Russia is back to Africa. This is a fait accompli, a new and significant trend of Russia’s foreign policy over the past 20 years. Russia has much to offer this dynamically developing continent, primarily in the form of political cooperation and diplomatic ties, as well as supporting Africa’s positions at multilateral forums. And there is huge potential here for developing economic ties.
Russia provides invaluable peacekeeping and security assistance to Africa. Moreover, Moscow is traditionally friendly towards its African partners and strives to develop intercultural humanitarian ties with African countries.
Modern Africa truly is a continent of new opportunities. In economic terms, several African countries are developing quite successfully, with the economies of a number of countries in the Sub-Saharan region demonstrating average GDP growth of 5.2 percent over the period 2000–2013. Some African countries have even been called “African lions,” similar to the highly developed “Asian tiger” economies. There is a rapidly growing middle class on the African continent, which means rising consumption and increased demand, including for Russian goods and services. Russia is also interested in those minerals that play a crucial role in the development of industry and innovative technologies which it lacks. It would be economically viable to mine these resources in Africa.
While Russian diplomacy in Africa focuses on the entire continent, there are countries with which it is developing cooperation particularly vigorously.
It is important to note here that Russia mostly interacts with its African partners on a bilateral basis, although it does maintain contacts with regional integration associations and the African Union, which spans the entire continent.
Trade, economics and investments
Russia’s trade with African nations has demonstrated positive dynamics in recent years. According to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, trade between Russia and Africa totaled $17.4 billion in 2017 and $20.4 billion in 2018. While Russia’s trade and economic relations are more highly developed with the countries of North Africa, trade with countries south of the Sahara has also been growing in recent years. Russia’s main trade partners in Africa are Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and South Africa. Trade with Algeria is growing at a particularly rapid pace.
However, in recent years, Russia has demonstrated positive trade dynamics with at least half of the countries in Africa, in particular with Ethiopia, Cameroon, Angola, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Namibia, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda and Guinea are also important partners.
The Russian Federation supplies a wide range of goods to African countries, including oil products, chemicals, fertilizers, engineering products and machine tools.
Agricultural products occupy an important place in mutual trade. Russia supplies large volumes of wheat to Morocco, South Africa, Libya, Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt. A number of African countries (Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali) have increased the volume of fruit and vegetables they sell to Russia. This is helped by the fact that the Russian Federation has introduced countersanctions on several products made in the European Union.
Africa is becoming a kind of “market of the future” for Russian grain and agricultural equipment. This is a very promising area, given the desire of African countries to eradicate the hunger issue (“zero hunger”) and make more productive use of many of the large areas of undeveloped land that still exist on the continent.
The global farming industry is interested in all the key agricultural equipment manufactured in Russia, and exports are growing. This is due to the fact that entirely new and unique technologies and products have appeared in Russia, and the quality of Russian agricultural equipment has reached new heights. Russian manufacturers of farming equipment see North Africa, the Middle East and South America as promising new markets.
Major Russian companies actively invest in Africa. Priority sectors for investment include energy and mining (for example, Russia is involved in the development of the world’s second largest platinum deposit, Darwendale in Zimbabwe, which could turn the country into a leader on the global platinum market), as well as infrastructure, transport, manufacturing and agriculture.
The State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM has signed cooperation agreements on the development of nuclear energy with a number of African countries (Egypt, Sudan, Zambia, Morocco, South Africa and the Republic of the Congo, and others). Some countries (Sudan and Senegal) have expressed interest in developing joint oil and gas projects with Russia. In 2018, President of Senegal Macky Sall noted at a meeting with Vladimir Putin that his country possessed large reserves of oil and gas. He went on to express his hope that Russia would assist in assessing these resources and help workers in the Senegalese oil and gas sector get to grips with the equipment needed for the development of these deposits.
Russian medium-sized businesses have also found niches on the African markets. For example, the company Lisma, which is located in the Republic of Mordovia, set up a joint venture in Burundi to manufacture lamps and streetlights for the entire East African market. In 2015, the Atlantic fish processing plant opened in Senegal. The project, which is the largest of its kind in West Africa, was financed by private Russian investors.
It is important that Russia not only seeks to develop mineral resources in African countries, but it also contributes to the development of domestic industry and infrastructure in Africa and helps create jobs.
The Russian Industrial Zone (RIZ) in Egypt – the first infrastructure project of its kind implemented by the Russian Export Center – is a perfect example of this approach. The plan is for the RIZ to become a vanguard for the promotion of Russian goods and services in Africa. Its activities should contribute to the growth of the Russian and Egyptian economies.
What is more, Russian companies take on social responsibilities by supporting development projects in the African countries where they operate. For example, thanks to the ongoing support of Russia and United Company RUSAL in the fight against Ebola in Guinea, significant progress has been made in the prevention of the spread of this disease in the country since 2014. At the height of the Ebola epidemic, RUSAL built a special medical center in the country, the only one of its kind in West Africa in terms of the technologies and equipment at its disposal. The center helped vaccinate and treat locals. In addition, it became a platform for the study and prevention of communicable diseases in Guinea and a training center for future epidemiologists.
However, despite the obvious successes in the development of trade with Africa and the increased investments into the continent, much still needs to be done. Russia lags far behind China and the West in terms of its economic penetration into Africa. It will take at least a decade of diligent work on the development of trade and economic ties with African countries – not to “catch up” with these other countries, but to at least slightly reduce the trade volume gap. An important part of this work is to create new intergovernmental commissions and business councils with those African countries that do not currently have such cooperation formats and to step up work with those countries that do.
Military and Technical Cooperation
In recent years, Russia has signed agreements on military and technical cooperation, security cooperation and fighting terrorism with a number of African countries.
At the Russia–Africa Economic Forum in June 2019, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov noted that “Russia, both through bilateral channels and as part of the UN Security Council, continues to support its African friends in the fight against terrorism, crime and other cross-border threats. We are making a contribution to the efforts to resolve crises and conflicts on the African continent on the basis of the principle of ‘African solutions to African problems’ formulated by the African Union.”
Russia also provides humanitarian assistance to those African countries that have been affected by crises or military conflicts, or which have suffered natural disasters or pandemics. African personnel undergo training at Russian educational institutions under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence, the law enforcement agencies and the security services, and as part of peacekeeping missions. The training programs are fully paid by the Russian budget.
Russia has traditionally played an important role in the African arms market. Russian arms shipments to Africa have increased in recent years, despite fierce competition from other external players and western sanctions. This is largely due to the successes of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operations in Syria, as well as the numerous joint military exercises and Moscow’s large expositions at international military forums, where it typically unveils its new products.
The 2019 edition of the annual International Military and Technical Forum “ARMY” was held in June of this year. One of the main tasks of the Forum is to expand Russia’s military and technical cooperation with other countries. The number of delegations from Africa attending the Forum every year keeps rising. This is where new contracts for the supply of Russian weapons and agreements on the military, technical and security cooperation are often signed. Russia signed military cooperation agreements with Burundi, Burkina Faso, and Botswana at the ARMY 2018 Forum.
In September 2018, Director of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Dmitry Shugaev noted that Russia cooperates in the military and technical sphere with over 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is a priority for Russia in this area, as the Soviet Union delivered a significant number of weapons and military equipment to the continent in the 1960s to the 1980s, much of which remains to this day. Many specialists trained in the Soviet Union and Russia are still serving in the armies of African countries. Because of this, many African countries are interested in renovating and upgrading existing Russian- and Soviet-made military equipment. Russia provides all kinds of assistance in this area, and also helps training personnel to operate the equipment. However, Russia’s African partners are also interested in new models of Russian military equipment and weapons.
According to Rosoboronexport, Russia is the leading arms supplier of sub-Saharan countries (30 percent of all arms supplies in 2011–2015).
In early 2019, Rosoboronexport announced that Russian enterprises that are involved in military and technical cooperation had planned a number of important projects with African countries for a year in advance, which is why the year earned the title “the year of Africa.”
In January 2019, for example, Rosoboronexport took part in the Shield Africa International Security and Defence exhibition in Cote d’Ivoire. The company introduced a wide range of weapons and military equipment for counterterrorism and police special operations.
Russia mainly supplies missile and artillery weapons, small arms and automotive equipment to African countries. The most in-demand military equipment in sub-Saharan Africa includes Mi helicopters; Sukhoi and MiG planes; and Pantsir-C1, Kornet-E and Tor-M2E missile defense systems; as well as tanks, armored personnel carriers and small arms.
Russia also offers its African partners a wide range of surveillance and monitoring equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles and radar locators used primarily to protect borders and critical facilities.
Russian Know-How and “Soft Power”
For Africa, it is important to develop cooperation with foreign partners who are willing to share new technologies, as well as to deliver these technologies and implement them on the African continent, thus promoting industrial and human development. Russia, of course, has the know-how and is ready to share this knowledge with its African partners, if they are interested (for example, peaceful atom technologies, medical technologies, etc.).
The most important event in this respect was the presentation delivered by Russian scientists at an international conference (July 2019) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of the latest vaccine against the Ebola virus, which “differs significantly from its current western alternatives thanks to its safety, the absence of side effects, and the ease of storage, transportation and use. And, most importantly, it provides effective immunity against this deadly infection.”
Russia can offer to its African partners such services as expert reviews during the construction of nuclear power plants and other infrastructural facilities (hydroelectric power stations, light industry facilities, agricultural raw materials processing factories), oil refining and pipeline construction technologies, and the development of the space industry (in particular, launching satellites in African countries).
The Russian side held negotiations with Sudan when it was still under the rule of President Omar al-Bashir on the construction of a desalination plant at the site of a nuclear facility (know-how that only Russia possesses). The project may be of interest to other African nations.
Russia seeks to share its scientific and cultural achievements with the African people and boost the prestige of the Russian language on the continent. In September 2018, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) unveiled plans to open new Russian Science and Culture Centres (RSCC) in Africa. Rossotrudnichestvo currently has cultural centres in Egypt, Zambia, the Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia and Ethiopia, as well as a representative working in the Russian Embassy in South Africa. Deputy Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Alexander Radkov pointed out that the African people are showing an increasing interest in receiving an education in Russia and learning the Russian language. In 2019, Russian universities received almost 30,000 applications from citizens of African countries, even though the quota for free places is just 1819.
Interparliamentary ties between Russia and Africa are developing, as the Russia–Africa parliamentary conference in July 2019 proved.
Russia seeks to build active and fruitful cooperation with African countries in a multilateral format. What this means, first and foremost, is strengthening interaction with the African Union and other regional integration associations on the continent.
In June 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov announced during his visit to Rwanda that Russia and the African Union were working on a political framework document that would lay the conceptual foundations for cooperation in the coming years.
One of the tasks is to deepen trade and economic cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and African Union countries. It is known that the President of the Russian Federation has invited the Eurasian Economic Commission to take part in the Russia–Africa Summit in Sochi this coming October and has voiced his support for the planned signing of a memorandum of cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union.
It is also important to strengthen cooperation with African countries at the United Nations, as African countries make up a significant and influential part of that organization. This could help garner support for Russia’s stance on various issues on the international agenda.
Russia is also strengthening its political interaction with African countries in the BRICS format. Even though South Africa is currently the only African country in this association, representatives from several African nations regularly attend the group’s summits as guests and observers. The possibility of including other African countries in the association are being discussed.
The upcoming inaugural Russia–Africa Summit in Sochi should play a significant role in strengthening multilateral cooperation between Russia and various African countries. Leaders of all African countries, as well as the heads of major sub-regional associations and organizations have been invited to the event. Russia and the African Union countries are expected to sign a political declaration on Russia–Africa cooperation after the Summit is over.
Russia and other external players on the African continent: the prospects for competition and cooperation
Russian and Western experts agree that a new “battle for Africa” is currently unfolding, with the main participants being the United States, China and the European Union (both as a bloc of states and as individual countries). Secondary players in this battle include Brazil, India, Turkey, Iran, South Korea and the Persian Gulf states
It would seem that Russia, which has repeatedly emphasized its willingness to work with its partners in Africa, has no interest in taking part in any kind of “battle.” Unfortunately, the reality is that, at the current stage of history, there is serious competition in many areas among external players on the African continent.
Africa’s partners in the west are concerned about the increased interaction between the continent’s countries and Russia, even though Russia is far behind almost all of the above-mentioned countries in terms of trade and economic cooperation with Africa. What is more, Russia does not have the same financial and economic capabilities as China, for instance, when it comes to implementing its policies on the African continent.
Three key points should be kept in mind here:
— Almost all African countries try to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy, one that allows them to be flexible in their interactions with those external players which provide the most attractive conditions for cooperation.
— Russia has exactly the same right as other international actors to develop relations with African partners. Unfortunately, far from everyone outside of Russia agrees.
— African countries have the sovereign right to offer cooperation to, and develop cooperation with, Russia, regardless of what their other foreign economic partners think about it.
I believe that Russia could cooperate with other African countries on various projects, but this requires practical interest and goodwill. These countries have shown a certain amount of interest, although it is thus far unclear how this interest can be transformed into practical actions.
In conclusion, we should note that the needs of Africa in terms of human development, building new infrastructure, industrial development and job creation are so great that the combined efforts of all external partners are both encouraged and welcomed. There is plenty of work for all interested parties. There is no need for a “battle,” rather, a strategic vision and a readiness to negotiate are required.
Russia is simply following its course, seeking to strengthen its traditionally friendly ties with Africa. The upcoming Russia–Africa Summit will define the priorities of Russia’s policy in Africa more clearly, including in the eyes of Russia’s partners in the west, and may lay the foundations for new talks and debates on the possibilities of cooperation on the African continent.
From our partner RIAC
China’s ties with Africa go beyond the “debt trap”
Authors: Do Quynh Anh & Francis Kwesi Kyirewiah*
Over the past decades, there have been numerous arguments about China’s relations with Africa which is seen as the foundation of Beijing’s diplomacy. Some scholars have linked China-Africa relations to a new form of colonialism and resources diplomatic strategy of China. For historical and political reasons, China has been close with African countries because they share common past of their former colonial suffering and the common tasks of promoting their economic development. Now as the largest developing country as well as the second largest economy of the world, China’s economic relations with Africa en bloc is obviously changing from the previous low-technology aid to a rapidly medium- and high-technology assistance. To that end, China is able to provide more financial aid to all the developing countries including Africa.
To be sure, it is normal for any country to provide aid to each other in terms of borrowing and lending. Historically and politically, the parties involving international financial interactions might end up as enemies. Professor J. A. Frieden, of Harvard once argued, in general, developing countries are by definition short of capital, so most of their governments are eager to borrow abroad. It is therefore presupposed that the prospect of using borrowed money is to speed up growth and increase national output. Yet, sometimes the borrowers could have little incentive to use the money wisely. It is also true that the lending powers have used or misused or even abused the financial weapons available: they can cut off debtor governments from future lending, and they may be able to retaliate in related areas, such as freezing debtor governments’ bank accounts or taking other government-owned properties. Equally noted is that lending governments are able to use broader foreign policy considerations to induce the borrowing side into compliance with the lenders’ demands. That is true in terms of many cycles of lending and debt crises. For example, all through the 19th and early 20th centuries, rapidly growing countries borrowed heavily from the major European financial creditors, primarily London but also Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. Usually, debts appear to have contributed to economic development, but there are also plenty of crises and political disputes. Therefore, debt crises have existed in world politics for centuries, and now it appears in a new face as “debt trap.”
China’s relation with Africa is relatively new due to the fact that the rise of China and the independence of Africa are the most recent scenario over the past 40-60 years. As Dr. DambisaMoyo, a scholar in international affairs anda native from Zambia, argued, “No country has come to symbolize the profound economic transformation witnessed in the past half-century than China. It has become the largest exporter and the largest foreign currency-holder of the world and it has already surpassed Japan to rank second in terms of GDP.” By 1978, China’s world GDP share was only 1.75%, but since then, it share has risen up to 17% in 2017.Today China is the largest FDI source to Africa and the bilateral trade has been rising substantially. The resultant fact is not necessarily because of China’s smart policy, but equally due to the West’s own folly policymaking.
Yet, China has been targeted by the West headed by the United States as the “debt-trap maker”. The reasons might be different but it argues that China has tried to use its increasing financial power to dictate its Communist will and nationalistic goal in the world affairs, in particular towards the Africans. This is really ridiculous. First, a closer look into the Marshal Plan endorsed by the United States in 1948 to assist European recovery from the war-time destruction, the West called it the “European Recovery Plan” which aimed to invest billions of U.S. dollars to help the war-worn states of Europe. However, when they discuss the economic plan from Beijing and Moscow, they use the terms of traps and conspiracy, such as “Beijing’s expansion is inexorable, has a global scope and is driven by the depression in the West.” Ideologically, the United States has tried to distort any Chinese economic plan including the “Belt & Road Initiative”. Second, the United States and many other countries of the West as well have entertained the mentality of their superiority. They do hold the perception that Europeans are the only most creative people on the Earth. Thus the rise of China is surely regarded as the loss of their superiority and prestige as well. In light of this, the third point is that they have perceived China as a potential or even a real rival or enemy in a geopolitical sense, as U.S. politician Mike Pompeo has repeatedly targeted China both publicly and privately.
However, the relationship between China and Africa has gone beyond the so-called “debt trap diplomacy”. From the mid-1950s, China was committed to supplying all possible aid and supports to the African peoples who were struggling for their national independence, while newly-independent states consistently extend their supports to China diplomatically and politically. Since the last decades of the 20th century, China-Africa relations have been primarily focused on economic cooperation. With its economic power growing, China’s aid has been focused on infrastructure development, consisting of constructing railways, roads and hydropower to business cooperation such as mining, farming and tourism. In return, Africa has made all possible efforts to improve its investment and business environment in order to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies. This is now urgent for both sides need to work decisively to transform and upgrade the quality and efficiency of the cooperation in strategic terms. As Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto argued, it is quite possible for there to be an action in an economy that harms no one and helps at least one by one. Whether it is accepted or not, China’s sustained growth can’t be in isolation from the rest of the world in a long perspective.
China’s aid to Africa has never been a lip-service as it believes that in order to insure sustainable economic growth, it is strategically necessary for any country, either small or large, to have a complete transportation network and reliable power-supply system. This is what is referred to as ‘two wings theory for development.’ Today, most African countries lack basic transportation system and sustainable power supply for accelerated and sustainable economic development. For example, agreements signed in various fields between China and Africa wasvalued at over $50 billion between 2015 and 2016. Most African states have been eager to accelerate their national industries’ production capacity in order to achieve their economic independence. Thus far, Chinese companies have been instrumental in the construction of numerous symbolic infrastructure projects, including but not limited to the newly-completed railwayline connecting the capital of Kenya (Nairobi) to its coastal city and port hub of Mombasa, and the highly anticipated network of Chinese-built railway in East Africa. In addition, China is currently the largest contributor to peacekeeping missionin Africa,rangingfrom non-combat peacekeepers in medical and engineering servicesto the deployment of troops in Sudan.
For sure, China’s overall capacity in Africa has been much greater than 50 years ago when it started the first railway from Tanzania to Zambia during the Cold War heydays. Now is the time for China to link infrastructure development to a grand strategy, such as “the Belt & Road Initiative” proposed by Chinese President Xi in 2013. This is manifested by the completion of the railway line from Nairobi to Mombasa in 2018. Politically, according to the consensus between China and Africa, the leaders of the two sides vowed to promote their comprehensive ties to a new-level of strategic partnership. Also unlike Western foreign-aid policies, which generally prioritize political issues and social values, China’s aid has been primarily driven to economic issues. On one hand, this is consistent with China’s adherence to non-intervention policy in domestic affairs of other states. On the other hand, both China and Africa look forward to a future of unprecedented transformation on the launch of the Nairobi-Mombasa railway that would not only revolutionized the transport sector of Kenya, but also more important stimulating investments in advanced manufacturing in Kenya and African as a whole.
For China, the pace of transformation of Africa has been remarkable. Even though its short-term goal remains economic and diplomatic, it seems inevitable that China’s basic interests will eventually lead it to far greater involvement in the continent. Though diverse in both economics and politics, Africa remains sided with China on international issues, and this quasi-alliance strictly delimits the scope of Sino-African collaboration and the opportunity to assist in the formation of Chinese conceptions and strategy in the world politics for decades to come. It is true that Chinese leaders are well-aware of this advantage.
In conclusion, China has high expectations for Africa as the latter has an immense reservoir of resources to spur its envisioned growth and China’s economic growth. As a rising power, Chinawillwork in conjunction with Africa towards the creation ofa more just and impartial world order and that places the East Asian giant in a stronger position to provide more substantial aid to Africa under win-win cooperation. As expressed at the G-20 FM meeting in Bonn in 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister reconfirmed that China would carry on enhancing strategic relationships with Africa. China would alsoabide by the key tenet which aims to develop the local, regional and international economics in light of “Africa’s initiative, Africa’s consent and Africa’s first”. Due to this, China’s strategic partnership with Africa is patently beyond the debt trap diplomacyin terms of Beijing’s global strategy.
*Francis Kwesi Kyirewiah, a PhD student in International Affairs, at SIPA, Jilin University, China.
Africa becomes area of global competition
The widespread view of Africa as one huge problem point on the planet’s body characterized by pandemics, hunger, poverty and wars – the so-called “Afropessimism” – has now been replaced with an approach which was launched by global powers as they compete for economic and political presence on the continent. After a lull, Russia has joined the race as well.
According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “African states are steadily gaining political and economic weight, asserting themselves as major pillars of the global multi-polar system and enjoying ever more say in making decisions on the most critical issues of the regional and global agenda.” Significantly, Africa accounts for about one third of the votes in the UN.
After Russia made an impressive “comeback” in the Middle East, Moscow became attractive for states seeking alternatives to the old political and economic ties. The first African country to do that was the war-torn Central African Republic, and the next to follow was Sudan, a country facing a similar challenge. Then more countries did the same. At present, more than 30 African countries have reached agreements with Russia which envisage the development of geo-resources, the supply of produce of the military-industrial complex, and the training of army personnel and law enforcement forces. Among the most significant contractors are Algeria, Egypt, Angola, Uganda and Nigeria.
The consistent and rarely publicized efforts of the Russian diplomacy resulted in the first Russia-Africa summit, which was held in Sochi on October 23-24. The day earlier, the Russian-African Economic Forum opened in Sochi too. Of the 62 African legal entities officially recognized by the UN, the Russian forum was attended by heads of state of 43 countries while another 11 participated at minister and ambassador level. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi represented both Egypt and the African Union.
During the Sochi forum, Russia and African countries signed more than 500 agreements worth about 800 billion rubles. Considering the low solvency of African partners, the participants came to agreement to set up a $ 5 billion trade support fund. The success of the forum prompted the decision to hold it regularly, every two years.
China seems to be Russia’s top economic competitor on the Black Continent. Beijing offers African countries big but easy loans and builds social infrastructure facilities on a gratuitous basis. China attaches great importance to “soft power” by promoting cultural and scientific contacts in an attempt to form loyal national elites. Every year thousands of Africans are granted scholarships to study at Chinese universities. As a result, ten years ago, China snatched from the United States its leadership as Africa’s trade and economic partner thereby becoming one of the major investors and donors to African countries.
Since the beginning of the century, the China-Africa Cooperation Forum has been held regularly, with nearly four dozen African countries joining the One Belt One Road mega-project.
And finally, (as investments have to be protected) in 2017, a Chinese military base appeared in Djibouti, the first beyond the bounds of the PRC.
Simultaneously, Africa’s growing dependence on Chinese financing may become one of Russia’s competitive advantages as the continent starts to look for alternative partners.
The United States has unintentionally been contributing to this, by criticizing the policies of Moscow and Beijing in Africa. Washington has become seriously concerned with measures to repulse the “expansion” of China and Russia. In December 2018, the Trump administration presented a new strategy for Africa, or in fact, a plan to counteract the activity of Russia and China on the continent. There have been numerous official statements to this effect. “These countries are expanding their financial and political influence to Africa by applying “aggressive” practices and acting for their own benefit, which poses a threat to US national security,” – the then adviser to the American president, John Bolton, said, as he unveiled the program. It turns out that the United States is acting in Africa to the detriment of its own interests?
China bore the brunt of criticism. Bolton, as usual, lashed at Beijing for many things, but above all, for using loans to enslave the Black Continent. Last summer, during the US-Africa business summit in Maputo, the United States launched the Prosperous Africa Economic Program. The Program’s ultimate goal is the same – to contain the growing influence of Russia and China by expanding trade with countries of the continent, by promoting American technology and by boosting assistance in the anti-terrorism campaign. According to Bolton, the new approaches will allow African countries “to remain independent in reality, not in theory”. But for the rhetoric, there is little new in the American approach.
Europe boasts traditionally strong positions on the African continent. After they gained independence, the authorities in many former French colonies’ capitals installed monuments to Charles de Gaulle. African countries are interested in cooperating with the European Union in three interrelated areas: peacekeeping, which is so critical for the Black Continent, receiving economic and humanitarian aid, and assistance in the anti-epidemic effort.
In turn, the EU is more set on measures to thwart illegal migration from the African continent, which is its top priority for now. Simultaneously, the EU is trying to be realistic about the economic and political potential of African partners. As far back as in April 2000, Cairo hosted the first EU-Africa summit, attended by heads of state and government. Seven years later, the Strategic Partnership Agreement for Trade and Democracy was signed in Lisbon, designed to boost economic and political ties and calling for “genuine cooperation” and partner equality.
Nevertheless, the number of Europeans present on the continent has been dwindling. Even the French who until recently affected the political situation in Francophone Africa have become fewer in number. According to the authoritative French weekly Le Point, Paris “is losing ground here,” and should thus “come to its senses”, as its influence and economic weight on the continent are steadily declining.
Incidentally, Ankara embarked on cooperation with the continent years ago. The first summit on Turkey’s cooperation with African countries (mainly Muslim) was held in 2008. This year the third summit took place. Since 2010, the government has been following the so-called “African Strategy.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry has proudly reported on its website that the two parties have been demonstrating mutual interest in bilateral ties, which becomes clear from the following figures: while in 2009 there were only 12 Turkish representative missions on the Black Continent, today their number totals 39. And African countries have increased the number of their diplomatic missions in Ankara threefold – from 10 to 33 – over the same period.
Speaking of the prospects for cooperation between Russia and Africa, we can say first of all that Russia is one of the top ten exporters of food products to African markets. Secondly, Moscow is one of the major suppliers of military produce to the continent – the value of military contracts in 2019 is expected to exceed $ 4 billion. Thirdly, local consumers are quite satisfied with the price-quality ratio of many Russian-made products. And the contractors can pay for these goods: Africa accounts for up to one third of the developed mineral reserves, and given that surveys were not always carried out at the appropriate level and did not cover all resources-rich areas, there are more. So, the fourth area of Russia-Africa cooperation is geological prospecting work.
Addressing the Sochi forum, President Putin made it clear to African guests that Russia had no intention to repeat the mistakes of the USSR, which was determined to multiply the number of political pseudo-allies at the expense of economic feasibility. The United States and the EU have also reiterated the mutually beneficial nature of trade and economic relations. Moreover, all actors regularly write off Africa’s debts, and Moscow is no exception.
And finally, it is necessary to point out that Western countries invariably make this cooperation conditional on the “right”, from their point of view, foreign and domestic policies of their contractors. Russia has a clear edge here as it does not seek to force its opinion on anyone, be it Europe or the African continent.
From our partner International Affairs
Moscow’s Institute for African Studies Marks its 60th Year
The Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences was founded 60 years ago, precisely in 1959. Since then it has undergone various changes and carried out huge scientific research on Africa.
Professor Dmitri Bondarenko, the deputy director, discusses some aspects of its most current achievements, challenges and the future. Here are excerpts from the interview conducted by Kester Kenn Klomegah:
Institute for African Studies marks its 60th year. Can we look at its performance, at least, during the past five years? What are the landmarked activities during the past half a decade?
The 60th anniversary is a good reason for looking both back at the results to date and ahead. If I could speak further about the achievements of the most recent years, I would mention first and formost, we try our best to organize fieldwork in Africa, although we are limited in our possibilities rather rigidly.
The landmark activities during the last five years in the academic sphere are as follows: the 13th and 14th conferences of Africanists (2014, 2017) – this is the Institute’s “brand conference”. Every time, it brings together about 500 participants from all over the world, including many African countries. The next, 15th, conference will take place in May 2020; 48 panels with about 10 presentations in each are included into its preliminary program.
In the last five years, several important conferences were organized together with foreign partners – from Slovenia, Portugal and, what is especially important, from Tanzania. The conference took place in Dar es Salaam in March 2019 and brought together scholars from 13 states. The next conference in Tanzania is scheduled for November 2020.
Several dozen books have been published in the last five years, among probably the most important of which are: Federalism in Africa: Problems and Prospects (in Russian and English), edited by Igho O. Natufe and Khristina M. Turyinskaya (2015), Tropical Africa: Evolution of Political Leadership (in Russian) by Tatiana S. Denisova (2016), Islam, Global Governance and the New World Order (in Russian) by Leonid L. Fituni and Irina O. Abramova (2018).
Assess the importance of its research, in form of consultancy, for government institutions and private both in Russia and Africa?
This importance is definitely growing, especially in the most recent years. State institutions and business companies seek the Institute’s consultancy services more and more often nowadays. In particular, the Institute played an important role in the preparation of the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019.
As we are a research institution, my firm belief is that just academic research should be our primary task. The situation has been changing during the last few years. Today the importance of Africa for Russia in different respects, including political and economic, is recognized by the state, and the Russian Foreign Ministry and other state institutions dealing with the Russian-African relations in various spheres, not just purely political, ask us for our expert advice on different points quite often.
What are the current challenges and hindrances to research Africa these years? Do you have any suggestions here on how to improvement the situation?
The situation now is much better for African studies than for a long time before. In particular, today there are much more opportunities for doing fieldwork in Africa. Russian Africanists and their work are becoming better known in the global Africanist community. Quite a lot of junior researchers join the academy nowadays. In my assessment, African studies in Russia are on the right road.
The challenges our African Studies are facing now are the same as the whole Russian Academy are facing, and they are mainly related to the bureaucratic pressure on research institutions.
How about academic cooperation with similar institutions inside Africa? Do you exchange researchers and share reports with African colleagues?
At the moment, the Institute has Agreements on Cooperation or Memorandums of Understanding with 18 universities and research institutes from 12 African states and currently there are negotiations with two more institutions from one more country.
As noted above, many African scholars come to our conferences, and we had and will have jointly organized conferences with particularly Tanzanian partners. Our partners help organize the Institute researchers’ fieldwork in their countries the outcome of which, besides other points, are joint publications (for example, with our colleagues from Tanzania and Zambia).
It is important to say that African colleagues regularly publish their articles in “The Journal of the Institute for African Studies”. We also have book exchange programs with some of our African partners. However, we do not have well-established exchange of researchers with our African partners, especially because of financial difficulties from both sides.
Besides, I must say that not all African partners, even those with whom we have official Memorandums of Understanding or Agreements on Cooperation, are really active in supporting ties with us, some of them do not initiate any joint projects and remain passive when we propose something. Nevertheless, we do have good and diversified ties with many African partners.
And the future vision for the IAS? How would you like the IAS transform, or say, diversify its activities especially now the Kremlin prioritizes Africa?
As I see it, the Institute’s forseeable future will be based on two main developments. On the one hand, it will more and more become a “think tank” for the state and business, and most probably, this development will dominate.
On the other hand, I hope the Institute will remain as a research institution where fundamental studies into different aspects of African and African diaspora’s past and present are done. The Institute for African Studies has the potential and capacity for combining both trends at a high level and far into the future.
As it becomes clearer from the discussion, I see the prospects for the Institute’s further development, in attracting more young researchers with their energy and new visions and approaches, in extending fieldwork in Africa, and in broadening international cooperation with Africanists worldwide.
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