After Soviet collapse, Russia has maintained strong and time-tested relations with African countries, and of course, the Soviet Union had played an important role during the decolonisation of Africa. The African continent comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of development setbacks and challenges. The political culture and investment climate are, in fact, diverse but are important forces in the economy.
According to several development reports, Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world: the average annual GDP growth rate reaches from 3.5% to 5% on the continent. The reports have strongly encouraged African leaders to prioritise sustainable development as a step towards raising the living standards of millions of impoverished population and further guide against the revival of neo-colonialism, the destructive attitude towards the resouces in Africa.
In this wide-ranging exclusive interview, George Nyongesa, Senior Associate at Africa Policy Institute (Nairobi, Kenya) discusses, with Kester Kenn Klomegah, attitudes and perceptions toward Russia, economic cooperation between the two regions as well as Russia’s role in sustainable development in Africa and expectations from the forthcoming summit in Sochi, Russia.
African leaders and business people will be in Sochi for the first Summit. What are the perceptions and attitudes toward this new dawn in the relations? How do the political and business elites interpret the benefits of the new relationship for both Africa and in Russia?
The impending Russia-Africa Summit is a timely and opportune congregation given current global events involving Africa’s traditional partners – the US’ recent years’ protectionist policy, China’s trade wars with the US, Brexit from the European Union – all of which directly impact Africa’s economic reality. For African leaders and business people, the utility and strategic importance of the Russia-Africa Summit is tied to how aptly it addresses this immediate reality and outlines future prospects.
To-date the US, European Union, China, India and Japan have partnered with African leaders to pursue development goals for mutual benefit. Accordingly, these partners have long articulated their engagement plans for Africa through comprehensive frameworks such as the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit and Power Africa Initiative, the European Union-Africa Summit, the Forum for China Africa Cooperation, the India-Africa Summit and Tokyo International Conference for African Development. The first Russia-Africa Summit therefore signals the dawn of deeper and stronger relations between Russia and Africa as Russia takes on a more active presence.
At Sochi, African leaders and business community will be looking to understand the proposed Russian framework for political and economic cooperation going forward, particularly long-term cooperation that takes into account Africa’s risk profile and the current competitive landscape for those seeking to invest. The business community will be keen to identify in-roads and opportunities for African businesses to grow and thrive in Russia vis-a-vis Africa’s development priorities on Agenda 2063, SADC’s industrialisation strategy and AfCFTA platform.
During the parliamentary conference held in July, the Chairman of the State Duma stressed that “it is necessary to prevent the revival of neo-colonialism, the destructive attitude towards the African resources.” How would you explain neo-colonialism by foreign players in Africa? What countries are the neo-colonizers in your view?
Neo-colonialism could be viewed as the renewed interest and methods employed from western and eastern countries in relation to exploitation and management of Africa’s rich resources – both from an economic and political paradigm. Traditionally, Western aid for African development has been laced with conditionalities tagged to defending human rights and promoting good governance via anti-corruption campaigns. This approach has seen compliant countries favored and non-compliant ones sanctioned by such Western nations. The interference with independent states has widely been castigated as neo-colonialism in many quarters. The alternative development model offered under the Belt and Road Initiative has facilitated the rise of China to displace the West as Africa’s largest development partner.
With the entire African continent (save for one country) signed up to BRI, Western countries’ worries about China expansionism has escalated. In this regard, BRI has been hit with accusations of debt trap diplomacy as far as its roll out in Africa. This is because the projects are run by Chinese businesses and where African nations struggle to repay the debt, then China is primed to step in and run the projects. The warning is that these seemingly friendlier loan terms could foster unsustainable debt and economic drain on African economies.
Outside of the economic dynamic, China has been accused of supporting authoritarian governments by its loan terms, and that in default situations, China’s remedies result in significant geopolitical expansion for China. To counter the growing Chinese influence, the United States has itself set up an African focused development agency that facilitates American businesses to flourish in developing Africa. These hegemonic tussles make for the neo-colonial danger that sees these development partners prosper to the exclusion of Africa itself.
In fact, Africa needs investment in infrastructure, agriculture and industry, to create employment for the young graduates. What role can Russia play here, we are referring to Sustainable Development Goals?
Africa’s regional development priorities are largely articulated by the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the SADC’s Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap, 2015-2063 and the implementation of the recently adopted African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Briefly, these priorities include industrialisation for economic and technological transformation; competitiveness; and regional integration. Africa is keen to shift away from industrialisation powered by increased labour and capital investment, to one powered by efficient resource deployment in production processes. AfCFTA particularly presents a significant consolidated voice for African states to negotiate economic and trade opportunities in e-commerce, technology transfers, manufacturing growth, scholarship and training; and infrastructure financing. Additionally, each of Africa’s 54 states have nationally articulated development priorities. These development goals have been designed as steps in pursuit of the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals.
Towards achieving these goals China has offered as much as US$60 billion, Japan US$32 billion, and India US$25 billion, while large investment funds have also come from the United States and the European Union. Similarly, Russia could design a funding vehicle focused on supporting Africa’s development priorities, particularly industrialisation and trade facilitation, for mutual benefit. Russia could further share knowledge on its own steps towards the MDGs and train professionals with the relevant skills for development projects. Such training could either be by the rollout of inter-university student exchange programs or the collaboration amongst academia to teach relevant skills in local curriculum in vocational institutions.
With trade specifically, there are surging competition, rivalry and trade wars in Africa, and recently the adoption of African continental free trade. What is your interpretation of all these and how profitable could it be for corporate Russian exporters?
Russia has progressively engaged Africa on bilateral basis at country level, as well as through regional blocs such as AU and SADC, at continental level. The adoption of the largest trade agreement since the WTO, the AfCFTA, signals the exponential potential of Africa as a trading bloc, going forward. The intention of AfCFTA is to provide a significant consolidated voice for African states to negotiate economic and trade opportunities in e-commerce, technology transfers, manufacturing growth, scholarship and training; and infrastructure financing. It is anticipated that there will be an additional 1.3 billion people in Africa by 2050. This is a massive market for Russian corporates to explore if they can leverage mutually beneficial engagement at the AfCFTA level.
In your expert view, what are the key challenges and problems facing Russian companies and investors that wanted business operations in Africa?
Africa’s active business development partners have been the United States, European Union, China, India and Japan, but less so Russia. As such, there’s limited shared knowledge on the value proposition of development and business collaboration between the two. Additionally, the absence of an articulated collaboration framework has meant that African and Russian policy makers are yet to design appropriate collaboration channels and tools that would facilitate mutually beneficial investment and ease of doing business. Related gaps include the prevailing language and cultural barrier that is, as yet, to be actively addressed. These, coupled with other prevailing hurdles to doing business in Africa such as limited infrastructure, high local unemployment rates, semi-skilled workers and protection of local industries, have hindered the set up of local business operations by Russian companies and investors.
On the other hand, why the presence of African companies on the Russian market is extremely low? Why Russia is not attractive to African exporters? Under the circumstances, what should be done to improve the current situation, a two-way trade?
The African perception of Russia and vice versa has largely been painted by other Western powers that are active on the African continent. That public persona is not one that has been enticing for African exporters. As such, Africa’s knowledge of the opportunities in trading with Russia is significantly limited. Opportunities for driving up trade relations between Russia and Africa include the facilitation of trade expos that create a platform for investors and businesses from both parties to interact and understand the opportunities and challenges to their export and import businesses. In addition, continued interaction between Russia and Africa, such as through exchange programs for students, or business cultural trips, will facilitate the chipping away at the language and cultural barrier that in turn hinders easy trade. If both Russia and Africa are able to showcase the available market for each other’s products, then trade engagement is likely to increase.
Could we finally talk about media cooperation between Russia and Africa, social platforms and the use of soft power as important instruments for strengthening the relations? What are your suggestions to these aspects in the existing relations between the Russia and Africa?
As part of Russia’s desire to adopt a comprehensive strategic roadmap for a more integrated cooperation and to find effective ways of improving public diplomacy in Africa, the Russian government is supporting a pilot programme organised for African media groups for a two-year period from 2018 to 2020. The utility of this approach is to develop a cohort of champions that will facilitate a positive post-Soviet economic and cultural narrative, as well as demystify Russia for Africa’s political, business and general population. Through this, Russians and Africans will be able to leverage soft power to build trust from shared experience, shift towards normalisation of relations through increased familiarity, set the stage for increased reciprocity such as Russia granting accessibility for African correspondents to match Russia’s increased media presence in Africa. In a nutshell, there will be an avenue for demystification and contextualisation (getting to know the truth about each other through moderated content) and so help counter any negative public persona, share cultural experiences and begin to wear down language barriers.
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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