Russia’s Rise in Africa

Six African Heads of State will be among global leaders and foreign dignitaries to eye-witness the official ceremony inaugurating the newly elected Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, scheduled to take place on May 7 in Moscow.

The importance of this ceremony is that Putin will continue to keep the symbols of power – the national seal, the national flag and a specially bound copy of the Constitution after taking the oath of office as President.

All eyes will be on this inauguration event as it marks the start of Putin’s second six-year presidential term (from 2018 until 2024) within the framework of the constitutional provisions.

Interfax News Agency reported on April 27 that the Russian presidential inauguration would be different from the previous without stating details.

The news agency further quoted Dmitry Peskov, an Official Spokesman of the Kremlin, saying that foreign leaders’ presence might extend through May 9, which is Victory Day celebrations, and no special invitations were needed as the doors were open to all interested global leaders.

The African leaders due to arrive this week for the ceremony include South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, Angola’s Joao Lourenco, Namibia’s Hage Geingob and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir. These six African countries have enjoyed warm bilateral relations dated back to the time of Soviet days.

On 7th May, 2012, when Putin was last sworn in as president, there were few foreign guests, the most notable being Putin’s longtime friends Silvio Berlusconi and the former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Shröder.

A Senior Researcher on foreign policy at the Institute of African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences told me by phone that the appearance and participation of African leaders in events in Moscow would be an exceptional timing for their respective countries and Russia.

He, however, acknowledged Africa’s rising influence on the international stage and added further that “Russia needs more partners especially during this period of sanctions against the country and, more significantly, at this time when global politics is changing. It wants to raise its profile in Africa now after two decades of low-key engagement.”

Yury Ushakov, a Russian Presidential Aide, told the local media here that President Vladimir Putin would use the opportunity to hold a number of bilateral meetings with prominent foreign leaders, among them the visiting African leaders.

Experts on foreign policy issues have said that Putin has a cozy relationship with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The relations between Egypt and Russia has been developing deeply and rapidly. Early April, for instance, Putin by phone warmly congratulated Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on his overwhelming victory in the presidential election.

He further reaffirmed Russia’s intention to develop mutually beneficial cooperation in many areas, including energy, industry and transport. Russia is currently working on mega projects including nuclear plants construction and on an industrial zone in the country.

For Zimbabwe, strongly despised by the West, it has been looking to China and Russia, both BRICS member states, for investment and much-needed financial assistance to help pull Zimbabwe out of its persistent economic problems.

Quite recently, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on an official visit to Harare during which he underlined unreservedly the continuing importance his government’s plans to build a $3 billion platinum mine considered will be a driving force in the economy of Zimbabwe.

During the visit, the two countries also agreed on cooperation notably in the spheres of trade, nuclear energy, space, tourism and agriculture.

Zimbabwe will hold a presidential election in July. The long-serving ruler Robert Mugabe resigned in November last year. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is a strong advocate of the “Look East” policy and has also been wooing interested potential foreign investors since taking office, will contest the election on the ticket of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

On February 13, while meeting with Sergei Ivanov, Chief Executive Officer of Alrosa, a Russian diamond mining company, Putin hinted about the forthcoming state visit of the President of Angola, Joao Lourenco, to Moscow.

During that working discussion Putin hinted: “We are currently discussing the Angolan President’s visit to Russia. I think it will happen very soon, this year for certain. It is very likely that we will talk about your business in Angola.”

In Angola, Alrosa’s plan is to develop one of the world’s largest diamond deposits, in Luaxe, where currently the company is conducting a feasibility study. “We have managed to increase the stock of our subsidiary in Angola to 42 percent. We have met with the President of Angola. Everything is on schedule. I am certain that it will be a significant asset to help us maintain our leadership,” CEO Sergei Ivanov told Putin in remarks.

A Sudanese diplomat confirmed by phone that in May a government delegation would visit Moscow. Russia and Sudan are also committed to developing their bilateral relations.

Last December when the two presidents met in Sochi, southern coastal Russian city, Putin stressed investment in infrastructure, offered to explore the vast oil deposits territorially shared with South Sudan, as well as deliver modern weapons and military hard wares to the country.

Interestingly, Omar Al-Bashir has offered to help Russia in Africa. He said that “Sudan has extensive ties in Africa and can help Russia develop relations with African countries. Sudan may become Russian’s key to Africa. We are a member of the African Union.”

“We have great relations with all African nations and we are ready to help. We are also interested in developing relations with BRICS,” he concluded assertively.

As long-term political friends and strategic partners, Russia has recognized the change political change in South Africa. The President of Russia, soon after the leadership change, expressed his appreciation of Cyril Ramaphosa’s contribution to fighting apartheid and to promoting the development of a democratic society in South Africa.

According to Kremlin sources, Putin expressed confidence that Ramaphosa’s tenure as President will help accelerate the country’s movement on the path of progress and prosperity, and confirmed the readiness for constructive dialogue and cooperation with Ramaphosa, including South Africa’s BRICS presidency in 2018.

With Ramaphosa coming to Moscow, it gives an excellent chance for both presidents on one-to-one basis to iron out significant issues related to South Africa’s chairmanship of BRICS and the final preparations for the 10th edition of the annual BRICS summit on July 25–27, 2018 in Johannesburg.

The BRICS member countries (namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area and are home to 42% of the world’s population.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.