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Russia and Africa to Boost Trade

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Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that trade between Russia and Africa would grow further as more and more African partners continued to show interest in having Russians in the economic sectors in Africa.

“Our African partners are interested in Russian business working more actively there. This provides greater competition between the companies from Western countries, China, and Russia. With competition for developing mineral resources in Africa, it is easier and cheaper for our African colleagues to choose partners,” he told the staff and students at Moscow State Institute of International Affairs early September.

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. The past few years, it is still struggling to survive both the United States and European sanctions.

 “Of course, relations with many foreign countries have faded into the background compared with the challenges the country had to deal with in order to preserve its statehood. 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. This process has been ongoing for the past 15 years,” Lavrov further said about post-Soviet Russia’s relations with Africa.

“Overall, we are, of course, far from the absolute figures characterising trade and investment cooperation between the African countries and, say, China. However, our trade grew by 17 per cent over the past year (which is a sizable number) to over US$20 billion and it continues to grow,” he informed the fully-packed auditorium.

Five years ago, precisely in May 2014, Lavrov said in a speech posted to the official website: “we attach special significance to deepening our trade and investment cooperation with the African States. Russia provides African countries with extensive preferences in trade. At the same time, it is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russian and African partners know more about each other’s capacities and needs.”

Reports, however, show that Russia has started strengthening its economic cooperation by opening trade missions with the responsibility of providing sustainable business services and plans to facilitate import-export trade in a number of African countries. Besides all that, Russia has embarked on “Doing Business in Africa” campaign to encourage Russian businesses to take advantage of growing trade and investment opportunities in Africa.

Statistics on Africa’s trade with foreign countries vary largely. For example, the total United States two-way trade in Africa has actually fallen off in recent years, to about US$60 billion, far eclipsed by the European Union with over US$200 billion, and also China more than US$200 billion, according to Africa in Focus post by the Brookings Institution.

According to the African Development Bank, Africa’s economy is growing faster than those of any other regions. Nearly half of Africa’s countries are now classified as middle income countries, the numbers of Africans living below the poverty line fell to 39 percent as compared to 51 percent in 2016, and around 350 million of Africa’s one billion people are now earning good incomes – rising consumerism – that makes trade profitable.

As far back in October 2007, Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry posted an official report on its website that traditional products from least developed countries (including Africa) would be exempted from import tariffs. The legislation stipulates that the traditional goods are eligible for preferential customs and tariffs treatment.

While Russia announced this preferential tariff regime for developing countries, which also granted duty-free access for African products, potential African exporters either failed to take advantage of it or were unaware of the advantageous terms for boosting trade.

Analyzing the present market landscape of Africa, Russia can export its technology and compete on equal terms with China, India and other prominent players. On the other hand, Russia lacks the competitive advantage in terms of finished industrial (manufactured) products that African consumers obtain from Asian countries such as China, India, Japan and South Korea.

Charles Robertson, Global Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital, thinks that the major problem is incentives. China has two major incentives to invest in Africa. First, China needs to buy resources, while Russia does not.

Second, Chinese exports are suitable for Africa – whether it is textiles or iPads, goods made in China can be sold in Africa. Russia exports little except oil and has (roughly 2/3 of exports), steel and metals (which is either not cost effective to sell in Africa, or again is the same as Africa is selling) and military weapons.

Keir Giles, an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, told me in an email that “there are some more fundamental problems which Russia would need to overcome to boost its trade turnover with the region. The majority of this vast amount of trade with China simply cannot be competed with by Russia. A large part of African exports to China by value is made up of oil, which Russia does not need to import. And a large part of China’s exports to Africa are consumer goods, which Russia doesn’t really produce.”

He explains further that trade in foodstuffs in both directions suffers similar challenges, which are unlikely to be affected by the current politically-motivated Russian ban on foods from the European Union, the United States and Australia.

In effect, in sharp contrast to China, the make-up of Russian exports has not really developed since the end of the Soviet Union and still consists mostly of oil, gas, arms and raw materials. For as long as that continues, the scope for ongoing trading with most African nations is going to be severely limited.

Academic experts, who have researched Russia’s foreign policy in Africa, at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies, have reiterated that Russia’s exports to Africa can be possible only after the country’s industrial based experiences a more qualitative change and introducing tariff preferences for trade with African partners.

“The situation in Russian-African foreign trade will change for the better, if Russian industry undergoes rapid technological modernization, the state provides Russian businessmen systematic and meaningful support, and small and medium businesses receive wider access to foreign economic cooperation with Africa,” according to Professor Aleksey Vasiliyev, President of the Institute for African Studies and the first appointed Special Presidential Representative to Africa.

Quite recently, Dr. Gideon Shoo, Media Business Consultant based in Kilimanjaro Region in Tanzania, has explained in an interview discussion with me that Russian companies need to prove their superiority in the business spheres and African governments have to make it easier for Russian companies to set up and operate in their countries.

“Russian financial institutions can offer credit support that will allow them to localize their production in Africa’s industrial zones, especially southern and eastern African regions that show some stability and have good investment and business incentives. In order to operate more effectively, Russians have to risk by investing, recognize the importance of cooperation on key investment issues and to work closely on the challenges and opportunities on the continent,” he added.

On the other hand, Dr. Shoo noted that Russia is, so far, a closed market to many African countries. It is difficult to access the Russian market. However, African countries have to look to new emerging markets for export products, make efforts to negotiate for access to these markets. This can be another aspect of the economic cooperation and great business opportunity for both regions.

Nearly all the experts have acknowledged here that import and export trade have been slow due to multiple reasons including inadequate knowledge of trade procedures, complicated certification procedures, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, rules and regulations as well as the existing market conditions.

By looking at the rules and regulations, the situation about Russia’s presence in Africa and Africa’s presence in Russia could be changed. All that is necessary here is for Russia and Africa to make consistent efforts for raising the level of trade and business in both regions, Russia and Africa.

For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and new strategies for cooperation in economic areas in Africa. Now, Kremlin will hold the first Russia-Africa Summit with high hopes of enhancing multifaceted ties, reshape the existing relationships and significantly roll out ways to increase effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa.

During the past decades, a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have held gatherings of this kind in that format. The idea to hold a Russia-Africa Summit was initiated by President Vladimir Putin at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg in July 2018.

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

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Africa

Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced

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Two displaced women sit at a camp in Awaradi, Niger. © UNOCHA/Eve Sabbagh

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Friday for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, informed that internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, going from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late last year.

The number of refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger now stands at 410,000, and the majority comes from Mali, where major civil conflict erupted in 2012, leading to a failed coup and an on-going extremist insurgency.

Increase in one year

Just last year, a surge in violent attacks across the region displaced nearly 500,000 people (figures for December still pending).

According to estimates from UN partners, armed groups carried out more than 800 deadly attacks in 2021. 

This violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighbouring country.

In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of the year. Six in ten of the Sahel’s displaced are now from this country.

In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua has increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced internally, representing a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

Climate, humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with crises on multiple fronts.

Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the climate crisis are also felt more strongly in the region, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.

Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.

According to the UNHCR spokesperson, “host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in welcoming displaced families, despite their own scant resources.”

He also said that Government authorities have demonstrated “unwavering commitment” to assisting the displaced, but they are now “buckling under increasing pressure.”

Bold response

UNHCR and humanitarian partners face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, and continue to be the target of road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking.

In this context, the agency is calling on the international community to take “bold action and spare no effort” in supporting these countries.

UNHCR is also leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and deliver vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.

In 2021, more than a third of the agency’s Central Sahel funding needs were unmet.

This year, to mount an effective response in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the agency needs $307 million.

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SADC extends its joint military mission in Mozambique

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has collectively decided to extend its force mission mandate in Mozambique for three months to provide military support in fighting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, the northern seaside provincial district that suffered frequent militant attacks displacing thousands out of their homes.

The South African Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), according to the final communiqué released after the leaders of the southern African countries gathered to review significant issues, among them the operations of the joint military force dispatched last year as attacks reached its greater heights to Mozambique.

Chairperson of the SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defense and Security and South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa told the gathering in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, where the regional bloc held its extraordinary summit and reviewed progress in Mozambique, described SAMIM as highly successful in defeating the militant groups particularly in Cabo Delgado.

“I would like to express my appreciation and commend SAMIM for its work on the ground, as well as recognize the member states that have supported this work financially and in the deployment of military personnel and equipment,” the final report quoted Ramaphosa.

SADC cannot allow terrorism to spread to other provinces in Mozambique and to the region, and it is imperative to promote a spirit of unity among member countries as terrorism and violent extremism threaten the stability and development that the region has achieved over the past four decades, says the report.

The communiqué also approved the framework for support to Mozambique in addressing terrorism outlines, among others, comprehensive strategic actions for consolidating peace, security, and the socio-economic recovery of Cabo Delgado.

The Maputo daily Noticias wrote after the SADC summit that a budgetary allocation of US$29.5 million has been set aside for the three-month extension, after several years of high-level consultations and this would mean until at least mid-April. The SAMIM extension set from mid-January.

Addressing the opening session of the summit, the current SADC Chairperson, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, urged regional bloc member states to stick together and ensure that SAMIM remains multidimensional and comprehensive. He entreated SADC member countries not to relent, regress or even retreat on their commitments.

“What remains now is for us to stay the course and stick together. We cannot relent. We cannot regress. We cannot retreat. Our approach to this mission must continue to be multidimensional and comprehensive. It must not only focus on neutralizing the threat, but also have post-conflict plans to rebuild,” said Chakwera, added that the collective mission is paramount and the stakes for all the Member States are high because what they are fighting for is regional stability, and the sustainability of the quest for the bloc’s integration and socio-economic development.

Chakwera welcomed the comprehensive Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan launched by his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Nyusi, and his government, which, among other issues, seeks to provide humanitarian support to the affected population, including internally displaced persons, and uplift their living standards.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi however expressed high optimism about the current military situation in Cabo Delgado. He said that all the bases from which the terrorists used to plan their actions are now in the hands of the Mozambican forces, and 2022 would be a decisive year to support the regional standby force in the final fight against terrorism in Mozambique.

For the Mozambican President Nyusi the extension of the SAMIM mission demonstrates the spirit of unity and solidarity that the Southern African Development Community members have readily and warmheartedly shown with the people of Mozambique.

Mozambique has grappled with an insurgency in its northernmost province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, but currently fast improving after the deployment of joint military force with the primary responsibility of ensuring peace and stability, and for restoring normalcy in Mozambique.

Mozambique has consistently maintained that all problems especially relating to conflicts and crises should be resolved largely based on the approaches of Africans, and of course with moral, political and material support from regional blocs such as SADC and the continental organization – African Union, and the involvement of United Nations with its UN Security Council.

With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources but remains one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. Mozambique is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

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Mali: Security Council warned of ‘endless cycle of instability’

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The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has supported peace and reconciliation efforts in the country. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

A decade after civil conflict erupted in Mali, hopes for an early resolution to insurgency and strife have not materialized, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, El-Ghassim Wane, told the Security Council on Tuesday.  

Instead, the UN top envoy explained, “insecurity has expanded, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, more children are of out of school and the country has been affected by an endless cycle of instability.”  

In fact, more than 1.8 million people are expected to need food assistance in 2022 compared to 1.3 million in 2021, the highest level of food insecurity recorded since 2014.  

And more than half a million children have been affected by school closures, which the envoy believes puts “the future of the country in jeopardy”.  

Despite these challenges, Mr. Wane argued that the situation “would have been far worse” without the engagement of the international community, including the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in 2013.  

The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a failed military coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists. 

Standoff 

The Special Representative also briefed the Council on the current stand-off between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Malian transitional leadership, controlled by the military.  

Over the weekend, ECOWAS held an Extraordinary Summit and decided that the proposed timetable for the transition, lasting up to five and a half years, was “totally unacceptable”. 

Urging Malian authorities to focus on a speedy return to constitutional order, they decided to uphold individual sanctions put in place on 12 December and imposed additional ones. 

The new sanctions include the recall of ambassadors from Bamako, the closing of land and air borders, suspension of all commercial and financial transactions (with some exemptions), and the suspension of financial assistance, among others.  

Mali reciprocated by recalling its ambassadors and closing its borders with ECOWAS Member States.  

In an address to the nation on Monday evening, however, Transition President, Colonel Assimi Goita, called for unity and calm, stating that Mali remains open to dialogue.  

Mr. Wane explained that supporting the transition is a key aspect of the MINUSMA mandate, so the mission will try to find a consensual way out to overcome the impasse. 

“A protracted impasse will make it much harder to find a consensual way out, while increasing hardship for the population and further weakening state capacity”, he argued, warning that such scenario would “have far-reaching consequences for Mali and its neighbours.”  

Beyond the political transition, Mr. Wane believes it is also crucial that the Council continues to pay attention to the implementation of the peace agreement and to stability in the Centre of the divided nation, calling it two “building blocks” for a peaceful and stable Mali.  

‘Window of opportunity’ 

Back in December, a process of national consultation, known as Assises nationales de la refondation, ended with a series of main recommendations, including a constitutional review, the creation of a Senate, the acceleration of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process and territorial decentralization.  

For Mr. Wane, these proposals “offer a window of opportunity on which all stakeholders should build upon to move forward on the implementation of the peace agreement.” 

The Special Representative also provided an update on MINUSMA’s activities, noting that 2021 saw more extremist attacks than any years prior.  

The mission ended the year with the highest number of casualties since 2013, following a significant rise of attacks targeting main axes, convoys, camps, and temporary operating bases.  

In total, 28 peacekeepers died, including seven Togolese in a single incident back in December.  

Humanitarian situation 

The conflict has also had a devastating impact on civilians and the humanitarian situation.  

On 3 December for instance, 32 civilians, including 26 women and children, were killed near Songho when their bus was attacked by extremist elements.  

In just one year, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) increased from 216,000 to more than 400,000.  

In such difficult circumstances, Mr. Wane described the response to the humanitarian appeal as “lukewarm”, with only 38 per cent of funding received.  

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