakers because it represents the aspirations of the developing world.
Meanwhile, China has greater legitimacy in Africa considering that it did not possess a colonial empire in the region. Likewise, Russia had an empire in Europe, but not in Africa, so the Russians are positioned to portray themselves as liberators. Furthermore, Russians were never a part of the political West and during the Cold War, they collaborated with Africans against Western hegemony. So, consequently, Africans are likely to embrace Russia as an ally and not construe her interference in the region as an act of imperialism.
Though Russia’s investment in Africa is not on the scale of China, it appears that Russian players have identified the region as a source of raw materials and are exploiting the opportunities offered by the continent. Western pundits fail to recognize that Russia and China are harnessing their distinctiveness from the West to acquire political mileage in Africa. The West is losing the battle for dominance in Africa due to ideological reasons. For instance, Westerners preach classical liberalism, whereas Russia and China champion a statist approach to development. Because the doctrines of these powers are consonant with the left-leaning philosophy of Africa, their actions are less likely to invite contempt.
Do you also think there is an emerging rivalry in geopolitics, consistent confrontation against the United States and Europe (especially France) in Africa and what if China and Russia team up together?
Matthews: There is always rivalry in geopolitics, but the tactics of Russia and China have been misunderstood. Both countries are playing a spoiler role in Western politics. They intend to foment chaos in Western democracies to accelerate tensions, and in the era of social media, they have been able to do so on a grand scale. Unlike the West, Russia and China are led by brilliant strategists. The Russians and Chinese duped Western strategists into thinking that they want to challenge Western hegemony.
However, they only aim to create spheres of influence that are divorced from Western interference. Russia wants to contain America’s presence in Eastern Europe and China envisions creating a Sino-Centric Order in Asia. For Americans and the broader Western community to deter the rise of China and Russia, they must leverage soft power to obtain the favour of developing countries. Developing countries value the non-interference stance of Russia and China, so if Western countries were to affirm a less moralistic foreign policy they could shift the balance of power in their favour.
Compared to America, China and Russia are technological laggards and paper tigers, but they understand the primacy of ideas. Westerners think that they are fighting a geopolitical war, when they are actually competing for ideological supremacy. For example, Russia is popular in Mali, unlike France, because the former can deploy propaganda to present herself as a victim of Western imperialism, even though Russia was an imperial power and today exerts its clout in Eastern Europe.
Another issue is that, in this case, the colonial power was France and not Russia, so the latter can always project legitimacy. Conversely, Russia and China acknowledge that war is not required to undermine the West, because Western countries no longer believe in themselves. Throughout the West, white people are assaulting Western history and since demoralized people are not motivated to fight wars, China and Russia have already won the battle.
Lastly, China and Russia are unwilling to team up in order to defeat the West, since this is not a necessity. It is obvious that the West is the architect of its demise. Similarly, Russia and China are competing for influence, so it is more feasible for either partner to associate with the West to constrain the potential of her rival. To forestall the rise of her adversaries, West leaders need to employ foreign policy strategists who actually understand ideas and history.
Is it appropriate when we use the term “neo-colonialism” referring to a number of foreign players in Africa? What countries are the neo-colonizers, in your view?
Matthews: First, we need to acknowledge that colonialism is not a new phenomenon and neither is it unique to Europeans. History also documents examples of Europeans colonizing predominantly white territories in Europe. For example, Sweden once had an empire in Europe. However, colonization is an expensive endeavour and the association between economic growth and empire is actually negative, according to the late Paul Bairoch.
In fact, many countries have recorded astounding growth without possessing empires. On the other hand, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that colonialism is inherently exploitative. Most people would prefer sovereignty to colonial rule, but the truth is that colonial status does not impede economic growth and some colonies in Africa experienced faster growth during the colonial era. We should give greater priority to good governance than national sovereignty. It is better to be under the rule of benevolent colonizers than to be the subject of a dictator.
Additionally, in relation to the issue of neo-colonialism concerns are misplaced. China is in the business of maximizing the potential of Africa’s resources, not empire-building. The problem is that governance structures in Africa are weak, so it is easy for China to evade regulations. The perception that China is colonizing Africa is a consequence of Africa’s history of defective governance. In actuality, China through its infrastructural projects is presiding over the modernization of Africa, similar to what Europeans and Americans did in the developing world years ago.
However, the difference is that the Chinese are not imposing their standards on Africans. Yet this could be a disadvantage because linking investment to the implementation of higher standards could result in ameliorating governance structures in Africa thereby increasing the region’s propensity to attract investment. But African leaders appreciate that Chinese investments are not wedded to reforms. Though overall, China’s influence in Africa has been positive.
According to scholars based at John Hopkins University and Boston University, during 2000-2015, China lent $95.5 billion to Africa and 40 per cent of the loans financed power generation and transmission, and the remaining 30 per cent modernized Africa’s dilapidated infrastructure.
Further, despite the narrative that Chinese investments are allotted to extractive sectors, they account for one-third of the total Chinese investment in Africa, according to Dollar et al (2015). The study also notes that China’s share of foreign investment is higher in weak governance states, and as a result, Africa is a prime target since governance is less effective in the region. Therefore, Africa is susceptible to exploitation by China, since several countries failed to improve governance.
Do you think, with the adoption of African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA), offers a window of hope for attaining economic independence for Africa? What role Russia can play in this or of what significance is it for potential Russian investors?
Matthews: First. The relationship between trade openness and economic growth in Africa is positive. Further, the World Bank estimates that by 2035, this project will rescue 68 million people from poverty and increase gross domestic product by $450 billion.
By removing barriers to trade in the region, the agreement will create new entrepreneurial activities and spur innovations in technology. The free trade agreement will even be more beneficial if Africa’s policymakers ensure that intellectual property is not over-regulated. Innovations can occur without intellectual property laws and society is more likely to benefit when ideas are freely released into the public domain.
In order to aid Africa, Russia should assist Africa in transitioning to a knowledge-based economy by promoting technology transfer agreements. Russians must also invest in more R&D collaborations with their African partners. This agreement will revolutionize. Africa’s economy and a richer Africa is a positive for Russian investors. If African is properly managed, then the continent should succeed. [….]
Criticism Highlights Russia’s Media Weakness in Africa
In her weekly media briefing July 23, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized United States support for educational programs, media and NGOs in Africa. In addition, Zakharova said “the allocation of grants fits into the White House’s efforts to promote the idea that there is no alternative to Western concepts regarding state governance and the imposition of alien values on sovereign states, and this represents another manifestation of neo-colonialism and an element of covertly formalizing inequality in the overall system of international ties.”
Russia’s position as contained in her briefing is available on the official website, and part of which is quoted here: “We have no choice but to comment and explain why we perceive this as Washington’s striving to eliminate the favorable regional socio-political background with regard to Russia that became particularly obvious following the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.
It appears that the United States is deliberately encouraging anti-Russia publications in some African media outlets and is trying to portray Russia as a destabilizing force. We are confident that such methods of unfair competition and misinformation show that there is no hard evidence confirming the so-called Russian policy of propaganda and misinformation, and this is also the consequence of weak US approaches in the field of public diplomacy.”
That well-said of the United States, it is equally important to note that since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the question of media representation both ways, in Russia and in Africa, has attracted unprecedented concern and discussions. Over the years, nearly 30 years after the Soviet era, Russia has not encouraged African media, especially those from south of Sahara, to operate in the Russian Federation.
On the other hand, Russian media resources are largely far from eminent in Africa, and these include the media conglomerate popularly referred to as Rossiya Sevogdnya (RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia, Sputnik News and Russia Today), TASS News Agency and Interfax Information Service. These are powerful and reputable Russian brands, compared to most well-known Western and European media organizations operate in and cooperate with Africa.
Even not quite long, that was in November 2018, the State Duma, the lower house of parliamentarians, called for an increased Russian media presence in African countries, while Russia has closed its doors in offering opportunities for Africa media representation in the Russian Federation.
During the meeting organized to brainstorm for fresh views and ideas on the current Russia-African relations, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin told Ambassadors from African countries: “it is necessary to take certain steps together for the Russian media to work on the African continent.”
“You know that the Russian media provide broadcasting in various languages, they work in many countries, although it is certainly impossible to compare this presence with the presence of the media of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany,” Volodin said, and promised that the State Duma would create the necessary legal basis for this long-term media cooperation.
Experts say that neither Russia has an African media face nor Africa has a Russian media face. Thus, in the absence of suitable alternative sources, African political leaders and corporate business directors depend on western media reports about developments in Russia and from the developed world.
Interestingly, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department has accredited media from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asian countries, and only two African media came from the Maghreb region (Morocco and Egypt) in North Africa.
The official information presented during the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in October 2019, explicitly showed the degree of priority given to African media. Some 300 media bureaus from 60 countries are currently operating in Russia, including 800 foreign correspondents while there are only two African news bureaus from Egypt and Morocco, according to Artem Kozhin, who represented the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department, at the panel discussion on media.
According to his interpretation, this extremely low representation of African media hardly meets the level of current dynamically developing relations between Russia and Africa. “We invite all interested parties to open news bureaus and expand media cooperation with Russia,” Kozhin said at the gathering, inviting Africa media to Moscow.
Nearly all the panelists noted precisely that western media dominates in Africa. “Often times, unique news offerings created by the Russian media simply do not make to the users and viewers in many regions, including Africa. Evidently, this vacuum gets filled with one-sided information from other players in the media market. This information can be biased, or outright hostile towards Russia and residents of other countries,” said Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.
During the Russia-Africa Summit, Professor Alexey Vasiliev, the first appointed Special Representative of Russian President for Relations with Africa (2006-2011) and currently the Head of the Center for African and Arab Studies at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (2013-2020), told the audience there in Sochi: “Africa is largely unaware of Russia, since African media mainly consumes information the Western media sources and then replicates them. And all the fake news, the Rusophobia and anti-Russian propaganda, spread by the western media, are repeated in the African media.”
“Measures are needed to enable us to better understand each other,” suggested Professor Vasiliev, who regularly advises the Presidential Administration, the Government of the Russian Federation, both chambers of the Federal Assembly, and the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Some experts have consistently argued that Russia has discriminated against the media from sub-Saharan Africa. That trend remains unchanged even after the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in Sochi with the primary aim of helping identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promising initiatives that would bring collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and contribute to strengthening multifaceted cooperation between the two regions.
Let that be the acceptable case, but both Russia and Africa have basic questions that still need quick answers. The questions raised at the panel discussion on media at the Russia-Africa gathering: What issues are currently encountered in the formation of the modern media landscape? What role does the media play in Russian-African relations? What are the prospects for collaboration in the information sphere? What needs to be done to develop a Russian media agenda in Africa? What is the role and place of Russia in the information space of Africa today? What role can African media play in promoting further Russia’s image in Africa?
In practical terms, the highly successful spade-work was the first Russia-Africa Summit. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to layout some new mechanisms and adopt a more favorable approach that could readily attract African media to operate in the Russian Federation.
Russia and Africa need to examine every sphere based on shared partnership interests and redefine practical approach to realizing whatever plans on media cooperation. Media and NGOs, as instruments for improving adequately public knowledge, especially on developments and emerging opportunities, have not been persuaded to match the desired future objectives and policy goals.
The stark reality is that Russia needs Africa media and Africa needs Russian media, in order for them to enlighten ties in the economic spheres, to promote a better understanding among African elites and the middle class through media reports. The African middle class is twice Russia’s population and almost the size the population of United States. According to UN forecasts, the Africa’s middle class, constitutes a very huge vibrant information-consuming market, will exceed 350 million by 2025.
Professor Vladimir Shubin, the former Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies, explained in an interview with me that political relations between Russia and Africa as well as the economic cooperation would continue to attract more and more academic discussions. Such scholarly contributions, in essence, would help deepen understanding of the problems that impede building solid relationship or partnership with Russia.
In order to maintain this relationship, both Russia and Africa have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting the most development needs in a comprehensive way for mutual benefits using appropriately the media, according to Professor Shubin.
“African leaders do their best in developing bilateral relations,” he added. “Truly and passionately, they come to Russia more often than ten years ago, but a lot still has to be done; both Russian and African media, in this case, have a huge role to play.”
Perhaps, one of the reasons why some African leaders appear to have “written off” Russia has been lack of adequate information about Russia, or rather plenty of distorted information they have received from the Western media coverage of Russia, Professor Shubin concluded.
“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal ‘Russia in Global Affairs‘ and also the Chairman of the State Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
“To a certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. But in Russia’s case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional rather than political interests of the state and economic interests of big companies. Soft power has never been on a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”
Similarly, Bunn Nagara, a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, member of the Valdai Discussion Club, has observed that “Russian businesses face a number of challenges. First, there is little information available internationally about the opportunities and possibilities for partnerships between Russian and foreign businesses.”
“Russia is a large country spanning both Europe and Asia. So, it can do much to bring Asian and European business linkages together and build on them. Better public relations and improved information dissemination are very important. To do this, it needs to do more in spreading more and better information about its achievements, the progress so far, its future plans, and the opportunities available,” Bunn Nagara said.
Early October 2019, the Valdai Discussion Club released an ebook titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Strategy and Prospects” jointly or collectively authored by Vadim Balytnikov, Oleg Barabanov, Andrei Yemelyanov, Dmitry Poletaev, Igor Sid and Natalia Zaiser.
The Valdai Discussion Club was established in 2004, with a goal is to promote dialogue between Russian and international intellectual elite, and to make an independent, unbiased scientific analysis of political, economic and social events in Russia and the rest of the world.
The authors explicitly suggested the need to take steps in countering Western anti-Russia clichés that are spreading in Africa and shaping a narrative whereby only dictators and outcast partner with Russians. Therefore, efforts to improve Russia’s image must target not only the continent’s elite, but also a broader public opinion. It would be advisable to create and develop appropriate media tools to this effect.
Media and NGOs, working with the civil society, have to support official efforts in pushing for building a positive image and in strengthening diplomacy. Displaying an attentive and caring attitude towards the African diaspora in Russia, the key objective is to overcome racist stereotypes that persist in marginal segments of Russian society. Helping highly qualified educated African migrants to integrate through employment. This will, in addition, showcase and shape public opinion about Africa in the Russian Federation.
According to the authors, building a more and consistent positive public opinion within Russia and Africa should be considered extremely important at this stage of relations between Russia and Africa. Should Russia assist other countries for political purposes only? Will the recipient countries be willing to lend Russia their political support, and can they be trusted? Should Russia build its partnerships exclusively based on the principle of economic expediency?
The authors wrote: “Russia will have to answer these questions as it moves towards implementing its African strategy. Its experience in working with public opinion and governments across Eurasia to shape public perceptions will come in handy in Africa.”
In the context of these existing challenges, leaders on both sides have to draw a roadmap. Inside Africa, most Africans have had enough of all these public discussions. The time has come to make progressive changes to the current approach, create a new outlook or simply call it “media facelift” instead of maintaining the old status quo. It therefore means taking concrete practical steps toward an effective media cooperation, this will substantially not only broaden but deepen two-way understanding of current developments in Russia and in Africa.
The irreversible fact is that there is the need to have an informed African society, and this has to be done largely, systematically and necessarily through the media. Africa has the largest number of young people, who look at the world with open eyes and are ready for cooperation with partner countries. This is a good opportunity to inform the young generation, bring them together through knowledge from Russia, Eurasia, and Africa.
Moscow hosted the first Russia-Africa Public Forum in October 2018, most of the issues emerging from there and diverse opinions expressed at that gathering are useful for improving current relationship. As already known, Russia has a long-time relationship with Africa. Russia and Africa have to make that mutual desire to step up cooperation in all areas including social spheres and public outreach diplomacy. In this connection, it requires complete understanding, necessary primary support for new initiatives and, as always reiterated, commitment to dynamic work to expand traditionally friendly relations with Africa.
For 25 Years, At Least, CPLP Exists by Its Historical Name
In Luanda, capital of Angola, hosted the 13th Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) with the key objective of reviewing the historical past and discussing effective pathways for the future. Through its history, the CPLP has largely been known as an organization, besides that, much has been shrewd away from public domain including its development processes, collective challenges and achievements, and impact on global scene.
In mid-July, Angola hosted the conference under the theme: “Building and Strengthening a Common and Sustainable Future” and the theme, without doubts, highlights the importance of building a common and sustainable future that promotes sustainable development and the effective improvement of the population’s quality of life.
During the conference, as expected, the heads of state and government had the opportunity to discuss relevant issues for the respective countries and establish a cooperation framework in line with the current international situation. A number of representatives also had the chance to address the strategic views for the organization.
According to reports, Angola takes over the presidency of the organization for the next two years (2021-2023). As the host of the 13th conference, at the same time, marks the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the CPLP organization, Angolan President João Lourenço, delivered his welcome and closing addresses full of all diplomatic niceties, reminding detailing the primary objectives and vividly itemizing various tasks as the way forward into the future.
Monitoring those issues, as contained in his speech, sparked off one significant proposal. President Lourenço launched the challenge of creating an investment bank for the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). “We can be a relevant economic force if we work for this we have left the challenge of starting to think about the pertinence and feasibility of creating a CPLP Investment Bank.”
According to his analysis, belated though, the creation of this potential bank is in line with the intention to include a new economic and business pillar, one of the priorities of the Angolan CPLP presidency.
President of the Business Confederation of the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries (CE-CPLP), Salimo Abdula, explained that it was with “satisfaction” that he had heard the announcement from Angola’s President, João Lourenço, about fortification plans for an economic pillar among the members of the ornization.
“We want to congratulate Angola,” Abdula said. “We know that it wants to invest in a fourth pillar – the economic one, and business cooperation. This is exactly what the Business Confederation of the CPLP (CE-CPLP) has been developing for years,” he said, adding that the idea of creating an investment bank, as proposed by President Lourenço in his inaugural speech as holder of the presidency, “is welcome, it is in fact a project that the Business Confederation has been developing for some time.”
Abdula, who comes from Mozambique, recalled that in 2014, there was a conference in Lisbon attended by representatives of central and commercial banks from almost all CPLP member states, “under the coordination and leadership of the Confederation, with the aim of studying an investment or development bank, which could support the integration of companies and not only, but also the needs for investment in infrastructure in a large part of the countries” mainly in Portuguese-language countries in Africa.
While acknowledging that this type of project is complex and takes time to implement, Abdula noted that the Confederation had, at the time, made a proposal for the CPLP to go ahead and create such a bank. “That was during the East Timor presidency, in 2014,” he recalled. It took some time to respond but, when it did, it gave a positive response, yet to date nothing has moved forward. The CE-CPLP did not, however, give up on the idea, according to Abdula.
“We have indeed consulted some states about what type of bank would be acceptable, whether with mixed capital or public capital, and the trend is towards mixed capital, that is public and private,” he said, explaining further that it would thus be “a bank with less political interference, with a more impartial governance, in order to ensure the interests of all countries across the board.”
More recently, the Confederation took up the issue again, at a business summit it organized in May in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, a CPLP member since 2014, which Abdula noted was attended by some political leaders. According to the Confederation President, “there was a positive manifestation from the government of Equatorial Guinea that it would look at this project” and several commercial banks have showed interest in this project.
Taking his turn at the conference, Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa discussed, at length, the agreement on free movement within the Community of Portuguese-Language Countries (CPLP) and offered an assurance that parliament will ratify at the beginning of the next legislative session in September.
“The government is thus making an immediate priority of the parliamentary ratification of this agreement as well as the respective legislative framework on free movement and on academic qualifications. As soon as the work of the Portuguese parliament reopens, we will present this agreement for ratification and also the legislative framework that will allow for speeding up both the circulation and recognition of (academic) qualifications, because this is fundamental to people’s lives,” Costa told the conference gathering.
Costa then referred to problems that have existed in the past between Portuguese-language countries, such as Portugal and Brazil. “With this agreement, we will not again have the crisis of Brazilian dentists in Portugal (as in the 1980s), or, more recently, of Portuguese engineers in Brazil,” he said, referring to two situations where there was no mutual recognition of qualifications. Costa then moved to temper expectations, saying that the framework agreement on free movement “still requires development” and further diplomatic work.
Prime Minister of São Tomé and Principé Jorge Bom Jesus also comment positively on the mobility agreement will create a great space for movement and will allow movement within the CPLP. “We have to join forces to find new solutions to old structural problems, particularly from an economic point of view,” he said.
It is necessary for bilateral meetings to discuss cooperation, share several economic dossiers, debt, investments in the areas of energy, agriculture, industry, human resources and other strategic investments, Jorge Bom Jesus said and added “These are precisely for us to join forces and face the problems because they are common, which is why the solutions also have to be common.”
For many delegates, the conference is a platform to express primarily their views and reiterated vehemently the huge untapped potentials among the members. Portuguese-Mozambican businessman Paulo Oliveira said by illustrating the fact that the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) is a house where you must apply for a permit to go from the bedroom to the kitchen, to illustrate barriers to investment. “The way of approach is completely different from one country to another, within the CPLP, and this, sometimes delays investment that could be carried out in a faster way,” he stressed.
As a further indication of optimism, Paulo Oliveira frankly believes opening of borders to greater mobility should be gradual – without throwing the doors wide open – with businesspeople, students and cultural agents in the front line. In his argument, it is necessary to take additional collaborative efforts towards shaping business development among the members. For example, in order to enhance investments in this organization, a common CPLP visa for business people and specialized labor would be a possible mechanism. In practice, all countries have things to offer if there is a different kind of mobility.
In an interview with Portuguese News Agency Lusa in Lisbon ahead of the conference, Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva indicated that Portugal expected what he described as “firmest and most absolute solidarity” from all member states of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) over the situation in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.
Asked about a strengthening of multilateral cooperation under the CPLP, the head of Portuguese diplomacy was more cautious, but noted that there are missions from Portugal and other countries underway as well as from organizations such as the European Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to help with security in Mozambique.
The conference, however, saw some progressive steps. The members signed an Agreement on Mobility and on Economic and Investment Cooperation.
The agreement on mobility establishes a “framework for cooperation” among all member states in a “flexible and variable” manner and, in practice, covers all citizens. Member states are offered range of solutions enabling them to take on “mobility commitments in a progressive manner with differentiated levels of integration”, taking account of their own internal specificities in their political, social and administrative dimensions.
In this context, the “freedom in the choice of the mobility modalities, of the categories of persons covered” as well as of the countries of the community with which they wish to establish partnerships. For two decades, the question on facilitating movement has been discussed consistently among the members without any concrete decision. Strengthening economic cooperation is another thorny question still on the table.
During the conference, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob commended Portuguese-speaking countries for their effort to open up borders to foster economic co-operation and hails Lusophone unity necessary for pursuing their multifaceted ambitions. He said the agreement on mobility among CPLP member states that “is an important step in making sure that our borders remain open to strengthen and promote business and economic relations in times of the pandemic.”
President Geingob added explicitly that, “As observer states, we join hands with CPLP members to strengthen our local, regional and global governance architecture. The values of international cooperation and multilateralism that underpin the CPLP are fundamental for the promotion and strengthening of peace and security and socio-economic development. The equality of all states cannot be over-emphasized, as stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations. Let us, therefore, continue to treasure the unity of our nations, a unity forged in blood and defined by kinship.”
President of the Republic of Cabo Verde, Jorge Carlos de Almeida Fonseca, praised the political and diplomatic coordination in improving the assertion of CPLP countries in the international arena, reiterated its commitment to strengthening solidarity and cooperation aimed at ensuring the economic and social development of the peoples.
In short communique referred to as the “Luanda Declaration” signed by the Heads of State and Government and their representatives at the end of the 13th CPLP Conference, the participants reiterated their commitment to peace and harmony, the rule of law, democracy, human rights and social justice.
The leaders welcomed the choice of the motto “Building and strengthening a common and sustainable future” for the event and pledged to promote political dialogue, exchange of experiences and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the achievements of the CPLP in all areas.
As considered an additional challenge to the fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals within the community, expressed regret at multiple factors hindering this development process. The CPLP reiterated the need to build public policies aimed at creating the necessary infrastructure to democratize access to new technologies, promoting training and education suitable for their use.
The Heads of State and Government decided to increase multilateral action in terms of capacity building, sharing of experiences, networking initiatives and development of partnerships, within the scope of promoting trade and investment aimed to preserve and create decent jobs, income and productive capacity.
They reiterated the importance of progressively integrating economic cooperation into the general objectives of the CPLP, as well as the consolidation of a multilateral community agenda for the sector, with a view to contributing to the economic and social development of the member states.
They adopted the Mobility Agreement between member states, an instrument that aims to effectively, contribute to greater circulation within the community, to increase cooperation relations in all areas and to promote the feeling of belonging to the CPLP.
Attended the ceremony also the Presidents Cabo Verde Jorge Carlos Fonseca, Guinea-Bissau Umaro Sissoco Embaló and Vice President of Brazil Hamilton Mourão. There were representatives of the Heads of State of Mozambique, East Timor and Equatorial Guinea, Special Representative of the United Nations François Lounecény Fall, as well as representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).
There were social and cultural aspects of the conference. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa donated his José Aparecido de Oliveira prize, stressing that the CPLP “is a community of common principles and values” while he presented the prize awarded by the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), to the victims of terrorism in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique.
Established in 2011 and biennial in nature, the José Aparecido de Oliveira prize, named after one of the main creators of the CPLP, honors personalities and institutions that stand out in the defence, appreciation and promotion of principles and values and community objectives, as well as in carrying out studies and related research work.
Mozambique’s Leonardo Simão appointed CPLP Goodwill Ambassador, a new resolution approved at the Luanda concerns the approval of new CPLP Goodwill Ambassadors. Among those appointed for a four-year mandate, renewable for a further four years, were Leonardo Santos Simão, a former Foreign Minister of Mozambique, for the area of political and diplomatic consultation, and Filipe Silvino de Pina Zau, a University Professor and Researcher in Angola, for the Portuguese language area.
Two leading athletes from Portugal – Olympic triple-jump champion Nelson Évora, and another triple-jump athlete, Patrícia Mamona, who this year won the gold medal at the indoor European Athletics Championships, are the ambassadors for the areas of youth, sport and gender equality.
The fundamental role of CPLP Goodwill Ambassador is to “widely promote the objectives and disseminate the activities of the CPLP.” These are social and cultural developments at the 13th Conference of Heads of State and Government, chaired by Angola, so also was the signing of an agreement on free movement and the declaration of a new priority: strengthening economic relations.
With headquarters in Lisbon, CPLP is a multi-regional organization created in 1996. It comprises Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor. The CPLP Conference of Heads of State and Government is the community’s highest organ. It meets every two years and is responsible for defining and guiding its general policy and strategies.
The Associate Observer and Consultative Observer status, without the right to vote, were established in 2005. Consultative observers, of which there are now more than 100, are civil society organizations that may develop joint projects with the CPLP. Namibia is among 19 observer countries to the CPLP together with Uruguay, Senegal, Georgia, Japan, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Mauritius, Argentina, Chile, Italy, Andorra, France, Luxembourg, Serbia, and the United Kingdom.
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