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
Situation in central Mali ‘deteriorating’ as violence, impunity rise
The growing violence has contributed to a deteriorating security situation in central Mali, with impunity being one of the aggravating factors, an independent UN human rights expert warned on Friday.
“In central Mali, I observed an accumulation of security, judicial and administrative failures that facilitates mass violence with impunity. The Malian Armed Forces and MINUSMA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) have failed to provide adequate security for the civilians of the region,” Alioune Tine, the UN Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali, said in a statement following his visit to the country.
He said that civilians have been victimized by transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups and armed militia which are grasping control of the region.
The human rights expert was told that the perpetrators of previous attacks in different regions have not been held accountable, thus making impunity as one of the aggravating factors of the current violence.
The slow judicial process is due to the security situation, which makes arresting the alleged perpetrators complicated, as well as the climate of fear, with witnesses and victims afraid of reprisals.
“The current violence is increasingly difficult to control and could become a major threat to the entire sub-region,” Mr. Tine warned, adding that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union must urgently find effective remedies to end violence and serious human rights violations in central Mali.
He also urged the UN Security Council to reassess the situation and adjust the mandate of the MINUSMA accordingly.
Improvement in northern Mali a ‘major turning point’
Despite the worsening situation in central Mali, there has been some positive progress in the north.
“The implementation of the Algiers Agreement in 2015 in northern Mali, with the gradual redeployment of the rebuilt Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) in Kidal and Timbuktu and their upcoming deployment in Menaka and Taoudeni, is an important step towards the return to peace,” said Mr. Tine.
Calling this improvement “a major turning point”, the UN expert also commended the efforts of the Malian state, armed groups and MINUSMA throughout this process.
“The resolutions currently being implemented bring a new hope for peace and for a gradual return to a peaceful political process in northern Mali, through the organization of legislative elections,” he said.
The 2015 Algiers Agreement is an Algerian-brokered agreement for peace and reconciliation in Mali, signed among the Government of Mali, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad and the Plateforme armed group.
Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Escalating Burkina Faso violence brings wider Sahel displacement emergency into focus
Deadly attacks on villages in Burkina Faso have forced 150,000 people to flee in just the last three weeks, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday, warning of a displacement emergency in the wider Sahel region.
Amid a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets which the UN says have risen five-fold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016, UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said that survivors needed safety, shelter, food and water “everywhere”.
Help is particularly needed in northern Burkina Faso, where displaced families are staying with host communities who have little in the way of resources themselves.
Some 4,000 people a day flee violence
The new arrivals are “occupying whatever space is available”, the UNHCR official explained, stressing that more than 4,000 people a day have fled attacks in Burkina Faso, since 1 January.
“So far, 765,000 people have already been displaced, of whom more than 700,000 in the past 12 months,” he noted.
Those forced to flee “report attacks on their villages by militant groups, killing, raping, and pillaging,” the UNHCR official said. “Terrified of these attacks, residents have left everything behind to find safety.”
A similar pattern of violence has driven people from their homes in Mali and Niger, adding to the longstanding insecurity crisis further afield in the Lake Chad region, where the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) estimates that 2.3 million people are displaced.
Following a recent string of attacks in Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua regions, UNHCR reported that 4,400 people have fled into neighbouring Mali, while the same wave of violence has displaced around 11,000 people inside Niger.
“They have found refuge in nearby towns of Banibangu and Ouallam, where assistance is being provided,” Mr. Mahecic said, noting that the regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua host 58,000 refugees from Mali and nearly 81,000 displaced people.
In central Mali, the UNHCR official noted that the latest attacks on the village of Ogossagou on 14 February had claimed 30 lives.
‘Too afraid to move’
“Safety is needed for these people,” he said. “In some of these situations, people are so afraid of the insecurity and violence around them that even though they are under attack or fearing of an attack, they do not dare to move.”
The Sahel region encompasses an area south of the Sahara Desert spanning 10 countries from Senegal in the west to Eritrea, in the east.
Violence there intensified after the 2011 revolution in Libya, and an uprising in Mali a year later. As a result, terrorist groups, organized criminal groups and others took advantage of weak governance and ethnic tensions to move across borders and terrorize local populations.
Highlighting severe challenges in accessing the needs of victims of violence throughout the Sahel region, Mr. Mahecic explained that safety, shelter food and water were a priority.
Clothing and other basic items, including dignity kits for women and girls, were also urgently needed, he said, along with counselling for survivors of atrocities.
“What we know right now, is that the violence and the frequency of these attacks have increased, the intensity has increased, and we know that this is the key reason behind this massive displacement,” he said.
Safe access vital to traumatized communities
UNHCR and its partners have stepped up their response, including by strengthening health and education facilities for communities, Mr. Mahecic added, before appealing for safe access for humanitarians to deliver assistance.
According to the UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), violence in the Sahel claimed more than 4,000 lives in 2019, compared to 770 in 2013.
In a briefing to the Security Council last month, Mohamed Ibn Chambas described “relentless attacks” that had shaken public confidence in the authorities.
“Most significantly,” he said, “the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal States.”
Mr. Chambas also explained how the attacks were often perpetrated by extremists looking to engage in illicit activities that included capturing weapons and illegal artisanal mining.
“Extremists provide safety and protection to populations, as well as social services in exchanged for loyalty”, he said.
Violence in North and West Africa increasingly targeting civilian and border areas
Violence in North and West Africa is increasingly targeting civilian and border regions as today’s conflicts involve non-state actors with diverging agendas, according to a new report by the OECD’s Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC).
The report uses granular data to assess the intensity and geographical distribution of violence in the region since 1997. It finds that the last five years have been the most violent recorded in North and West Africa, with more than 60,000 people killed between January 2015 and the end of 2019. More than 40% of violent events and fatalities occur within 100 km of a land border, and 10% of deaths from political violence occur less than 10 km from a border. Civilians are increasingly specific targets of violence, rather than just being caught in cross fire.
The report uses a “Spatial Conflict Dynamics Indicator” to show which regions of North and West Africa experience the most conflict, how conflicts evolve geographically over time and how military interventions affect the intensity and spread of violence. It notes that attempts to stabilise the region are complicated due to the number of players involved and their shifting alliances.
“Paying close attention to the geography and dynamics of these deadly conflicts and the complex interactions between the large numbers of actors involved may help to find ways to resolve this worsening insecurity,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, presenting the report at the Munich Security Conference.
The Sahara-Sahel region is suffering from exceptional levels of political instability involving a combination of rebellions, jihadist insurgencies, coups d’état, protest movements and illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and migrants. Conflicts tend to regionalise across borders as armed groups defeated by counter-insurgency efforts relocate to other countries. The geographic spread and opportunistic relocation of conflicts is exacerbated by a lack of controls on many African borders that facilitates the circulation of fighters, hostages and weapons.
The study calls for states in the region and the international community to promote regional initiatives to restore state legitimacy, increase investment in border regions and improve protection of civilians — creating secure regions where inclusive forms of policies are put in place and a strong dialogue between states, local actors and populations is reinforced.
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