Russia’s nuclear energy diplomacy in Africa has hit stumbling blocks, it’s been at the crossroad over the past two decades after the collapse of Soviet-era.
In order to find long-shelf solutions to chronic power shortages, African leaders and Governments that have shown interest in adopting Russian nuclear energy, signed necessary legal documents but lacked the needed funds for prompt implementation and final realisation.
“Rwanda’s annual budget stands at US$3 billion while the construction of the nuclear power plant would cost not less than US$9 billion which is equivalent to Rwanda’s entire gross domestic product.” David Himbara, Rwandan-Canadian Professor of International Development at Canada’s Centennial College, wrote in an emailed interview.
He said that Rwandan President Paul Kagame always believed that he must validate his supposedly visionary and innovative leadership by pronouncing grand projects that rarely materialised.
Currently, all African countries have serious energy crisis. Over 620 million in Sub-Saharan Africa out of one billion people do not have electricity. It is in this context that several African countries are exploring nuclear energy as part of the solution.
There is only one nuclear power plant on the entire African continent, namely, Koeberg nuclear power station in South Africa. Commissioned in 1984, Koeberg provides nearly 2,000 megawatts, which is about 5% of installed electricity generation in South Africa.
According to Himbara, “Of all African countries that have shown interest in nuclear energy, none have so far gone beyond the stage of conducting preliminary feasibility study, project costing and financing models, except South Africa.”
But, the South Africa US$76 billion deal with the Russians to build a nuclear power plant collapsed along with the Government of Jacob Zuma that negotiated the deal in secrecy, in fact when such corporate projects have to be discussed by the parliament and necessarily have to pass through international tendering process, he pointed out.
Russia and South Africa concluded an intergovernmental agreement on strategic partnership in the nuclear sphere in 2014. The agreement provided in particular for construction of up to eight NPP power units.
“Nuclear waste will pile up, and where are they going to put it? The Sahara? The US is always trying to force nuclear waste repository on some poor or indigenous community and when that fails, the waste keeps piling up at the reactor sites, creating greater and greater environmental risks,” he said.
He added that “Managing nuclear waste and its safety is universally complex and dangerous. The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan, remind the world of the human and environmental costs of nuclear power accidents. Millions of people are still suffering from radiation and radiation related diseases till today.”
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in an interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine in March, described Africa as rich in raw material resources, including those that are required for high technology and for moving to a new technological pattern. Apart from mining, Russia and African countries are cooperating on high technology.
What was more important for Africa’s energy sector when he informed that Rosatom has been considering a number of projects that are of interest to Africans, for instance, the creation of a nuclear research and technology centre in Zambia. Nigeria has a similar project. There are good prospects for cooperation with Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Talks are underway on the construction of a nuclear power plant in South Africa.
Shadreck Luwita, Zambian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, informed that the processes of design, feasibility study and approvals regarding the project have almost been concluded. The site of the project is yet to be designated as it is equally a process and it is envisaged that construction should commence, in earnest, not later than the second half of 2018.
In addition, he affirmed that the Russians envisaged technology transfer in the development of this massive project by way of manpower development capacity. For now, there are only a few Zambian nationals, who are studying nuclear science in one of the Russian universities in Moscow.
The Zambian Government hopes that upon commissioning of this project, excess power generated from this plant could be made available for export to neighbouring countries under the Southern African Development Community Power Pool framework arrangement.
From all indications, Russia wants to turn nuclear energy into a major export industry. It has signed agreements with African countries with no nuclear tradition, including Rwanda and Zambia. And is set to build a large nuclear plant in Egypt.
Interestingly, Egypt’s dreams of building nuclear plant has spanned with agreement that was signed (as far back in March 2008) during official visit to the Kremlin by the ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and then again with former Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi who discussed the same nuclear project with Vladimir Putin in April 2013 in Sochi, southern Russia.
During the dawn of a new era, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah Al Sisi signed an agreement to set up four nuclear plants in El Dabaa, on the Mediterranean coast west of the port city of Alexandria, where a research reactor has stood for years.
The deal signed on the heels of talks held between Putin and Al Sisi, where both expressed high hopes that Russia would help construct the country’s first nuclear facility. Egypt began its nuclear program in 1954 and in 1961, acquired a 2-megawatt research reactor, built by the Soviet Union.
However, plans to expand the site have been decades in the making that Rosatom will provide its fuel, personnel training, and build necessary infrastructure. The four blocks of the nuclear power plant will cost about $20 billion.
However, Director Anton Khlopkov and Research Associate Dmitry Konukhov at the Center for Energy and Security Studies, co-authored a report to Valdai Discussion Club, part of RIA Novosti Agency, that success of Egypt’s nuclear project depends on three key factors.
These are the political stability and security situation in Egypt, a viable financing mechanism that reflects the country’s economic situation, and the government’s ability to secure support for the project among the local residents of El Dabaa, the site chosen for Egypt’s first nuclear plant back in the 1980s.
In reality, Ghana has a similar never-ending dreams and fairy tales of owning nuclear plants. The agreement re-signed on June 2, 2015. The Russian reactor, 1000 MW plant, will cost a minimum of $4.2 billion. The financing scheme has not been finalised. And it will take about eight to ten years from site feasibility studies to commissioning of the first unit.
As local media reported, Ghana’s quest to industrialise for economic growth and development has fast-tracked plans to establish nuclear power in the country within the next decade, that means by 2029 and export excess power to other countries in the sub-region.
With “One District, One Factory” – Ghana’s industrialisation agenda might not be realized under Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s administration based on the roadmap of the nuclear power programme to commence construction by 2023 and inject nuclear energy into the grip by 2030.
The African countries’ MoUs and Agreements with RosAtom including Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and the rest are stacked. Nearly three decades after Soviet collapse, not a single plant has been completed in Africa.
Some still advocate for alternative energy supply. Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, Founder and Executive Director of Danquah Institute, a non-profit organisation that promotes policy initiatives and advocates for Africa’s development, wrote in an email that “Africa needs expertise, knowledge transfer and the kind of capital imports that can assist Africa to develop its physical infrastructure, add value to two of its key resources: natural resources and human capital.”
Russia has respectable expertise in one key area for Africa: energy development. “But, has Russia the courage, for instance, to take on the stalled $8-$10 billion Inga 3 hydropower project on the Congo river? This is the kind of development project that can vividly send out a clear signal to African leaders and governments that Russia is, indeed, ready for business,” he said.
The renewable energy potential is enormous in Africa, citing the Grand Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Grand Inga is the world’s largest proposed hydropower scheme.
It is a grand vision to develop a continent-wide power system. Grand Inga 3, expected to have an electricity-generating capacity of about 40,000 megawatts – which is nearly twice as much as the 20 largest nuclear power stations.
Researchers and Experts strongly believe and further estimate that the cost of building nuclear power does not make any sense when compared to the cost of building renewables or other sources of energy to solve energy shortages in Africa.
According to the company profile, Rosatom offers a complete range nuclear power products and services from nuclear fuel supply, technical services and modernisation to personnel training and establishing nuclear infrastructure. Currently, Rosatom has built more than 120 research reactors in Russia and abroad.
Russia, Africa and the SPIEF’19
In 2019, four African countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho Niger and Somalia – for the first time attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF’19) held on June 6-8 under theme “Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda” in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Forum brought together a record-breaking number of participants: over 19,000 people from 145 countries, with 1,300 guests representing heads of companies. The sheer number of business community participants, variety of thematic events, and level of representation on both national and international levels underscore the status of SPIEF as a truly global economic forum.
Over the years, SPIEF has become an open platform to exchange best practices and key competences in the interest of providing sustainable development.
The main event was the plenary session, with the participation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Peter Pellegrini, and Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres.
During his address to the participants of the Forum, Vladimir Putin talked about the tasks the country is facing, as well as about the importance of national projects as a driver of economic growth in Russia.
The overall budget for the implementation of proposed development projects of Russia is about US$400 billion. The priorities are healthcare, education, research and development, and support for entrepreneurship. And, considerable funds will also be allocated to develop major infrastructure, transport and the energy industry.
Putin also stressed to the guests and participants for their friendly attitude to Russia, their willingness for joint work and business cooperation based on pragmatism, understanding of mutual interests and, of course, trust, frankness and clear-cut positions. That global inequality between countries and regions is the main source of instability. It is not just about the level of income or financial inequality, but fundamental differences in opportunities for people.
More than 800 million people around the world do not have basic access to drinking water, and about 11 percent of the world’s population is undernourished. A system based on ever-increasing injustice will never be stable or balanced.
As a first step, necessary to conduct a kind of demilitarisation of the key areas of the global economy and trade, that also includes utilities and energy, which help reduce the impact on the environment and climate. This concerns areas that are crucial for the life and health of millions, one might even say, billions of people on the entire planet.
Russia has embarked on implementing long-term strategic programmes, many of which are global in nature, it is important to hear each other and pool efforts for resolving common goals. Russia is ready for these challenges and changes.
During the four days of the Forum, over 1,300 speakers and moderators, including Russian and international experts, took part in discussions. They shared their knowledge, experiences and best practices with the participants of the Forum. There was special zone of the area that hosted interviews with politicians, government officials, representatives of big business.
On the sidelines, there were business dialogues between Russia and other countries, for example Russia–Africa, were very popular this year. President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Mabel Chinomona, was one of the African participants. State officials came from Botswana, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Mauritius, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The Russia-Africa session featured Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa; Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission and Tatyana Valovaya, Member of the Board – Minister in Charge of Integration and Macroeconomics, Eurasian Economic Commission.
Isabel Jose dos Santos, Chairman, Unitel SA; Daniel Kablan Duncan, Vice President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire; Dmitry Konyaev, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, URALCHEM JSC and Benedict Okey Oramah, President, Chairman of the Board of Director, The African Export Import Bank.
Sylvie Baipo-Temon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Central Africans Abroad of the Central African Republic; Nikita Gusakov, General Director, EXIAR; Boris Ivanov
Managing Director, GPB Global Resources and Nataliya Zaiser, Chair of the Board, Africa Business Initiative UNION; Executive Secretary, Russian National Committee, World Energy Council (WEC).
The participants noted that 2019 should be a historic year in the development of Russian-African relations. The summit of heads of state in October should take place amidst record growth in Russian exports to Africa. Russia is interested in new markets and international alliances more than ever before, while Africa has solidified its position as one of the centres of global economic growth in recent years.
In this context, the countries need to rethink the approaches, mechanisms, and tools they use for cooperation in order to take their relations to the next level as their significance grows in the new conditions of world politics and economics. What steps are needed to give a new impetus to bilateral economic relations? What are the key initiatives and competencies that can create a deeper strategic partnership between Russia and African states?
These are among the key questions on the meeting agenda for the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit planned for October in Sochi under the co-chairmanship of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Chairperson of the African Union.
Russia joins Gulf states in coaching Sudan’s military
Russia has emerged as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ silent partner in assisting the Sudanese military’s efforts to weaken, if not defeat a months-long popular revolt that has already toppled president Omar al-Bashir.
Documents leaked to The Guardian and MHK Media, a Russian-language news website, by the London-based Dossier Centre, an investigative group funded by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, disclosed Russia’s hitherto behind-the-scenes role in Sudan.
Laying out plans to bolster Russia’s position across Africa by building relations with rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of leaders and undercover agents, the documents included details of a campaign to smear anti-government protesters in Sudan.
The plan for the campaign appeared to have been copy-pasted from proposals to counter opposition in Russia to president Vladimir Putin with references to Russia mistakenly not having been replaced with Sudan in one document.
Russia advised the Sudanese military to use fake news and videos to portray demonstrators as anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli and pro-LGBT. The plan also suggested increasing the price of newsprint to make it harder for critics to get their message out and to discover “foreigners” at anti-government rallies.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg-based businessman and close associate of Mr. Putin, complained in a letter to Mr. Bashir before he was overthrown that the president was not following his advice.
Mr. Prigozhin, who was indicted by US special counsel Robert Mueller for operating a troll factory that ran an extensive social media campaign that favoured of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was according to the documents a key player in efforts to enhance Russian influence in Africa.
Mr. Prigozhin accused Mr. Bashir and his government of not being active enough and adopting an “extremely cautious position.”
If a visit this week to Sudan by foreign journalists at the invitation of the military to show them medical facilities that had allegedly been ransacked by protesters and demonstrate that hospitals that had been attacked by notorious paramilitary forces associated with Sudanese army were returning to normal, is anything to go by, Mr. Prigozhin’s criticism may have merit.
“It must have seemed like a good idea to somebody, although I cannot imagine why. The plan was to show us how terribly the protesters had behaved. If the world could see what they were really like they would understand that the regime had no choice but to send in the militia. Except from the moment we arrived at the first medical facility things started to go wrong,” said the BBC’s Africa editor, Fergal Keane.
To Mr. Keane, the omnipresence of paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) made the paramilitary headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemedti, believed to be a Saudi and UAE favourite because his troops fought in Yemen and his reputation for ruthlessness, look “more like an army of occupation than an internal security force.”
Widely viewed as ambitious and power hungry, General Dagalo resembles in the eyes of protesters Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the autocratic general-turned-president who in 2013 staged a Saudi-UAE-backed military coup that toppled Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president.
Defending the UAE’s contacts with the military council, Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country’s “credibility is our means to contribute to enhancing peaceful transition in a way that preserves the state and its institutions.”
Human Rights Watch this week called on the United Nations Security Council to halt the withdrawal of peacekeepers from Darfur, noting that the Rapid Support Forces “have a long track record of abuse. They carried out highly abusive counter-insurgency campaigns in Darfur, and the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions over the past five years, in which they attacked villages, killed and raped civilians, and burned and looted homes.”
Witnesses outside a medical facility and a hospital that Mr. Keane visited countered the military’s tale, describing how troops stormed the buildings and looted and destroyed facilities. “”The international community has to intervene. There is no peace here in Sudan. People are suffering a lot… I am frightened for my country,” said a man as he drove by Omdurman Hospital.
The failed public relations tour, the crackdown, the Russian guidance and stalled talks between protesters and the military fits a Saudi-UAE promoted pattern that has evolved across the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 popular Arab revolts. It’s a pattern that aims to defeat popular protest at whatever cost.
The Sudanese protest movement has emerged from the crackdown that doctors said killed at least 118 people and efforts to delegitimize it battered, divided and potentially weakened but still standing.
A general strike declared at the beginning of this week initially paralyzed the capital Khartoum but within a day or two appeared to be weakening.
Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir said on Tuesday that the protesters had agreed to end the strike while the governing Transitional Military Council (TMC), headed by officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was ready to release political prisoners, one of several key demands of the protesters.
Mr. Dirir said the two sides had also agreed to “soon” resume talks to resolve the crisis even if they were nowhere near narrowing differences of returning Sudan to civilian rule. It was not clear what soon meant.
“Negotiation – even if it happens soon – will circle back to the same issue: will the military cede power to a civilian government? Nothing about the generals’ actions has indicated that this is an imminent possibility. The fear is that they will use any negotiations to try to divide the opposition while security pressure is maintained on the streets,” Mr. Keane said.
Review: Africa At The SPIEF’19
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has held series of diplomatic discussions with a number of high-level African delegations who attended the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) from June 6 to 8, reaffirmed Russia’s preparedness to strengthen cooperation in socio-economic spheres, provide the necessary military-technical logistics for enforcing stability and continue training specialists in Russian educational institutions.
Traditionally, SPIEF is a meeting platform for world business leaders, government officials, experts and media representatives to discuss and jointly search for solutions to the most pressing issues in the Russian and global economies.
The key theme of this year’s forum, Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda, included discussions on the current state of and prospects for the sustainable development of the global economy. The business programme comprised four themed blocks: The Global Economy in Search of a Balance; The Russian Economy: Achieving National Development Goals; Technologies Shaping the Future; and People First.
As planned, Sergey Lavrov held several separate bilateral meetings. He attended a trilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister Somalia. On June 6, held meetings with Kenyan Secretary for Foreign Affairs Monica Juma, Foreign Minister of Botswana, Unity Dow and Central African Republic Foreign Minister, Sylvie Baipo-Temon among others.
With Minister Unity Dow, referring to an agreement signed between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Botswana, on waiving visa requirements for citizens of the Russian Federation and of the Republic of Botswana, Lavrov said that the agreement would ensure frequent exchanges of peoples and business community members. He further said it would provide “more comfortable conditions for interacting with each other.”
During the meeting with Foreign Minister of the Central African Republic Sylvie Baipo-Temon, Lavrov stressed that Russia and CAR would be able to find more areas for trade and economic cooperation.
“We have long-standing friendly relations. This helps us to cooperate in a way that is beneficial for the development of and the efforts to normalise the situation in the Central African Republic,” he told CAR Foreign Minister.
“The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera in St Petersburg in May 2018 and my prior talks with President Touadera in Sochi in October 2017 have proven useful for the efforts to implement the fundamental agreements which have been reached. We will work to achieve this,” concluded Lavrov.
Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation, Anton Kobyakov, also met with Vice-President of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire Daniel Kablan Duncan at the 2019 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Kobyakov noted that Russia attaches great importance to deepening cooperation with its African partners in trade and investment that includes the involvement of Russian companies in the implementation of projects in various sectors.
“In 2018, trade between the Russian Federation and Africa increased from US$17.4 billion to US$20.4 billion, domestic exports grew by 18.1%, and imports to Russia from the continent grew by 11.1%. Key Russian trading partners include such North African countries as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as the Republic of South Africa, located on the other end of the continent. Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia accounted for the lion’s share of Russian exports in 2018, while South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tunisia dominated imports,” Kobyakov said.
Vice-President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Daniel Kablan Duncan, underlined the strengthening of bilateral relations between Russia and Côte d’Ivoire: “2017 marked a half-century since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. We enjoy friendly relations that encompass many areas of interaction, including political dialogue, security, trade, economic and technical military ties, energy, and scientific, cultural, and cultural exchanges.”
Cote d’Ivoire is one of Russia’s largest trading partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and the beginning of 2019 has been marked by a significant increase in mutual trade. The outlook for cooperation in energy seems promising. The processing of agricultural products could also be included in a list of key areas of trade and investment cooperation with Russia.
Besides bilateral meetings, there were other related business programmes where Africans participated. Support of the Russian export to African countries can grow twofold and reach the level of US$1 bln this year, Chief Executive of the Russian Export Insurance Company EXIAR, Nikita Gusakov informed the Russia-Africa plenary session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).
“There is quite a lot of projects. We supported exports to Africa with an amount of US$0.5 bln last year. Regarding sectors, these are railways, pipeline infrastructure, everything linked to food security and fertilizer suppliers,” Gusakov said. There is no exact forecast of export support for Africa in 2019 but “the amount should be doubled at the least,” he added.
During the plenary session, the key speakers and participants agreed that 2019 should be a historic year in the development of Russian-African relations. The Summit of Heads of State in October should take place amidst record growth in Russian exports to Africa. The first event in the history of Russian-African relations to invite the heads of all African states along with the leaders of major sub-regional associations and organizations.
Russia is interested in new markets and international alliances more than ever before, while Africa has solidified its position as one of the centres of global economic growth in recent years.
In this context, the countries need to rethink the approaches, mechanisms, and tools to use for cooperation in order to take their relations to the next level as their significance grows in the new conditions of world politics and economics. What steps are needed to give a new impetus to bilateral economic relations? What are the key initiatives and competencies that can create a deeper strategic partnership between Russia and African states?
These are among the key questions on the meeting agenda for the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit planned for October in Sochi under the co-chairmanship of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Chairperson of the African Union. The first event in the history of Russian-African relations to invite the heads of all African states along with the leaders of major sub-regional associations and organizations.
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