Over the years, Russia and the Republic of the Congo have had good bilateral relations and, undoubtedly, there are still prospects for strengthening these relations especially in the economy and security spheres as underlined during the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Denis Sassou-Nguesso in the Kremlin.
“Our countries have always had friendly relations that have been developing this way for 55 years now. Our trade is growing – by over 60 percent – although, unfortunately, the numbers in absolute terms are still modest. But, we have good potential in several industries, such as energy, the processing industry and agriculture,” Putin said, welcoming the Congolese delegation.
Seven years ago, precisely in November 2012, Vladimir Putin had an official meeting with Sassou-Nguesso, in Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow. With high hopes to raise the relations from November 2012 when he last visited Moscow, Sassou-Nguesso during the meeting assertively asked Russia for support and assistance in bringing total peace in central Africa. The central African countries include the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Chad.
“We preside over the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. We are playing a stabilizing role in Africa that can bring peace to this region. We in our country want to stabilize the situation as a whole. We hope that Russia will act side by side with us to create peace in the African region,” he said.
With regard to the economic cooperation, the Congolese leaders briefed Putin about some steps that have already been taken and concretely asked for Russian engagement. “You know that in economic terms there was a certain crisis associated with a decrease in oil prices. This crisis affected us, but we are gradually recovering. Now we are negotiating with the IMF on obtaining loans. We are negotiating with the IMF Executive Board and hope to get support in this matter from our Russian friends,” he added.
After official talks between Putin and Sassou-Nguesso, a package of documents were signed, including intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and mass communications. The documents also concern the settlement of the Republic of the Congo’s debt to the Russian Federation under previously issued loans, cooperation between the Russian Interior Ministry and the Congolese Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization, cooperation in agriculture, and sending Russian military experts to the Republic of the Congo.
In addition, documents on the relations between Lukoil and the State Oil Company of the Republic of the Congo as well as between Pipe Metallurgical Company (TMK) and the National Petroleum Company of the Congo were signed.
The Pipe Metallurgical Company (TMK) is Russia’s leading pipe manufacturer. The project is to build a major oil pipeline, running more than 1,300 km from the port city of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of the Congo to the border with Cameroon.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister, Alexander Fomin, told journalists that the Republic of Congo has had a lot of Russian-made military and special hardware since the Soviet times, and some of it might yet serve Congo’s defense capability for a long time. Russian specialists will train Congolese specialists and help them repair this hardware.
“This includes armored and lightly-armored hardware, rocket and conventional artillery, helicopters and so on. This hardware certainly requires professional operation, service, maintenance, repairs, and modernization,” Fomin said.
In an interview with Itar-TASS News Agency, Sassou-Nguesso underscored that “Russia is an important country, a strategic partner that may play its role in the period when Africa is looking for cooperation in building a new world in the region, building infrastructure, new economic and security systems. The African people want to develop their economy and to establish themselves on the global arena. Russia may hold a strategic position on this issue.”
Earlier on May 22, the Chairman of the State Duma, Viacheslav Volodin, held a bilateral meeting with the President of the Republic of the Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso. Volodin told him that “working within the framework of the parliamentary dimension with African countries is a priority for us. It is a pleasure that you have the opportunity to address the members of the State Duma. We would like to know your proposals, which are very important for us, taking into account the necessity to develop more actively cooperation within the framework of inter-parliamentary contacts.”
The Chairman of the State Duma invited the delegation of the Congo parliament to take part in the International Forum on Development of Parliamentarism, which will be held in Moscow on July 1-3.
In his address to the State Duma, Sassou-Nguesso reminded them that he had repeatedly been in various statuses in the Soviet Union and then in Russia. “It is a great honour to be in Russia and meet old friends, as these are the prerequisites for the development of bilateral cooperation. Meeting with representatives of the Russian people is symbolic,” said the President of the Republic of the Congo.
The Congolese leader proposed to strengthen the mutual strategic partnership between Russia and the Congo, and assist the Congo in the process of diversifying the economy in the interests and for the benefit of both countries.
“Today, Russia remains the most important player, a very active player, which undoubtedly participates in global governance in our common family of nations. Russia should continue to strengthen strategic partnership on mutually beneficial terms and assist the Congo in the process of diversifying our economy in the interests and for the benefits of the two countries,” he told the State Duma.
Experts are, of course, concerned about the significance of the visit. In an emailed comment, Kelvin Dewey Stubborn, South African based Senior Analyst on BRICS and African policy, argued that many African countries, including the Congo, view such official visits as steps to sustain political contacts and as a key instrument for building economic cooperation especially those necessary for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He, however, suggested that “existing cooperation agreements between Russia and many African countries have to be implemented with renewed vigour and consistency” alongside other previous pledges that have been made, at least, during the past decade. The fact the Congo was there in 2012, definitely there were some agreements signed that time, so also many leaders from other African countries during the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
“Given that Russia and Africa have confidence in building new relations on Soviet past, then there might be the possibility to create a wider platform, both formal and informal, for collaboration and cooperation,” told me by email from South Africa.
Last year’s growth in trade was primarily due to boosting Russia’s exports of foodstuffs and agricultural goods to Congo. Thus, bilateral trade reached US$38.4 million in 2018, according to the Russian Federal Customs Service.
Nearly 80% of the population still live in abject poverty despite the fact that the country boasts of huge resources. Congo has become the fourth largest oil producer in the Gulf of Guinea, providing the country with a degree of prosperity despite political and economic instability in some areas and unequal distribution of oil revenue nationwide. The country also has large untapped mineral wealth, large untapped metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits. In 2018, the Republic of the Congo joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Future Perspectives of Russia-Africa Cooperation
While celebrating the Africa Day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to offer support and participate in the sustainable development processes in Africa. In a videoconference held May 28 with local and foreign media, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, highlighted the history behind the establishment of the Africa Day, which is observed as an annual holiday symbolizing the desire of the peoples of the African continent to peace, independence and unity.
According to her, “the close nature of friendly ties with African countries, the significant experience of mutually beneficial cooperation dates back to the early 1960s, when the Soviet Union unconditionally supported the desire of Africans to free themselves from colonial oppression. It provided them with substantial practical assistance in shaping the foundations of statehood, establishing national economies, and preparing civilian and military personnel.”
In recent years, however, African countries have been actively gaining weight and influence in international affairs, are increasingly participating in solving pressing issues of modern world politics and economics, she said.
The creation of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum was one of the appreciable results of the first Russia-Africa Summit held last year, Zakharova noted, and expressed hope that “the mechanism of partnership between Russia and the African continent created during the summit will allow to establish and broaden cooperation.”
Under the current circumstances, African leaders and business elites try, most importantly, to reflect on how far Africa has gone in building a unified identity and strides made in socio-economic development. These socio-economic developments in some individual countries were achieved by harnessing internal resources and through bilateral and multilateral relations with external countries and cooperation with development partners.
For example, Soviet Union and Africa had very close and, in many respects, allied relations with most of the African countries during the decolonization of Africa. For obvious reasons, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991.
As a result, Russia has to struggle through many internal and external difficulties. For the past few years, it has been struggling to survive both the United States and European sanctions. Moscow still has a long way to catch-up with many other foreign players there in Africa.
Currently, Russia seems to have attained relative political and economic stability. “As we regained our statehood and control over the country, and the economy and the social sphere began to develop, Russian businesses began to look at promising projects abroad, and we began to return to Africa,” noted Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov early September during his interaction with students and staff of Moscow State Institute for International Relations.
Emphasizing that the process of returning to Africa has been ongoing for the past 15 years, he further explained: “the return is now taking the form of resuming a very close political dialogue, which has always been at a strategic and friendly level, and now moving to a vigorous economic cooperation. But economic cooperation is not as far advanced as our political ties.”
With this understanding, Dmitry Medvedev, while addressing the Russia-Africa Economic forum in July, also added his voice about strengthening cooperation in all fronts. “We must take advantage of all things without fail. It is also important that we implement as many projects as possible, that encompass new venues and, of course, new countries,” he said.
In addition, Medvedev stressed: “It is important to have a sincere desire. Russia and African countries now have this sincere desire. We simply need to know each other better and be more open to one another. I am sure all of us will succeed if we work this way. Even if some things seem impossible, this situation persists only until it is accomplished. It was Nelson Mandela who made this absolutely true statement.”
Acknowledging undoubtedly that Africa has become a new world center for global development, Russian legislators at the State Duma (the lower chamber) have advocated for supporting business and economic cooperation with Africa. Thus as a step forward, State Duma has established relations with African parliaments.
During an instant meeting held with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, Viacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, remarked: “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps. Our people will better understand each other through parliamentary relations.” The full transcript is available on the official website.
On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a powerful Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference with participation of experts on Africa. Chairing the online discussion, Igor Ivanov, former Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech. He pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, build on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit.
On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Igor Ivanov pointed out a few steps here: “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”
Sergey Lavrov, long ago, asked for more substantive dialogue on Russia-Africa issues, and chart ways for effective cooperation. In an interview with the Hommes d’Afrique, he stressed “time is needed to solve all those issues, but it could start with experts’ meetings, say, within the framework of the St Petersburg Economic Forum or the Valdai forum, and other events where business leaders of both countries participate.”
Experts from the think-tank Valdai Discussion Club, academic researchers from the Institute for African Studies and independent policy observers have noted Russia’s policy, its current achievements and emerging economic opportunities and possibilities for partnerships in Africa. Quite interestingly, majority of them acknowledged the need for Russia to be more prominent as it should be and work more consistently to achieve its strategic goals, – comparing and citing largely unfulfilled pledges over the years.
Established in 2004, it’s (the club) primary goal is to promote dialogue between Russia and the rest of the world. It hosted an expert discussion titled “Russia’s Return to Africa: Interests, Challenges, Prospects” with participation of experts on Africa. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Africa Department were present.
“I would like to begin my speech with the words of Foreign Minister (Sergey Lavrov), who said, referring to the current situation: ‘No more fairy tales,’” joked Oleg Ozerov from the Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. “For us, Africa is not a terra incognita: the USSR actively worked there, having diplomatic relations with 35 countries. In general, there are no turns, reversals or zigzags in our policy. There is consistent development of relations with Africa. ”
Over the past few years, contacts between Russia and Africa have expanded, and at the same time, this was also due to the African countries’ interest in Russia, he added. Nevertheless, Oleg Ozerov is now Ambassador-at-Large with the key responsibility for expediting work on the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum created at the initiative of African participants during Sochi summit.
As Head of the Secretariat, the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, his task is to prepare for the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022 in pursuance of the agreements, achieved during the first Russia-Africa summit held on October 23-24 in Sochi. The Secretariat of the Forum will also organize annual political consultations of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the troika of the African Union.
In 2010-2017, Ozerov served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Saudi Arabia, concurrently from 2011-2017, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
In conclusion, worth to say Russia sees Africa as a key potential partner in the vision for a multipolar world order, and for now, it is well-known that strengthening ties with African countries is among Russia’s foreign policy priorities. But, much has to be done to change image, perceptions and the old narratives.
The symbolic Russia-Africa Summit was the result of President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin authorities’ progressive steps taken to move toward a new phase in consolidating political and economic ties broadly at the state levels with Africa. The final declaration, joint declaration, seeks to consolidate the results of the summit. It has undoubtedly reaffirmed the goals of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Visualising Ethiopia’s Economic Leadership (and Challenges) in the Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa has historically been one of the world’s most unstable regions, with internal strife, secessionism, interstate war, terrorism and piracy dominating the region for the latter half of the twentieth century, and the early years of the twenty-first. Things have changed in more recent times, however. But in recent years, the pattern which perhaps best defines the region today is uneven economic growth, and thus cause for cautious optimism.
This is demonstrated by the five charts below, tracing the GDPs, GDP growths, unemployment rates, different levels of mobile phone access, and estimated GDP growth for 2020 (in the wake of COVID-19) of the four countries in the region; Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Particularly noticeable is not only Ethiopia’s size but also the rate of its growth when compared to its neighbours, though the country has several points of vulnerability.
The first chart shows the enormous gap between Ethiopia and the other three countries that neighbour it. Leveraging on its population (of more than 108 million people), its physical size and relative stability since the 1990s, the country has been able to grow despite its landlocked status, history of civil war, famines, ethnic tensions, and significant lack of mineral resources. Successfully diverting its exports to the port of Djibouti after the war with Eritrea in 1998, the country’s total GDP is about eight times the other countries in the region combined. Somalia, the state with the second-largest GDP, has a GDP 18 times smaller than Ethiopia’s. This gap is only set to expand, given the differences in GDP growth visualised in the second chart.
In terms of GDP growth, the whole region has registered considerable amounts, with three of the fastest-growing countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti) registering more than 7% in GDP growth per annum. Ethiopia is present here as well, being the fastest-growing economy in 2019. Moreover, growing from a comparatively higher base ($91.1 billion compared to Djibouti’s $2.9billion, Eritrea’s $2.6billion and Somalia’s $4.7billion), the country’s growth is unparalleled in real comparative terms.
Ethiopia also observes the lowest unemployment rate in the region, with less than 2% of its workforce out of employment. The principal sources of employment are agriculture (72.7%), followed by services (19.9%) and industry (7.4%). The country has been on an industrialising spree, with industrial parks as the principal strategy of attracting foreign direct investment geared towards light manufacturing of textiles, automobiles, and metals processing. Like most countries in the early stages of economic development, however, the country’s wages are still quite low. Nevertheless, if the trajectory of similar countries (most notably China) is anything to go by (and all other things being equal), this is set to transform over the next number of decades as the country ascends to middle-income status. Moreover, the low-wage factor has been one of the country’s major points of FDI attraction.
Mobile phone access in Ethiopia is also the strongest in the region, with more than 56% of its population having at least one mobile phone. The country’s telecommunication industry is dominated by Ethio Telecom, the government-operated monopoly.
The effects of COVID-19 are unclear, but they will short-circuit many developing countries’ economies. IMF revised estimates place the region’s prospects quite favourably nonetheless, with Eritrea estimated to grow by 7.9%, followed by Ethiopia and Somalia at 3.2%, and 1.3%.
For all its strengths, however, Ethiopia is also marked by some vulnerabilities from outside as well as within. Firstly, the country’s GDP per capita of $953 is dwarfed by Djibouti’s $2,787, although it still outranks Eritrea ($332) and Somalia ($348).Secondly, most of its trade is not with its neighbours. While most of its exports are through Djibouti, the country has almost no interdependence with Eritrea and Somalia. This means most of its growth and the growths of its neighbours are not intertwined, despite the impetus for regional integration. Indeed, the country has previously gone to war with two of its neighbours – Somalia and Eritrea – over disputed territory. With talks over the disputed Badme region came the prospect of the port of Massawa, however. These leaves open the prospect that the country’s channels of export will be further enhanced, especially its noticeable industrial base in its north. However, reports of local communities on preventing soldiers from retreating (and thus re-opening the border) indicate that the path to interdependence will require trust-building and may perhaps not be easily divorced from domestic politics of either side. Ethiopia’s goal of energy self-sufficiency in electrification through the waters of the Blue Nile (which commences in Ethiopia’s Lake Tana) are also cause for tense relations with Egypt, with the timeframe of the filling-up of the dam being a particular bone of contention. Given these tensions, it is sensible that most of the work with which the regional body, IGAD, is preoccupied with peacebuilding in Somalia more than with economic issues.
COVID-19 has also put on hold one of the most anticipated elections in recent Ethiopian political history. The country’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who took over an uncompleted term of his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn, is seeking to obtain a fresh mandate of his own. Not only does the election mark the first electoral run of the newly formed Prosperity Party, formed after the consolidation of the previous coalition of ethnic-based parties (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front), but also some economic policies. Importantly, however, the northern-based Tigray People’s Liberation Front has not taken part in the merger. The next election will, therefore, be an implicative one for Ethiopia’s future growth and future role in the region.
South Africa: Returning tostatism?
The South African state of disaster has been evolving since its declaration on March 15th. Following local and global acclaim for its responsive, science-based approach, the government has come under increased scrutiny for its turn towards command and control. Following the extended 35-day lockdown, President Ramaphosa announced a staged relaxation which paradoxically included strict limitations which were not part of the preceding ‘hard’ lockdown. For the first time in its democratic history, South Africa is under a nightly curfew. While the global health pandemic associated with COVID-19 may be novel, the government’s response appears awfully familiar. Different as the situations may be, to understand the present one should turn to past.
Since 1994, South Africa has abided the post-Cold War international order to pave its path along Western liberal norms. The newly elected liberation party assumed the power of government at a time when it had little choice but to accede to these prevailing internationalist truths. It could either stand secure inside a global arrangement of states which ensured wealth and privilege along mandated rules and lines of thought or it could perilously go at it alone.
Based on hegemonic international practices and due on the injustices and vagaries of country’s brutalized past, the ANC sought to salvage the state it inherited in accordance with the international system; it gave up an element of sovereign independence, chose to reconfigure its revolutionary strategy and became a casualty of its time by acquiescing to fantastical end of history persuasions. South Africa chose indirect governance over direct government.
This approach to power is captured in the dogma of good governance, the conformity to a set of prescribed indicators of administrative best practice; a managerial approach to political authority. Good governance does not interrogate peculiarities, nor is it based on the lay of the land. Instead, it accedes to specific standards. Having never executed power, the ANC alliance assumed leadership by following.
Through efforts to advance the rights-based democratic ideals which gave expression to the Constitution, it pursued development along international governance norms. The constitutive initial phase of democracy, characterized by consultation, policy formulation and institutional consolidation adhered to this dogma. Government’s aspirational approach aligned to the aspirational character of the new Constitution. The modalities of good governance were, however, as foreign to the ANC as they were to South Africa. In according international norms, the history of the state was suppressed.
When Nelson Mandela assented to the presidency, a new nation was not birthed. The South African state remained; it was given another life. This is the reason the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rebuffed Fw de Klerk’s presence at the SONA earlier this year. This was no argumentum ad hominem.It was a politically astute move to delegitimate the government. It charged the ANC with ruling over the state of De Klerk. By rejecting the government’s legitimacy, its authority over law and order, the EFF seeks to bring down the edifice upon which government rests. Potentially portending a move toward coup d’etat, it presciently recalls the architecture and history of the state. While the ANC government prefers to limit the debate about the history of the state, the EFF critically reminds South Africans of their history. It invokes an awakening to the history of the state.
To accurately perceive the frenzied national condition, South Africa needs to shed the veil of ignorance that conceals the history of the state.
The late 1970s saw the introduction of a total national strategy that was legitimised by what the state labelled a total onslaught; today benignly referred to as the ‘struggle’. These analogous approaches shaped the national order which emerged in 1994. The total national strategy as laid out in the 1977 White Paper on Defence called for a “comprehensive plan to utilize all the means available to a state… A total national strategy is, therefore, not confined to a particular sphere, but applicable at all levels and to all functions of the state structure”.
As was the case under the total strategy, today’s concern is security. Security oriented government by decree is being justified in the fight against the nebulous COVID-19.
The ominous rise of the ambiguous National Coronavirus Command Council begs serious questions. It reminds of how under the total national strategy, power moved from cabinet to be concentrated into the State Security Council and later the National Security Management System. Vigilance must persist against decreed rule by selective committees.
Whereas the pragmatic Prime Minister PW Botha essentially portrayed the role of a crisis manager, today the similarly astute administrator Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, regarded by some as a sort of Prime Minister, rules by regulation. Botha was obsessed with security; to maintain law and order Botha insisted upon an expanded militarisation despite the government recognition that there was no military solution. Today command and control again reign supreme. Reminiscent of the 1980s, the defence force is again (mainly) wielding sjamboks in townships. With more than 70 000 troops deployed to maintain law and order, South Africa is clearly no longer in the domain of governance, it has returned to statist government. The state is again seeing a total strategy whereby the resources of war are mobilised at political and economic levels. What really is the perceived threat upon which government’s strategy is based? Is the defence force called upon because the state is fearful of its ability to maintain trust and legitimacy? Is it facing a potential loss in law and order? Though the virus is new, South Africa has been here before.
The ongoing state of exception presents a Manichean situation whereby claiming one’s rights, one necessarily stands outside the law. The threat of a normalised state of exception isthe temporary if not permanent loss of freedom. In the words of famed American whistle-blower, Edward Snowden: “a virus is harmful, but the destruction of rights is fatal”.
South Africa’s bewilderment has largely been based on the perception that there is no precedent to demonstrable state control. COVID19 may be novel, but limitation, South African government by regulation, is not. There is an urgent need to wake up to history, to view the past in order to discern the present. While the ANC government has consulted widely and the state of exception is administered under the relevant Act, any limitation of rights and privileges must be challenged. Learning from the past, South Africans must be cautious of securocrats’ use of security as a central means of government.
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