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The Truth About Russia And Africa: Interview with Prof. Vladimir Shubin

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Professor Vladimir Shubin, the Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies [IAS], Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, has raised some serious issues in Russian-African relations that need careful consideration. In the first place, inside Africa there is clear evidence that most of the political leaders are now reacting to post-Soviet politics and emerging economic possibilities in Russia. President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin authorities have also moved progressively with a new phase in consolidating political ties at the state levels with Africa. In order to maintain this relationship, African countries have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting their most development needs.

Professor Shubin’s interview on political relations between Russia and Africa as well as the economic cooperation will attract more and more practically academic discussions. Such scholarly contributions, in essence, help deepen understanding of the problems that mitigate in building solid relationship or partnership with Russia. In the past, the emphasis was strongly put on political ideology, but now, that has largely changed and it’s obvious that increased economic cooperation is the main determining factor especially in the fields of mining, transportation, infrastructure construction, industry, agriculture and tourism.

These have to be placed [step by step] on a new basis of mutual interests. 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. It is also worthy to say that Russia has played roles in Africa and Africans have to work towards good governance, adopt good development strategies and seek an improved welfare for the population. Equally interesting is Asian States are moving faster than Africa and consequently the development gap is widening.

As correctly pointed out by Professor Vladimir Shubin in wide-ranging interview discussion with Kester Kenn Klomegah, certain developments and approaches, however, provide basis for criticisms and for pessimistic views as to what extent, these ideas can be realised for Africa. The world continues watching developments.

In the cold war era, Africa was an ideological playing field for the United States and the then Soviet Union, but all these have changed after the Soviet collapse. What are your comments relating to the relationship between Russia and Africa?

Indeed, the style of work and its intensity are quite different in the case of the first president Boris Yeltsin and his successor Vladimir Putin. I would not attribute the reasons of the marked changes just to personalities. One should not look at Russia today as something “monolithic” tightly directed from the Kremlin, as the USSR used to be at some stage. There are different political forces competing for the power in the country or, at least, for the influence over it. These forces represent interests of various diverse political and social groups that also need to be carefully analysed within a particular context.

This is true for the foreign policy as well, even if according to “Yeltsin’s Constitution” of 1993, the President determines the main foreign policy directions. In respect to Africa, there are significant forces in Russia, which stand for further development of bilateral relations and a stronger economic cooperation. They include not only traditional friends of Africa on the left side of the political spectrum, but take Russian industrialists who are interested in exporting their manufactured goods to African countries or in exploring its mineral resources.

Does Kremlin have an agenda for Africa? How would you defend the affirmative position, citing examples?

That is quite interesting. I have never heard about a special Moscow’s “agenda” for Africa, but one should proceed from the “Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” approved by Putin soon after his election to the post. Africa occupies a decent, albeit modest place. Putin several times spoke about Russia’s involvement in African affairs. Putin said: “As to Russia, traditionally with the African continent, we’ve got very good relations. We subtly feel all the problems of the African continent…I must say Russia’s contribution is very noticeable in dealing with the problems of Africa.”

Among other things related to the writing off part of the debts of African countries, Russia makes very great contributions: we take part in humanitarian programmes and, in particular, in the health programmes for fighting AIDS. We grant African countries a considerable amount of scholarships for studying in higher educational institutions in Russia and plan to carry on this programme in future. Russia’s assistance to African countries is multi-pronged and we are convinced that this activity ultimately meets the national interests of the Russian Federation.

What would you like to suggest if you were to advice Kremlin administration’s policy approach towards African countries? And, your opinions about the future of Russian-African relations?

Africa has a great potential for our bilateral relationships. Truly and firstly, in the political sphere there are hardly any sharp controversies between Russia and African countries. Agreeably, the relations in other spheres, especially in economic cooperation, are lagging behind. Thus, the bilateral trade is many times less than that of China, India and many foreign countries with Africa.

I am not sure that “Kremlin administrators” often ask for advice from the academic community. But some steps are evidently overdue, such as Putin’s working visit to Africa, south of the Sahara. Russian banks are making initial steps in operating in Africa, while the lack of credit facilities has been the major obstacle to successful development of economic ties. However, Russia needs genuine and objective information about modern Africa, and here both state and private mass media linger a lot.

Has Russia identified its role in any of African regional organisation’s programme aimed towards the development goals of Africa?

One should always remember that Moscow feels the problems of the African continent, perhaps better than some other “developed countries” – both because of its history of cooperation with African countries and because it often faces similar development problems. However, with these trends, I am not sure that the African diplomacy pays enough attention to Russia. Moreover, I think that a considerably good part of it is under the influence of the Western propaganda, does it best to portray Moscow as backyard of Europe. On the other hand, Moscow’s capacity to carry out practical steps in cooperation with African countries is limited by its own internal economic problems

Nevertheless, we can mention Russia’s continuous active involvement practically in all UN peace-keeping missions in Africa, Russia’s significant contributions to the international fund on combating HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other diseases as Russia’s indication of interest in Africa, but we also want African leaders to show, with clarity, their interests in Russia. It should not be just one-way traffic.

In your critical assessment, what African leaders be seen doing if really they want to get out of their multiple problems and practically get integrated into the global community?

It is not for a Russian academic to give an advice to African governments. However, some things look obvious. Africa can play an important and fair role in the “globalising world” only if the continent really “globalise” itself, first by effectively strengthening its continental and regional cooperation to be able to speak in one voice. All true friends of Africa welcomed the creation of the African Union, but it remains to be seen how practically effective this organisation will be.

Unfortunately, some of the recent events and developments there and the African Union’s political approach do not allow us to be too optimistic. There are a lot of pessimism about how far the African Union idea can go and what it can achieve for the continent. This depends largely on the political attitudes of the people themselves. The funniest thing is that whenever there are problems in Africa, the leaders fly to Europe in search of assistance.

Do the African politicians realised that they have or must help Africa to develop? For example, even after the establishment of the African Union there were appeals for outside forces to solve intra-African conflicts. Even more disturbing is a lack of consistency in the approach to the most crucial international issues. 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.

Relations are supposed to be a two-way road [street]. Do you think some African political leaders are also not up to expectations in their relations with Russia? What should they be seen doing in order to raise friendly ties with Russia?

I cannot say that African leaders do their best in developing bilateral relations. Truly and passionately, they come to Russia more often than ten years ago, but a lot still have to be done. Perhaps, one of the reasons why some African leaders “written off” Russia is the lack of information about Russia, or rather plenty of distorted information they have received from the Western media coverage of Russia. Moreover, some of foreign journalists writing from here for African media cause damage to the bilateral relations.

Now and then, speaking to African diplomats in Moscow, I often joke: “Some of you are accredited not to Russia, but to the African diplomatic corps” in Moscow. Definitely, it is a bitter joke, but it reflects the reality. While some of the embassies are actively promoting their countries and are winning friends for Africa, others are hardly visible, even for African scholars here.

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.

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Africa

Ethiopia and Russia Need to Catch Up

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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“There is a need to catch up. We agreed to hold meetings regularly,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a media conference after diplomatic talks with his counterpart, Gedu Andargachew in Moscow. According to official reports, Lavrov and Andargachew held wide-ranging talks that were constructive and substantive, and focused on broadening cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of Russia’s main partners in Africa. Both countries are tied by years of solidarity with the African countries in their fight for independence and decolonization. The creation of the African Union headquartered in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, was the culmination of the decolonization processes in Africa.

Throughout their partnership, they have gained extensive experience in mutually beneficial cooperation that meets the interests of both countries in various areas. As a result, Lavrov said they both agreed to stimulate the work of the joint economic commission and to encourage it to implement joint investment projects across a variety of fields, including energy, such as hydrocarbon energy, hydroelectric energy and nuclear energy.

They further noted the importance and interest of companies such as Rosatom, Inter RAO, GPB Global Resources, Russian Railways, KAMAZ and UAZ in working in Ethiopia.

There is a potential for cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia in science and education. Russia pledged to support biological research under the Joint Russian-Ethiopian Biological Expedition, which has been operating there for more 30 years.

Many Ethiopian students study at Russian universities, including civilian universities and those operated by the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry. Russia will expand this practice. And at the request from the Ethiopian government, Moscow will conduct two specialized courses for Ethiopian diplomats at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy next year.

With regard to other promising areas of interaction, which has a rich history, include military-technical and military cooperation. Ethiopian Minister of National Defence, Aisha Mussa, took part in the talks as part of the delegation. Discussions here was about agreeing on additional regulatory documents which will allow more effectively to promote cooperation in supplying military equipment and in other areas.

Lavrov and Andargachew exchanged views on regional and global questions. “We are on the same page on most issues, consistently advocate for strengthening fair and democratic principles of international relations, and searching for collective answers to large-scale challenges and threats, and respecting the right of each nation to independently determine its future,” top Russian diplomat said.

With regard to the African countries and the African continent, Lavrov and Andargachew strongly support the idea that Africans should have the decisive role in deciding on the paths to resolve African problems. There is no alternative to resolving these crises, or crises in any other part of the world, through peaceful political means, while relying on an inclusive national dialogue. The situation in Africa and the goals that need to be vigorously addressed in order to overcome several crises and conflicts, primarily, on the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Somalia. 

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Africans Must Focus on What Unites Them Not What Separates Them

MD Staff

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The majority of South Africans are appalled at the attacks on African migrants and refugees in the country by South Africans, said its Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on Africa.

“We welcome all Africans who have come to this conference; we welcome all Africans who live in South Africa. We are all Africans. We need to tell our people that what they are doing is wrong. These artificial barriers we have created and the hatred among ourselves must really become a thing of the past,” he said.

Responding to a question about the African Continental Free Trade Area, Mboweni said if Africa wants the free movement of goods, it also needs to ensure the free movement of people. “If free movement is supposed to happen, one cannot be in a position where you allow this person and not the other.”

Mboweni was standing in for Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, who was at Parliament to address protestors demanding action from the government on violence against women. Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum, said that addressing systemic violence against women is a top priority for the meeting and she urged all leaders to act against the problem.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said leaders at all levels, not just at the political level, must “dig deep to bring back social cohesion. We need to look at what binds us and not what separates us.”

Speaking on the issue of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Mohammed said that, while advances in technology are exciting, “the picture has shadows as well as light.”

Mohammed said technology is moving faster than the world’s ability to manage its impact and it is adding to the uncertainty of a world already unsettled by challenges such as climate change. “If governments cannot proactively manage the impacts, it will make our growth less inclusive with severe security implications.” Partnerships will be critical in addressing the challenges emerging from this new world.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said the rapid pace of technology requires renewed frameworks for cooperation to be developed to deliver an inclusive and sustainable future for Africa.

“Africa cannot afford to be left behind. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can solve many of the issues that came with the first, second and third industrial revolutions. It is a catalyst for Africa to leapfrog into the 21st century,” said Schwab.

Cyril M. Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, in remarks read on his behalf by Mboweni, said Africa, along with the rest of the world, is dealing with the same question: how to harness the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in pursuit of development and economic growth. “And importantly, how to ensure that, as we take this quantum leap into the future, we do not leave society’s most marginalized behind.”

“Disruptive trends and technologies are changing the way we live, the way we work and do business, and the way we govern. We must respond with agility to craft a roadmap for navigating this new environment. We must ensure that our citizens are prepared, and, if necessary, that they are shielded from any adverse consequences. Our response must be collaborative, multisectoral and inclusive,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said South Africa is not only working with its neighbours to develop a continental strategy led by the African Telecommunications Union, but it has also established a Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution to position the country as a competitive global player in this new space.

Three new Forum initiatives were also announced at the plenary session: platforms dealing with youth and employment, risk resilience and e-commerce.

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Youth and Women Key to Making This Africa’s Century

MD Staff

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Africa can achieve a step change in economic growth by addressing shortfalls in governance, reducing barriers to trade and – crucially – embracing the potential of its youth and women, heads of state from across the continent told the World Economic Forum on Africa today.

“We have the wherewithal to be able to reach for higher levels of growth,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa. “The future is great. It looks very bright for the African continent. If there ever was a time when Africa definitely could be said to be on the rise, this is the time.”

Optimism about intra-African trade is on the rise following the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which includes nearly every country on the continent.

However, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi warned that leaders must now focus on the practicalities of easing cross-border commerce. “We need to remove all the barriers and put in the enablers to facilitate free trade, beginning in our neighbourhood,” he said.

If countries deliver on this, Ramaphosa said, AfCFTA could be “the greatest opportunity for economies on the continent to generate growth through trade.”

In a world where Europe faces shrinking workforces due to ageing and much of Asia soon will, Africa’s fast-growing population also offers a “demographic dividend” to drive future growth. Crowds of young Africans represent a huge resource to man the factories and service industries of the future, as well as a big potential market.
But that demographic dividend will only pay out if the young can find jobs – and that, in turn, will depend on skilling up the young.
“We need a rebirth of education for the 21st century,” said Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
At the same time, women must be brought into the fold to a much greater extent, requiring a root-and-branch fight against gender discrimination. This must include opening up previously restricted areas of education such as science to women, said Ethiopian President Sahlework Zewde.
“The important thing is to invest in our young people … and empower women,” said Mandulo Ambrose Dlamini, Prime Minister of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. “I learnt that if you include women in leadership in your team, the level of intelligence increases.”
Hopes for Africa’s economy have been raised before. The continent enjoyed boom times prior to the financial crash of 2008, thanks to a commodities “super cycle” that saw sustained high prices for its raw materials. But prices for Africa’s minerals are well down on those heady days, while few countries have yet to escape the extractive model by managing to add value to their commodities. Now, however, there is a growing determination to achieve this, with Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Namibia’s President Hage Geingob both calling for value to be added to their country’s minerals before they are exported.

“The problem of investors or foreigners who come to Africa is that they come on their own terms. From now on, Africa must tell investors when they come, they come on our terms,” said Geingob. “Why should my diamonds go out in raw form?”

Mnangagwa, who said he is striving to rebuild Zimbabwe’s “collapsed economy”, said it is vital to understand the needs of the private sector for investment in technology that could add value locally.

The over-arching requirement is for African countries to reassure their own populations and investors that they can offer a framework for stable growth, said Seychelles President Danny Faure. “We need to deepen the reform that we are doing to better reflect the need for Africa have what is necessary in terms of good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law,” he said.

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