For the past two decades, Southern African leaders have been looking for external support and genuine foreign investment in infrastructure, agriculture and industry. Besides these economic spheres, the leaders plan to boost significantly business ties with foreign partners and seek effective ways to strengthen exports on foreign markets.
In this regard, Southern African countries welcome investors from all over the world. Russia has a long history of bilateral engagements with the Southern African countries, which constitute the Southern African Development Community.
The Memorandum of Understanding renewed in October 2018 envisages strengthening ties in a broad range of fields and it further shows that SADC remains comparatively as one of Russia’s key regional partners in Africa.
According to official documents, Russian Foreign Ministry [MFA] first signed a Memorandum on Cooperation with Southern African countries on September 1, 2003 during an indepth meeting held between then Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and SADC Executive Secretary Prega Ramsamy.
That agreement primarily aimed at strengthening the diplomatic relations and coordination between the Russian Federation and SADC. The document outlined the most promising areas, as well as the forms and methods of mutually beneficial cooperation in the trade-and-economic and scientific-and-technical areas, transport and communications, energy and mineral resource development, public health, education and culture.
It sets out the mutual desire of Russia and the SADC member countries to step up the many-sided ties between the parties, including the importance of intensifying political contacts at various levels. Both sides as a top priority task emphasized in the document the necessity of making the maximum use of the existing considerable potential.
Since 2003, Russia has had a staggering economic profile in the African region. Indeed, 15 years have elapsed and not much significant have been achieved due to multiple factors, highly experienced experts say in separate interviews as reported here.
Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of SADC, said “Russia and Africa have been partners for many years, and expressed a desire to achieve a new level in the relationship.”
According to SADC Executive Secretary, Russia has not been visible in the region as compared to China, India or Brazil. But, for past few years, it is encouraging that Russia has made enthusiastic efforts towards repositioning itself to be a major partner with Southern Africa.
Stergomena Lawrence Tax, a Tanzanian by birth and educated in Japan, was appointed in September 2013 at the 33rd Summit of the Heads of State and Government in Lilongwe, Malawi. She is the first woman to hold the position in the history of the regional bloc, SADC.
Rex Essenowo, Member of the Board of Trustees of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe [NIDO] and Senior Executive of Asian Africa Trade, a Moscow based business lobbying NGO, pointed to Russia’s tremendous growing interest in the Southern African region. Similarly, he first welcomed the new development that the agreements have been renewed after 15 years, but this time, there should be some level of commitment – not just signing the Memorandum of Cooperation.
He noted that the key issue emerging from many policy experts is a fresh call on Russian Government to seriously review and change some of its policy approach currently implemented in Africa. The experts called for more commitment towards development-oriented policies that would help the continent overcome its development problems.
Essenowo, however, expressed optimism that “if Russia intensifies efforts in understanding the African development needs, there could be smooth flow of effective operations. It is important to note that financial commitments, investment guarantees or some sort of financial stimulus plan are needed to improve trade and investment programmes, so as to make policies more effective than mere declaration of interests.”
“In addition, African financial banks and related economic institutions must get up to the task. There is nothing much to talk about without adequate funding and effective management of our resources. We should expect a boost in trade balance between Russia and the SADC region, even with other key regional blocs like, East and West Africa,” the Trade Expert concluded.
Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria in South Africa, noted that Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal.
“What seems to irk Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves. It is still not clear how Southern Africa sees Russia’s willingness [and intention] to step up its role in Africa, especially with China becoming more visible and assertive on the continent,” he questioned.
While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, the United States and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role, Olivier added.
“At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements have been signed with Southern Africa and various other countries in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” Olivier, who previously served as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote in an email comment from Pretoria, South Africa.
Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies and a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”
Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements would be implemented in practice, she added.
Dr. Martyn Davies, the Chief Executive Officer of the South African-based Frontier Advisory [Pty], suggested to Russian officials the adoption of a model by China to readily fund its companies interested in investing in Africa. He explained that the Chinese model of financing various infrastructure and construction projects in Africa had enhanced investments by the Asian country into the continent. China, the world’s second-biggest economy after the United States, is currently Africa’s largest trading partner.
There are an estimated 1500 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, industry, agriculture, energy and banking sectors.
Davies said the main factor that had assisted this speedy market engagement between Africa and China was that Russian banks had “de-risked” the projects in Africa from a financial perspective, finally explained that “Russia’s banking sector operates quite differently.”
Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, observes that Southern African region presents attractive growth opportunities for both foreign private and public investment.
“It seems Russia has to change its approach, move forward to deliver on overarching pledges and promises, [long-overdue step] in order to win the hearts of Africans. Undoubtedly, African leaders are not looking for Soviet-era level of relationships. ”
He maintains that Russia is determined to support African peace and security initiatives, to end conflicts on the continent of Africa but how much its [Russia’s] overall economic footprint and influence will contribute to improving stability is less certain. As already known, Russia has shown interest in the settlement of various conflicts in Africa, primarily in countries such as South Sudan and the Central African Republic, and the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa.
Stubborn explained the hidden public interpretation that African politicians have become political tourists, passionately going forth and back for diplomatic consultations with little impact on the economic development in Africa. Russia has been engaging with African political elite for many years and this has to reflect on the economy.
According to him, “the world is witnessing how Western, European, Asian and the Gulf states are using economic diplomacy and effectively addressing development needs under the principle of mutual respect, equal cooperation, and mutual benefit for Africa. It’s completely a new era that requires comprehensive system of strategies, get engaged or get disengaged – a totally different reality, a new paradigm shift on the African landscape.”
For many policy practitioners such as these mentioned here in this article, Russia’s engagement efforts should necessarily include African experts, civil society representatives and the media – some aspects of public diplomacy as its aim is to appeal and attract partners rather than coerce them into a relationship in one form or the other. Russians have to find ways while dealing with investing into Africa’s future.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov has acknowledged that Russia’s economic cooperation is not as far advanced as political ties but would do well to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation by promoting joint activity in order to make broader use of the huge potential of Russian-African trade and investment cooperation.
On the other hand, Lavrov indicated that “Russia is not only committed to long-term cooperation but also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition. Equally important is African businesspeople who are looking to work on the Russian market.”
Russia ultimately intends to regain its leading position and influence in Africa. Quite recently, among the initiatives that were designed to strengthen overall ties between Russia and Africa, Lavrov informed that “Russia-Africa forum will be held at the parliamentary level in the near future, followed by a Russia-Africa business forum. All of that will serve as important steps for laying the way to a full-blown Russia-Africa summit, as discussed at the meeting of the BRICS member countries with their African partners in Johannesburg in July.”
The Southern African region is the integrated market resulting from a combined population of approximately 327 million people, and a collective GDP of US$ 600 billion , which is supported by generally favorable weather conditions in most parts of the region.
Zimbabwe awaits Russian investors
Like many African countries, Zimbabwe’s economy needs sustainable resuscitation. On his mid-January official working visit to Moscow, President Emmerson Mnangagwa told Sputnik News Agency (SNA) in an interview: “We have always had cooperation in the field of defence and security with Russia. This we are not abandoning. At the moment, we don’t have much economic muscle to buy such things which we would want to buy from the Russian Federation.”
“But down the line, as Zimbabwe becomes stronger in terms of its economic muscle, we should be able to buy the type of military hardware, which we know the Russian Federation has and is the state-of-the-art type of equipment that they have, we are not in a hurry,” Mnangagwa added.
By his words, President Emmerson Mnangagwa set the tone and precedence by adhering to the principle “African problems, African solutions” formulated by African themselves which Russia supports.
With many African elite, at least, during the past decade, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has held in-depth discussions on the current situation in Africa and always point to the possibility of continuing to promote effective bilateral cooperation in many spheres and to work together towards fully using existing potentials. He always reminds that Moscow firmly supports the principle formulated by the African countries, “African solutions to African problems.”
According to many experts, most often talked about economic diplomacy. What is abundantly clear is how to stimulate African governments into exploring investment opportunities in Russia and Russian investors into Africa within some framework of mutual-cooperation.
Professor Vladimir Shubin, the Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies, told me several years ago that “African leaders have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting their most development needs.”
In an acknowledgement, he said Africa has a great potential for bilateral relationships with Russia. But the relations in many spheres, especially in economic cooperation, are lagging behind.
Shubin, however, pointed to the truth that “Africans have to acknowledge the fact that the world has progressively changed and they must be seen changing with the similar positive pace. It’s about time Africans have to take development issues seriously and work progressively towards establishing good governance and drastically seek improvement in the welfare for its large impoverished population.”
President Vladimir Putin pledges to help Zimbabwean counterpart President Emmerson Mnangagwa “to stabilize the political situation” by investing in the country. Zimbabwe has been looking for foreign investment in installing its energy, building infrastructure, modernizing agriculture and industry – foreign investors who could offer the necessary boost to employment creating sectors.
Quite recently, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, told an instant meeting held with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, that Russia would take adequate steps to deliver on pledges and promises with Africa countries. “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Russia, Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango, told me in an interview discussins that, “For a long time, Russia’s foreign policy on Africa has failed to pronounce itself in practical terms as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. The Russian Federation has the capacity and ability to assist Africa overcome these challenges leveraging on Africa’s vast resources.”
Mike Sango further expressed his views as follows: “Africa’s expectation is that Russia, while largely in the extractive industry, will steadily transfer technologies for local processing of raw materials as a catalyst for Africa’s development.”
He said that the country was open to investment in energy and transport, including the construction of railways and highways, and was looking to attract and secure foreign investment and cooperation to transform the country’s economy.
Zimbabwe’s key priorities summarized as follows (in order of priority):
Energy: For industry and commerce to thrive there has to be sufficient power. Presently, Zimbabwe has a power deficit of 750 MW. The most reliable source is the 750 MW Hydro power plant which has been affected by low water levels due to two years of drought. The country is relying on power imports.
Agriculture Support: Agriculture is the economic mainstay and provides 15% of GDP. Water harnessing through dam construction, irrigation mechanization, and agricultural machinery are key areas.
Infrastructure Development: Although the country has a fairly well developed infrastructure, the road and rail infrastructure needs refurbishment and expansion to take trade volumes for the country as well as its neighbours to the north.
Mining: Zimbabwe is endowed with abundant unexploited resources.
Manufacturing: Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector has been hit hard by illegal economic sanctions. Most industries have outdated and expensive to run machinery. They are in dire need of retooling, refurbishment and funding.
Tourism: Zimbabwe hosts one of the wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls. Investment in infrastructure development in the hotels would complement the opening by larger airports to accommodate larger body aircrafts.
Zimbabwe, a landlocked country in southern Africa, shares a 200-kilometre border on the south with South Africa, bounded on the southwest and west by Botswana, on the north by Zambia and on the northeast and east by Mozambique. Zimbabwe is a member of Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The Endless Debate about Russia’s Policy in Africa
Early March 2018, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Hommes d’Afrique magazine that “our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express interest in holding a Russia-African summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues.”
He frankly acknowledged that Russia’s economic cooperation was not as far advanced as political ties, but would do well to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation by promoting joint activities and to make broader use of the huge potential that exists in Russian-African trade and investment cooperation.
“Definitely, time is needed to solve all those issues,” said Minister Sergey Lavrov, and suggested that the Russia-Africa business dialogue could start with experts’ meetings within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum in Russia.
Many African political leaders (presidents, prime ministers and ministers) point to the fact that Africa is not looking for aid, but rather genuine investment and business, high-level talks with top Russian officials have been humble, not very critical, “based on the principles of equality and mutual respect” as a required approach in diplomacy.
During the past decade, at least, from the time of African Union Commission Chairperson Jean Ping to Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma and now Moussa Faki Mahamat, all have passionately raised the issue of Russia’s active involvement in economic sectors especially energy, infrastructure, agriculture and industry in Africa.
The fact still remains that negative perceptions deeply persistent among Africans, (political and business elite, middle class and the public), towards Russia. For the two past decades, due to Russia’s low enthusiasm, lack of coordinated comprehensive mechanism and slowness in delivering on skyline investment pledges have been identified as the key factors affecting effective cooperation between Russia and Africa.
London based Business Research and Consultancy firm published a new report about global players set to continue broadening economic and business engagement across Africa. This publication becomes largely important as Russia with its recognizable global status and among BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) dominated headlines that it has played less visible role in sub-Saharan Africa after Soviet’s collapse.
The latest description of Africa, which consists of 54 states, to many experts and investors, is the last frontier. It is the last frontier because it has huge natural resources still untapped, all kinds of emerging business opportunities and constantly growing consumer market due to the increasing population. It has currently become a new business field for global players.
Russia craving to be a powerhouse is comparatively missing out! The following vividly illustrates that point under discussion:
In an exclusive interview, the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, said Russia has a long history of bilateral engagements with the Southern African countries.
“The most recent visit of the Russian Foreign Minister H.E. Sergey Lavrov to the Republics of Angola, Ethiopia, Namibia and Zimbabwe, (as we understand it) was largely focused on signing of economic cooperation agreements to attract Russian investments in key areas such as mining, aviation and energy sectors, as well as fostering military technical cooperation,” she added.
In his statement, Minister Lavrov noted that Russia together with Africa wanted to elevate trade, economic and investment relations to a level that would meet political and trust-based relations. Like most of the developing countries, Southern African countries have, over the years, largely relied on multilateral and regional development financial institutions to fund their development projects.
“In this regard, SADC welcomes investors from all over the world. In reality, Russia has not been that visible in the region as compared to China, India or Brazil. But, it is encouraging that, of recent, Russia has positioned herself to be a major partner with Southern Africa and being part of the BRICS promotes her engagement with the region, particularly in investment in minerals, aviation, defense and energy sectors,” underlined Stergomena Lawrence Tax.
In March 2018, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited the Southern Africa region where he held talks with the Presidents of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
In another interview with (H.E.) Ambassador Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango who willingly shared his objective views and opinions on a few current issues connecting Russia and Africa. He says there is growing realization that Africa is an important partner in the “emerging and sustainable polycentric architecture of the world order” as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has aptly asserted.
“For a long time, Russia’s foreign policy on Africa has failed to pronounce itself in practical terms as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. Africa desires economic upliftment, human security in the form of education, health, shelter as well as security from transnational terrorism among many challenges afflicting Africa. The Russian Federation has the capacity and ability to assist Africa overcome these challenges leveraging on Africa’s vast resources,” Ambassador Mike Sango told me during the discussion.
“The most conspicuous aspect of Russia’s involvement in Africa is its absence,” says John Endres, Chief Executive Officer of Good Governance Africa from South Africa, adding that “whereas the Soviet Union was quite extensively engaged in Africa, Russia has almost entirely abandoned the field to other foreign players during the past two decades.”
Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, argues that “notwithstanding some of the pessimistic and critical positions of experts, a number of foreign players have admirable success stories. Brazil, India and China are very visible on the continent, but the question is if these countries can have multilateral agreements and a meaningful unified BRICS foreign policy in Africa? Foreign players have their individual interests and varying investment directions.”
Some experts still argue that it is never too late for Russia to enter the business game but what it requires is to move away from old Soviet stereotypes, prioritize corporate projects and adopt a new policy strategy for the continent – a market of some 350 million middle-class Africans, according to him.
Of course, Russia has to risk by investing and recognizing the importance of cooperation on key potential investment issues and to work closely with African leaders on the challenges and opportunities on the continent, Professor Andy Kwawukume, wrote in an interview comments from London. He explicitly noted that Russians have been trying to re-stage a comeback over the past few years that was a commendable step forward.
Nearly a decade ago, Kwawukume, a Norwegian trained African graduate, underlined the fact that “there is enough room and gaps in Africa for Russian investors to fill too, in a meaningful way, which could benefit all parties involved. The poor and low level of infrastructural development in Africa constitutes a huge business for Russian construction companies to step in. Energy is another sector Russians could help in developing.”
Kwawukume explained that over the past few years, business summits have become increasingly common and interactive platform for dialoguing, that Russian officials should consider using its Russian trained African graduates as bridges to stimulate business cooperation. Really, what Russia needs is a multi-layered agenda for Africa.
In a similar argument, Dr Ojijo Al Pascal, Ugandan lawyer and business consultant based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in East Africa, suggested that “Russia needs to have its own mega or corporate projects. And it should have them in strategic economic areas.”
Russia, in essence, could use its history of electrifying the Soviet rural areas to help Africa. It could promote the establishment of manufacturing hubs and mega projects, promote its technologies in mutually beneficial spheres while cooperating with individual countries in Africa.
Nearly all the experts mentioned in this article have explained that many foreign countries, notably the United States, European Union members, China, India and Japan, have effectively used their institutional structures, have regularly made financial commitments and have adopted strategies in pursuit of their key economic policy goals and interests in Africa.
There are chances to turn the business tide only if Russians can come with a different mix of economic incentives, without doubt, they will be taking off from the track where the former USSR left after the collapse of the Soviet era. The time has come to make meaningful efforts to implement tons of agreements already signed on bilateral basis with Africa countries.
Professor Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote me in email discussion, already five years ago, that important though is the fact that the Soviet Union never tried to colonize Africa. Soviet influence in Africa disappeared almost like a mirage with the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991. And today, Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal.
While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired diplomat.
“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present ‘paper diplomacy’ dominates its approach: plethora of agreements are been entered into with South Africa and various other states in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible. Be that as it may, the Kremlin has revived its interest in the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Professor Olivier wrote from Pretoria in South Africa.
Largely due to Africa’s growing reputation as a region for commerce, over the past few years China, India, Japan, and the European Union all have hosted regional meetings similar to the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit.
According to the Business Research and Consultancy firm’s survey conducted between January 2016 and June 2018, it has become significant that the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) Russia has signed with African countries and together with various economic agreements reached by the joint Business Councils could provide solid framework for raising vigorously its economic influence to an appreciable levels in Africa.
Russia’s Response Falls Behind Africa’s Expectations
Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Russia, Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango, was one of the African envoys to attend a recent meeting with Russian legislators to exchange views on common problems, common issues for the African continent and the Russian Federation. After the State Duma meeting, Kester Kenn Klomegah fixed this interview with (H.E.) Ambassador Sango who willingly shared his views on a few current issues connecting Russia and Africa.
Aside from the inter-parliamentary conference, what important issues came up at the meeting with Russian legislators held recently in the State Duma?
The meeting of the Chairman of the State Duma (lower chamber of Russian legislators) and African Ambassadors in October was a welcome first initiative towards the convening of the Russia-Africa Parliamentary Forum. This initiative was informed by the recognition that despite the geographical locations of the two institutions, the disparity in the level of development, the diversity of cultures and aspirations of the peoples of the two regions, there is growing realization that Africa is an important partner in the “emerging and sustainable polycentric architecture of the world order” as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has aptly asserted. In fact, Africa’s critical mass can only be ignored at great risk therefore.
State Duma proposes to move away from intentions to concrete steps. Does it imply that Russia has unfulfilled promises and pledges in Africa? What are your objective views about this?
For a long time, Russia’s foreign policy on Africa has failed to pronounce itself in practical terms as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. The Russia-Africa Parliamentary Forum can only achieve the desired objectives if anchored on a solid policy framework.
What would African leaders prefer: the development of political relations or expansion of genuine economic partnership?
While Russia and Africa have common positions on the global platform, the need to recognize and appreciate the aspirations of the common man cannot be overstated. Africa desires economic upliftment, human security in the form of education, health, shelter as well as security from transnational terrorism among many challenges afflicting Africa. The Russian Federation has the capacity and ability to assist Africa overcome these challenges leveraging on Africa’s vast resources.
Despite the historical social and political relations, the Russian Federation has shied away from economic cooperation with Africa, making forays into the few countries that she has engaged in the last few years. African leaders hold Russia in high esteem as evidenced by the large number of African embassies in Moscow. Russia has no colonial legacy in Africa.
Unfortunately, the former colonial masters continue to exploit African resources because, despite the “Look East Policy” adopted by Africa, Russia has not responded in the manner expected by Africa, as has China, India and South Korea, to name a few. Africa’s expectation is that Russia, while largely in the extractive industry, will steadily transfer technologies for local processing of raw materials as a catalyst for Africa’s development.
At least, over the past decade Russia has signed various bilateral agreements and MoUs nearly with all African countries. Do you think there have been challenges in implementing these agreements?
The Russian Federation has signed bilateral agreements with a number of African countries. These agreements, of necessity require strong government support anchored on a social policy that promotes a two-way beneficiation. African products other than from a few north African countries and South Africa find their way into the Russian market. As a result, trade figures between Russia and Africa are anchored on selective countries even though a number of bilateral agreements with other African countries are in place.
State Duma talk about Russian media presence in Africa. What steps can we take to raise African media representation in the Russian Federation?
The Sochi International Olympics and the FIFA international football extravaganza surprised many Africans on the level of development of the Federation. There is a dearth of information about the country. Russia-Africa issues are reported by third parties and often not in good light. Is this not a moment that Russia has coverage on Africa by being permanently present in the continent? Even the strongest foreign policies, if not sold out by the media, will definitely not succeed.
Indeed, Africa’s media should equally find space to operate in Russia. Because of limited resources, Russia should equally make it easier for African journalists to operate on her territory. The Russia-Africa Parliamentary Forum as a precursor to the Russia-Africa Forum should lay the necessary foundation for deeper and holistic Russia-Africa political, cultural and economic cooperation for mutual benefit of the peoples of the two friendly institutions.
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