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Nigeria Outlines Strategies to Boost its Economic Diplomacy with Russia- Interview

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Nigeria is an economic powerhouse in West African region. As it is publicly known, Nigeria is one of the Africa’s fastest growing economies and it boosts the largest population. Under H.E. President (Alhaji) Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria has taken practical steps to continue bolstering economic and strategic ties with Russia. Interestingly, Russia and Nigeria’s two-way trade remains minimal, far below expected level, given the fact that Russia is the biggest market in the Eurasian region and Nigeria the biggest market in Africa.

Nigerian and Russian economic relations: Relations between Nigeria and Russia can be traced back to the former Union of the Soviet of Social Republics era when diplomatic relations between the two countries were established. Since then, economic relations between both countries have steadily developed with a number of leading Russian companies establishing their presence in Nigeria. Russian investment in Nigeria covers such areas as energy, iron and steel, and hydrocarbon.

The Russian-Nigerian Business Council was also established to oversee economic activities between the two countries. It is also a platform for the two countries to sit down and draw up Agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on how to conduct effective businesses and investment in both countries.

Now, new hopes in Moscow and Abuja are that the countries’ annual commercial ties have to be increased rapidly to billions of dollars during the next few years. Russia plans to help Nigeria explore for oil and gas. Furthermore, Russia has expressed deep interest in Nigeria, highly pledging to build nuclear power plants, petroleum pipelines, railways and infrastructure.

Kester Kenn Klomegah recently interviewed Professor Steve Ugbah, Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, who discussed the current Nigeria and Russia economic cooperation, ways to improve trade and other key foreign policy priorities. In addition, Professor Ugbah shares hopes and optimism for the future relations between the two countries.

How do you see the economic relations developing currently between Russia and Nigeria?

The economic relations between Nigeria and Russia are not consistent with the long-standing cordial relations between both countries. This may be attributed to the apparent inadequate knowledge of the many investment opportunities in both countries. Nigeria is a vast market with huge potentials for prospective foreign investors and so is Russia. Regrettably, investors from both sides appear to know little or nothing about these opportunities.

However, in recent times, efforts have been made to improve the economic relations between both countries through rigorous sensitization interfaces and negotiations by the Embassies of both countries. Since, my resumption of office as Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, I have held talks with several Russian companies who have demonstrated keen interest to invest in Nigeria, as well as resuscitating several abandoned economic projects.

I would like to add that, with our current sensitization drive on the economic potentials in both countries, there is an encouraging upsurge of interest that we have observed recently with an increasing number of interactions between private businesses in both countries. So given this development, I believe in a short time there will be tremendous improvement in the economic relations between both countries.

By the way, what are the Federal Government’s key priorities and expectations from the Russian Federation?

The priorities of the Federal Government of Nigeria from the Russian Government include the following: to promote mutually beneficial interests, particularly the promotion of friendly and cordial relations between the Government and Peoples of Nigeria and those of the Russian Federation; as well as to facilitate good socio-economic partnership and establish business ties that will be beneficial to both countries.

In addition, also a key component of Nigeria’s interest is to protect and promote the security and wellbeing of Nigerian citizens resident in the Russian Federation.

These priorities are pursued majorly through interactions at official levels between both Governments and between the peoples of the two countries; exchange of official visits and cultural programmes and the signing of series of agreements including the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) which has brought many Nigerian students to various institutions in the Russian Federation.

What is the state of development regarding infrastructure projects already began by Russia, at least, a decade ago, in Nigeria?

There are two major infrastructural Russian projects in Nigeria: ALSCON and Ajaokuta Steel Plant. ALSCON has been resuscitated, while negotiations are ongoing to operationalize Ajaokuta Steel Plant.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Soviet Union and now with Russia, trade figures have never balanced. What are your views about this trend and in what ways the trade imbalance could be reversed?

As I have stated earlier, the problem of low volume of trade and trade imbalance may be traced to the apparent poor or inadequate information on the vast investment opportunities in both countries. Concrete efforts have been made by the Embassy to increase awareness among Nigerian investors and their Russian counterparts on the many available investment opportunities.

I have held series of meetings with the Russian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Russia-Nigerian Business Council and several companies and private owned business establishments here in the Russian Federation to promote economic partnership between both countries.

My duties as Nigerian Ambassador in the Russian Federation include: to deepen the existing cordial relations between our two friendly countries; to open Nigeria to Russian investors with regards to our vast business opportunities; and to expose investment openings in the Russian Federation to Nigerian investors.

In order to improve the trade imbalance, the Economic, Trade and Investment Section of the Embassy has been rigorously involved in educating and informing Nigerian investors of the investment opportunities in Russia, as well as providing necessary assistance they may require to invest in Russia.

In Nigeria, how do political elite and business people perceive the economic changes, and what they make out from the changes, emerging opportunities in Russia?

Economic changes are keenly observed by both, the political elite and business people, as it helps them to make informed decisions that would improve the state of the nation and business, respectively. Nigeria views Russia as a strategic partner therefore, efforts are being made to harness emerging opportunities in Russia by Nigeria.

H.E. Ambassador, could you please give us your interpretation of future perspectives of the relations between Russia and Nigeria. How would you like to see the relations develop into the future?

Nigeria-Russia relations have come a long way since diplomatic ties were established between both countries, dating back to the Soviet Union Era. This can be seen in the different levels of cooperation between Nigeria and Russia. Worthy of mention in this regard is the diligent implementation of the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA); Russia military assistance to end the Nigerian Civil War from 1967-1970; and, in recent times, military and technical assistance to help end the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East of Nigeria.

Recently, exchange of visits by senior public officials and private sector players from both sides have facilitated the prospects for even greater bilateral cooperation. I am hopeful that this cordiality will expand into various partnerships in different sectors that would be beneficial to both countries. Russia, as the successor state to the defunct USSR, is a strategic partner, with a lot of promise for greater mutually beneficial relations into the future.

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

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Can cryptocurrencies be used as a geopolitical weapon? The case of Central African Republic

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April 27 can be considered a trailblazing day for the cryptocurrency industry in Africa, as the Central African Republic (CAR) approved bitcoin as its legal tender. This is the second country globally to move forward with such a bold move, after El Salvador, in September 2021, decided to adopt the prevalent cryptocurrency for internal financial transactions. This move might be seen by blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts as the start of a revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa and, under certain circumstances, this might prove to be true, eventually. Nonetheless, in the current state of affairs, where CAR ranks in the 9th place in poverty globally and only 15% of its residents enjoy the perks that electricity entails, this move seems to be out of scope and not taking into consideration the actual issues that people in the Central Africa state are facing. In addition, the adoption comes at a very suspicious timing, where Russia, CAR’s main security guarantor, already 4 months into the war on Ukraine, is eyeing positively cryptocurrencies as a way to perform financial transactions. Combined with the overall conundrum in the region regarding cryptocurrencies and the urge of the Bank of Central African States towards Bangui to annul this decision, a strong geopolitical element arises. Hence, several questions are brought up, including the feasibility of such a decision and the impact it can have on the local communities, lessons that can be learnt from regions where crypto tokens are being mined, as well as threats and potential geopolitical implications for CAR and for the region.

Can bitcoin make such a big impact on the CAR community?

As mentioned, it would be safe to deem it impossible that a nation with less than 15% access to electricity, less than 10% access to internet and a highly problematic grid could, at the moment, support an energy-intensive practice such as decentralized finance and its broader mining process. President Touadera, a PhD holder and assistant professor in mathematics, is fully aware of that and hitherto resorted in the short-term move of establishing the mining company for the electronic currency in Dubai. Nevertheless, this kind of structure and arrangements are very unlikely to benefit the people in the Central African country on the long-term. If Bangui is willing to support this technology, major reforms are needed in the electricity sector to increase access and reliability. President Touadera can follow two paths with that regard.

The first one would involve power plants that rely on conventional fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, or hydropower stations. Currently, Bangui is mostly an oil importer, part of which is used to power the only thermal station in the country, located in Bangui. Imports come mainly from DR Congo($37.8mln), with France being also a significant oil partner($547k). A decision to build several conventional power plants to support digital currency mining would require, first of all, major funding. For a country that has around 45% debt-to-GDP ratio and has already resorted to the IMF for assistance 17 times and still has unresolved arrangements, seeking assistance to international financial institutions would face backlashes.  Additional imports will also be needed. For both challenges to be overcome, another obstacle are the sustainability pledges in light of the Paris Agreement. Development banks, for example, are no longer funding such projects, even if they will actually change the macroeconomic landscape in a country. CAR will then need to involve global key players that still support conventional fuels, such as Russia and China. And while Moscow is in a financially weakened position amidst its isolations following the invasion of Ukraine, China is better situated. However, Beijing has also made several promises to participate in combating climate change. These promises limit the potential maneuvers it can make with regards to fossil fuel investments, but they certainly do not constitute a complete ban. These can be considered good news for Bangui and it can pursue support from the East Asian giant, but it is advisable that they do so with caution, as alleged debt traps are already starting to generate devastating results in countries such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The second path would encompass broad investments in intermittent renewable energy units, such as solar and wind parks. This move has an acutely higher chance of attracting investment from key actors from around the world, both public, private but also international financial institutions with much friendlier arrangements. In this case, however, other issues come up. A grid that relies heavily on intermittent RES is a decentralized grid that requires modernization both of its infrastructure and its regulatory framework. Both will need resources, which translates to additional funding/potential debt, but also higher technical expertise, which is very challenging to be found within the country. A big impediment with that regard is expected to be put by the government as well. Reflecting on the fact that the government in Bangui scored solely 24/100 in the transparency index, place in the 154th position globally, modernization and unbundling of the grid is a tedious process that mandates transparency and hence a conflict of interest is projected to happen. Last, but not least, the ambitions of President Touadera to make CAR a blockchain hub could also backfire, converting it into a terrorist hub instead. Electronic currency mining hubs in a decentralized grid become an extremely appealing target, both to control energy resources and to make untraceable financial transactions. Considering CAR’s proximity to Lake Chad, where FACT rebels and Boko Haram have occasionally been active, and to the Great Lakes, where the ADF currently operates, making such reforms for a radical shift to decentralization ought to come with the respective security measures.

Geopolitical and Security Implications for a Conflict-Torn Region

Comprehending the myriad challenges that the Central African state will have to face, so that the adoption of bitcoin can actually have a substantial societal impact, many are contemplating on potential hidden agendas in Bangui. The action of Russian PMC’s in CAR to fight insurgents, such as terrorist groups, audibly delineate the status of the Kremlin as a security partner for the country. Considering the alliance of the two countries and the fact that, virtually simultaneously, both states started exploring the possibility of using digital currencies, this move can be seen as additional pressure from Moscow to exert influence to partners in Sub-Saharan Africa. The fact that Gazprom Neft decided to partner with BitRiver, the largest crypto-mining colocation services supplier, for the mining of bitcoin with flare gas, depicts that Russia sees another solution to break out of the isolation by the global community due to the war in Ukraine and that  solution is decentralized finance. This means that, from now on, electronic currency from blockchain has the potential of being converted to a geopolitical asset, or even geopolitical weapon. This becomes remarkably alarming if one considers that the outreach of the Russian mercenaries spans across Sudan, South Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Libya and other African states.

For Moscow and its security partners, this creates a fine line between strengthening their partnership and becoming a harbor for terrorists which will enhance instability and mayhem. On one hand, this will increase financial interconnection with Sub-Saharan Africa, which is something that the Kremlin is currently lacking and the situation is expected to get worse. Trade with Africa is projected to be heavily disrupted due to the sanctions and decentralized finance can function as a lifeline for Moscow, but also as a way to even enlarge its influence. On the other hand, a form of currency that is not able to be controlled by a centralized authority, in a terrorism-torn region, has a high chance of being used for financial transactions between terrorists. This can make the job of the Russian PMC’s orders of magnitude difficult and destabilize Central and Southern Africa. Combined with the effects of the pandemic and climate change over the past years, a mix of devastation that can wreak complete havoc has high potential of occurring.

As final, and obvious, potential geopolitical implications, Sub-Saharan Africa can easily turn into a fully fragmented arena based on each country’s stance on cryptocurrency. Countries such as Cameroon and Gabon have a clear stance against the actions of CAR and have audibly stood against the actions of Russia in Ukraine. This decision from Bangui comes as a means for additional polarization, leading to a decrease in collaboration efforts within the region. A further fragmentation can only be seen as a positive outcome for terrorist groups to expand their action across Central and Southern Africa. It can also lead to escalations and a replication of the battlefield in Ukraine. This would be a catastrophic scenario, as CEMAC has made colossal efforts and steps forward to maintain regional peace and stability. Other regional security guarantors, such as France, ought to pay a great deal of attention during the coming months and even play the role of the mediator, should any verbal disputes arise.

What does the future have in store for CAR and Central Africa?

Blockchain is a disruptive technology that can have an immense positive impact on the local communities, if circumstances allow and if used appropriately. This does not seem to be the case for CAR, as President Touadera made a bold move of adopting bitcoin as a legal ledger, but has done so without considering the current major limitation posed by the electricity grid nor the geopolitical implications for the region. Both internally and regionally this can create a chain of events that can have far-reaching ramifications for regional stability and can end up backfiring for cryptocurrency enthusiasts’ ambitions to increase the usage of decentralized finance. Combined with the current shift of the geopolitical world order and the influence of the Kremlin on Bangui, there are numerous signs that digital currencies might start being used as a geopolitical weapon. The international community, with EU being a key player, ought to pay more attention to the Central African region. Important state actors, such as France, but also international institutions both on security and on finance, such as NATO, the IMF and African Development Bank, need to immediately approach regional players that are willing to cooperate, such as Cameroon and Gabon, but also to approach CAR directly and engage with CEMAC as a whole to find a solution that is fit for everyone, before potential disputes escalate, something that might be used by Russia as leverage later on.

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With Peace and Accountability, Oil and Agriculture Can Support Early Recovery in South Sudan

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South Sudan has suffered years of underdevelopment, corruption and conflict. UNMISS/Amanda Voisard

Economic recovery has stalled in South Sudan amid a multitude of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate shocks and dwindling oil production, and most recently, the adverse effect of the broad-based rise in commodity prices brought on by the war in Ukraine.

The latest World Bank economic analysis for South Sudan, Directions for Reform: A Country Economic Memorandum (CEM) for Recovery and Resilience, highlights the need for the country to leverage its natural capital in the agriculture and oil sectors to support recovery and resilience.  

Oil and agriculture are the most important sectors of South Sudan’s economy, with oil contributing to 90 percent of revenue and almost all exports, while agriculture remains the primary source of livelihood for more than four in five households. Thus, the report suggests a focus on the country’s use of its main endowments of natural capital—oil and arable land—is warranted in the early stages of recovery.

“Getting South Sudan to realize its potential will require steps aimed at consolidating peace and strengthening institutions, as well as targeted reforms tailored at harnessing South Sudan’s rich natural capital for development impact as first-order prerequisites for inclusive economic recovery,” said Firas Raad, World Bank Country Manager for South Sudan.

With weak institutions and recurring cycles of violence, South Sudan remains caught in a web of fragility and economic stagnation a decade after independence. A dearth of economic opportunities and food insecurity are major concerns, and are reinforced by inadequate provision of services, infrastructure deficits, displacement, and recurring climatic shocks

The cost of the conflict has been immense, with South Sudan’s real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2018 estimated at being one-third of the counterfactual estimated for a non-conflict scenario. However, authorities in 2020 initiated an ambitious reform program aimed at macroeconomic stabilization and modernization of the country’s public financial management architecture. With this reform effort, the gap between the official and parallel exchange rates was eliminated, and inflation declined. To consolidate and broaden these gains, more will have to be done to strengthen governance systems and improve transparency in economic management.

“Three messages emerge from this report. First, there is a peace dividend in South Sudan. South Sudan’s real GDP per capita in 2018 was estimated at one third of the counterfactual estimated for a non-conflict scenario. Thus, maintaining peace can by itself be a strong driver of growth. Second, with better governance and accountability, South Sudan’s oil resources can drive transformation. Third, South Sudan’s chronic food insecurity could be reversed with targeted investments to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector,” said Joseph Mawejje, World Bank Country Economist for South Sudan.

The CEM outlines several recommendations, including:

  • Addressing the drivers of fragility, ending all forms of conflict, and ensuring peace and stability in all parts of the country are prerequisites for an inclusive economic recovery.
  • Stay the course on macroeconomic reforms and continue on a stabilization path, building on key milestones already achieved in unifying the exchange rate and taming inflation.
  • Improve oil sector governance by ensuring that all oil revenues and expenditures are on budget and used effectively to achieve national development goals.
  • Support the resilience of agricultural sector to reverse the food crisis and achieve food security for all households.

The Country Economic Memorandum is a World Bank Knowledge product that provides an assessment of the country’s drivers of growth and productivity. In this context, this report highlights what South Sudan can do to sustain future growth, but it also shows why the country has not yet managed to achieve high levels of diversified growth alongside peace, stability, and a better standard of living for its people. The report also suggests strategic pathways by which South Sudan can break free from its legacy of persistent food insecurity, in a country with enormous agricultural potential.

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Victoria Nuland visits Djibouti, Mozambique and Nigeria, Pledges US$40 million to Support Mozambique

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A displaced woman in northern Mozambique receives food aid. © WFP/Grant Lee Neuenburg

Reports monitored from the U.S. Department of State, Deutsche Welle and Rádio Moçambique have shown that the United States would be assisting with a further donation of US$40 million (€38.2 million) to support the displaced and victims of natural disasters in northern Mozambique. In addition, the United States would also offer US$14 million annually, over the next ten years to help rebuild Cabo Delgado.

US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, announced these after visiting World Food Program (WFP) warehouses in the city of Matola, Maputo province. She was on an official visit to Djibouti, Mozambique and Nigeria, June 11-17, 2022.

In Djibouti, Under Secretary Nuland and an interagency team interacted with government counterparts to advance U.S.-Djibouti relations and close security cooperation.

In Mozambique, the Under Secretary and team held talks with government and civil society members. It relates to the full range of bilateral and regional issues, including opportunities to advance stability and economic recovery in conflict-affected areas in support of our new partnership under the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.

In Nigeria, Under Secretary Nuland and the team discussed with government and civil society representatives significant issues of shared concern including regional security, free and fair elections, and business innovation. Throughout the trip, the Under Secretary highlighted the important work the United States has been doing with African and international partners to shore up global food security and health systems.

With Mozambique, Nuland said the financial grants were part of the “emergency response to the food needs of those displaced by war and terrorism, social protection, building resilience to climate change and nutritional support for children” and the priority was to prevent “people in a situation of food insecurity in Mozambique from falling into a situation of hunger” in the country.

She emphasised that the United States would also try to persuade other rich countries to provide more aid to victims of hunger in the world, especially in Africa, especially given the worsening of the situation due to “the blockade of cereals by Russia” in the context of its invasion of Ukraine.

“One of the great global challenges is food insecurity,” which “results from climate change, droughts, conflicts and terrorism, exacerbated by the war waged by Russia against Ukraine,” she explained.

Of the amount announced by the United States government, WFP will receive the largest share, worth US$29.5 million (€28.2 million). “It is timely support from the US, because it allows us to maintain humanitarian assistance to the approximately 940,000 war-displaced people from Cabo Delgado until September,” WFP Mozambique director Antonella D’Aprile said.

D’Aprile said that the resources made available would make it possible to help victims of armed violence in Cabo Delgado and host families in the provinces of Nampula and Niassa, for which the WFP needs US$17.4 million a month. The United States is the largest WFP donor in Mozambique, having channelled US$207 million (€197 million) since 2017.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that almost 12,000 people have fled the new wave of attacks on Cabo Delgado that began about a week ago, this time in the south of the province, which was considered a safe zone. More than half are children and there are at least 125 pregnant women among the terrorised population, some of whom are fleeing for a second time, abandoning places where they were starting life anew.

The new wave of attacks is hitting areas around 100 kilometres from Pemba, which already served as refuge for people forced in recent years to leave the worst affected areas to the north, with the epicentre in districts close to the gas extraction projects under construction.

Joint forces of the Southern African Development Community and the Mozambican government killed an unspecified number of terrorists and wounded others in an offensive against armed groups in Cabo Delgado on June 9th.

Cabo Delgado province, in northern Mozambique, is rich in natural gas, but has been terrorized since 2017 by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the Islamic State extremist group. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 784,000 persons have been internally displaced by the conflict, which has killed about 4,000, according to the ACLED conflict registry project.

Since July 2021, an offensive by government troops, with the support of Rwandan and later Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops, has recovered a number of areas from rebel control, but their flight has led to new attacks in districts through which they have passed or taken up temporary refuge.

African leaders at the summit of the African Union held in Addis Ababa highly praised Mozambique’s approach to terrorism in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, involving troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community Military Mission (SAMIM).

Mozambican Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Verónica Macamo, has expressed confidence in the election to the UN Security Council, saying that the experience in the fight against terrorism would be an “advantage” in its favour. 

Mozambique, during its campaign for UNSC seat, was support by the African Union. June witnessed the final election of five member states – Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique and Switzerland – for the five new non-permanent member seats at the United Nations (UN) Security Council for the 2023-2024. 

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