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African Great Game: Russia Playing the Catchup

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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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.

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

Violence in North and West Africa increasingly targeting civilian and border areas

MD Staff

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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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Russia’s interest in South Sudan

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On January 27-29, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of South Sudan, Awut Deng Acuil, made an official working visit to Moscow where she held diplomatic talks focused on strengthening economic cooperation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

She is a South Sudanese politician and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation since August 2019. For the first time, Awut Deng Acuil was visiting Moscow – this made it more meaningful and significant to discuss ways of moving forward with relations and comprehensive development of cooperation with the Russian Federation. Russia and South Sudan already signed a Memorandum of Consultations between both Foreign Ministries last October 2019 in Sochi, during the first Russia-Africa Summit.

“There is potential for expanding trade and economic cooperation, including in such areas as energy, construction, development of automobile, railway and pipeline infrastructure, and agriculture. One of the promising areas of bilateral cooperation is the development of the fuel and energy complex in South Sudan. A number of projects with Russian participation are already being implemented,” according to the media report released before the official talks held January 28.

“We have discussed the prospects of bilateral cooperation, first of all, with an emphasis on the development of its economic cooperation. We informed our colleagues about the Russian companies working in the oil and gas, infrastructure, railway and transport sectors that are ready to discuss possible mutually beneficial projects with our South Sudanese partners,” Lavrov said at the media briefing after their closed diplomatic talks.

Back in 2016, Russia and South Sudan also signed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Military Technical Cooperation, which is still effective. Both have agreed to use this sphere of cooperation in order to strengthen security and military capability of South Sudan, only after the United Nations Security Council lifts finally its restrictions on weapons trade with that country.

South Sudan, a landlocked country located in the east-central Africa, is making efforts for further recognition and climb onto a global stage. Africa gaining its independence in July 2011, to become the 55th African state, it has suffered ethnic violence and endured civil war since 2013.

The United States supported the 2011 referendum on South Sudan’s independence. The New York Times reported that “South Sudan is in many ways an American creation, carved out of war-torn Sudan in a referendum largely orchestrated by the United States, its fragile institutions nurtured with billions of dollars in American aid.”

The U.S. government’s long-standing sanctions against Sudan were officially removed from applicability to newly independent South Sudan in December 2011, and senior South Sudanese officials participated in a high-level international engagement conference in Washington, D.C., to help connect foreign investors with the RSS and South Sudanese private sector representatives

South Sudan has a population of 12 million, and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. It, however, exports timber to the international market. The region contains many natural resources, but as in many other developing countries, the economy is heavily dependent on agriculture.

It has the third-largest oil reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, after South Sudan became an independent nation in July 2011, southern and northern negotiators were not immediately able to reach an agreement on how to split the revenue from these southern oilfields.

It is estimated that South Sudan has around four times the oil deposits of Sudan. The oil revenues, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), were split equally for the duration of the agreement period. Since South Sudan relies on pipelines, refineries, and Port Sudan‘s facilities in Red Sea state in Sudan, the agreement stated that the government of Sudan in Khartoum would receive a 50% share of all oil revenues.

South Sudan is attracting many foreign players. But currently, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is a major investor in South Sudan’s oil sector. It is under pressure to diversify away from oil as oil reserves will likely halve by 2020 if no new finds are made, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Abraham Telar Kuc, a postgraduate researcher on Diplomacy and International Relations at the Institute of Peace, Development and Security Studies, University of Juba, and currently with South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, suggests South Sudan officials take advantage of the strategic geo-political location, especially use its membership of different international and regional political cooperation and economic integration blocs, to improve the economy.

More recently, economic partnership, in general, is gaining momentum in direct foreign investments through bilateral and multilateral relations. India is investing limitedly in South Sudan oil sector through India’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission. In addition, Indian companies are investing in the ICT, pharmaceuticals and medical services, finance and banking, housing and construction sectors. India companies such as Reliance Industries, Tata Group, Bajaj Group, Bharti Airtel Communications and others are making forays into the economy, according to Abraham Telar Kuc.

Abraham told Modern Diplomacy: “Soviet Union offered enormous support for liberation and pro-independence movements including those in South Sudan. We are glad that Russians are waking up for investments and existing economic opportunities in Africa, returning to the African arena and moving into new investment opportunities there. As influential government officials and businesspeople have expressed interest, it’s necessary to make sure that they get access to South Sudan.”

Russia and Africa have a long history relationship based on mutual trust, and are lined-up on the principles of equality and mutual respect. In recent years, strategic communications have intensified and are developing in various directions. Moscow has repeatedly indicated that it supports the principle “African solutions to African problems” formulated by the African countries.

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The children’s Continent: Keeping up with Africa’s growth

MD Staff

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The world’s population is growing, but it is in Africa where this challenge is particularly acute. We know Africa as the place where human life began – a place with an ancient and noble history, but today it is also a place that is becoming home to more children than any other place on earth. Already, 77% of population is below age of 35.

For many decades the enormous populations of South America, Europe and Asia have grown quickly, but today they have slowed, and the majority of their populations are adults. In India the average age is 29, in China it is even older, at 37. But in Africa, the average age is 19 years old and rapidly getting younger. The continent is growing so quickly that by halfway through this century, it will be home to one billion children. By 2050, two in every five children in the world will be born here.

This is going to present a unique challenge. Graça Machel has warned: “Even though our youth have the potential to transform Africa, if neglected, they could exacerbate poverty and inequality while threatening peace, security and prosperity”. Therefore, we must be proactive in ensuring we meet the needs of this burgeoning population.

But this flourishing of exciting new generations presents acute challenges. Evolving in tandem with this exponential population growth is a rate of urbanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa that is unmatched in the rest of the world.

Africa’s urban population is expected to nearly triple by 2050, to 1.34 billion. Coupled with a high rate of urban primacy in African countries (whereby one city is multiple times bigger than the next nearest) and the high number of mega cities, enormous stress is going to be placed on the physical, political, economic and societal infrastructure in these places.

Young people across the continent are increasingly migrating towards the modern technology, connectivity, and entrepreneurial opportunity of city life. Poverty, lack of resources and financial independence are simultaneously pushing them away from their rural lives.

Urbanisation is being driven by rural-urban migration, but city planners and management are not always prepared. Growth rates are unplanned, unregulated and beyond their ability to control. The problems manifest quickly from this point. High levels of unemployment lead to high levels of informal employment, which in turn is improperly taxed, denying vital financial capital to the state. Physical infrastructure is unable to keep pace, leading to overcrowding and informal accommodation. Waste management is unable to keep up, bringing its own environmental dangers.

SDG 11 has the stated goal of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. While progress has undoubtedly been made on this, there is a great need to act fast to guarantee the last part of this goal: sustainability. The environmental impact at local, national and international scale is at high risk, with rapidly-growing urban populations demanding instant solutions. We have seen innovative ideas spring from the continent already, such as Diamniadio in Senegal, Tatu City in Kenya, or Vision City in Rwanda – but more is needed.

It would be possible to talk at great length on the issues, and how one enables the next, creating a vortex of seemingly never-ending challenges. But we should view these challenges with resolve and see the opportunities that lie ahead.

Yes, Africa is facing some of the toughest challenges in the world right now. But it is also in Africa that we are seeing some of the most innovative, forward thinking ideas when it comes to tackling the issues.

It is in Africa where we can see the beginnings of the development of truly smart cities, with smarter infrastructure. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has given us unparalleled access to data analytics, providing us with real time solutions to real world problems, based on empirical data. We need to ensure we are making the most of this, driving smarter decision making.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) believes that science, technology and innovation have been solving global challenges on how we build and maintain our cities since the very beginning of civilisation. Investing in science, technology and innovation is a key driver for growing urban populations creating sustainable cities and communities, thereby achieving SDG 11.

Cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Affordable housing, safe & sustainable transport, mass migration, climate change and pollution affect us all, but those in the developing world experience these issues much more keenly due to weaker infrastructure.

IsDB has actively launched a science, technology and innovation fund to accelerate progress in cities worldwide. Transform is a $500 million fund for innovation and technology that provides seed money for start-ups and SMEs to facilitate economic and social progress in their respective cities and communities.

We will continue to drive our new development model that maximises our operating assets of $16 billion and subscribed capital of $70 billion to continue providing solutions to international infrastructure challenges.

financing investment Africa children population

The financing gap between what is required to achieve the SDGs versus the current level of investment

The challenges ahead of us require diverse, innovative solutions for the new generations in Africa. Already we can see young entrepreneurs taking the lead in their countries, but we need to be there to support them: helping develop human capital, nurturing the growth of science, technology and innovation in the journey towards the achievement of SDG 11.

Our energy must be focused – the size of the challenge offers little room for error – but we can look forwards with optimism that the solutions to the problems are taking root. We need to nurture and encourage them to flourish.

IsDB

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