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.
Ethiopia and Russia Need to Catch Up
“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.
Africans Must Focus on What Unites Them Not What Separates Them
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.
Youth and Women Key to Making This Africa’s Century
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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