Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent warm greetings to African leaders, business people and participants early October, signaling that everything is set for the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, southern coastal city of Russia.
The message reads, in part: “Today, the countries of Africa are well on their way towards social, economic, scientific and technological development, and are playing a significant role in international affairs. They are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union and other regional and sub‑regional organizations across the continent.”
In recent years, the traditionally friendly ties of partnership between Russia and Africa have gained new momentum, both at a bilateral level and in various multilateral formats. In addition to preserving past experience of successful cooperation, have also managed to make significant new steps forward.
Trade and investment are growing dynamically, and new joint projects are under way in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Russian companies are ready to offer their scientific and technological developments to their African partners, and share their experience of upgrading energy, transport and communications infrastructures, according to President Putin.
It is, broadly, expected that the Summit will help identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promote collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and further contribute enormously to the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Africa.
According to the Organizing Committee, some 50 African heads of state have already confirmed their participation. It will feature more than 200 CEOs, ministers of key industries, and representatives of the expert community from Russia and Africa. The events will be attended by more than 3,000 representatives of African businesses.
The main event are the plenary session “Russia-Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” during which the Presidents of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, are expected to speak. A final declaration of the Summit titled “For Peace, Security, and Development” has been prepared and it includes items on the global and regional agendas that are important for Russia as well as comprehensive proposals on diverse ways to develop the full scope of future Russian-African relations.
In addition, at least 23 intergovernmental and interagency agreements and other agreements between African and Russian companies will be signed on the sidelines.
Under the theme “Russia and Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” here are the key areas the Summit will discuss:-
*The Role of Media in Russian-African Relations
The African continent is becoming ever more important in today’s international order. Russian-African relations are adding an additional dimension to developments, especially with the boost provided by rapidly expanding links across a vast range of areas.
The media can, and indeed must be a decisive factor in building effective ties. Africa is frequently portrayed in the media as suffering from numerous intergovernmental, religious, and ethnic conflicts; political and economic instability; and an array of demographic and social problems. Knowledge of today’s Russia and the steps being taken by its political leaders to tackle global challenges is also given little space in the continent’s media landscape.
*Contribution of Nuclear Technologies in the Development of Africa
Today, African countries face major challenges. Rapid population growth and the worsening energy crisis are constraining economic growth on the continent. The poor transport infrastructure, access of the population to health services, low level of education and food supply insecurity are severely hampering Africa’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the region. It is clear that to solve these problems a large-scale development programme is required, including a strategy based on achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Nuclear technologies can become a driver for socio-economic development and a comprehensive solution to the systemic continent-wide problems.
*Humanitarian cooperation: Development Goals and Corporate Social Responsibility
Humanitarian partnership between Russia and African countries is becoming increasingly important. It is an area covering the development of human capital (education and culture), social programmes, healthcare, and access to essential benefits supporting people’s lives and national development in countries across the continent.
*Current Objectives in Developing the Housing Construction Market on the African Continent
Access to housing is one of the most pressing issues facing most African countries. Modern housing and a comprehensive approach to spatial planning can help ensure sustainable urban development and socioeconomic growth. We must now determine the needs of the housing construction market in African countries and identify joint solutions and ways of working together to achieve the most effective results in the shortest possible time. Practical steps aimed at identifying, supporting, and implementing joint projects are vital to such partnerships.
*Investing in Africa
In 2050, Africa’s total GDP will reach $29 tn, exceeding the combined GDP of US and Euro zone in 2012. Pan-African and national growth strategies as well as global thinktanks’ forecasts highlight the following growth areas and potential key drivers of the continent’s rise in the medium and long term: commodities; infrastructure (utilities and roads) and industrialization; demography; education; expanding middle class; access to financial services. These factors will define the continent’s investment outlook: future investment climate, current investments and their diversification. They have potential either to bolster or hamper the capital inflows.
*Economic Sovereignty for Africa: Problems and Solutions
In order to fulfil their development objectives and meet the needs of their citizens, countries in Africa are compelled to turn to foreign sources of financing. However, these mainly take the form of credit from international financial institutions and direct loans whereby the creditor imposes socioeconomic and political requirements which limit a country’s sovereignty. Sovereign bonds and other forms of borrowing on the capital market account for just a small proportion of African debt, but some countries on the continent are still unable to access this form of financing. As a result, more than USD 100 billion of borrowing potential is going untapped. More than USD 200 billion of existing debt could be refinanced under less stringent conditions.
*Russia and Africa: Energy for Development and Cooperation
Africa today has a population of over one billion people, huge resource potential and a platform for development. The continent has the potential to become one of the world’s largest economies and most populated regions by 2050 through organic growth and reform. Creating a foundation for growth at the very outset and using the continent’s mineral wealth in the most effective way possible requires the right energy policy.
*Transport Infrastructure on the African Continent: Opportunities to Implement Joint Projects
The transport sector in Africa possesses excellent potential for development. The continent’s railways offer great promise, as do joint ventures. Several African nations have prioritized the development of their transport infrastructures, particularly given transport’s ability to spur growth in key industries. The expansion of transport links brings with it additional jobs and expertise, and improves quality of life for the local population. Russia is able to offer technology and expertise at the very forefront of construction, planning, engineering, and equipment supplies. However, there remain a number of barriers to the market, as well as a lack of financing and country specific risks.
*Financing as an Essential Instrument of Economic Growth in Africa
The African continent has enormous economic potential and is actively integrating into the system of international economic relations. Prospects for Russia to increase its trade with African countries are directly linked to the diversification of its merchandise exports. However, this is only a realistic aim if international financing channels are put in place to facilitate growth in trade. Given the interest in Russia and Africa increasing economic cooperation, new solutions need to be found to implement ambitious trade projects.
*Russian–African Collaboration in the Diamond Industry
The diamond mining industry is key to the economies of several African countries, accounting for a significant portion of income from exports. Today, diamond mining faces a number of industry-wide challenges, attempts to tackle which will determine its future.
*The Future of the African Continent: Sovereignty and Traditional Values as Crucial Elements of a Development Strategy
In an era of globalization, protecting national values and priorities is a pressing concern. Economic and political sovereignty are the foundation of development in a polycentric world, and African countries are no exception. The African Union’s strategic framework Agenda 2063 highlights the importance of preserving African values and Pan-Africanism.
*Collaboration in Industry: Potential Areas of Growth
The development of high-tech and export-oriented industries in the Russian manufacturing sector has laid the groundwork for expanding areas of collaboration and launching ambitious long-term projects. What needs to be done to bring about a substantial improvement in collaboration between Russia and Africa? Which areas of cooperation are of most interest to Russian businesses and African nations? What projects and forms of Russian-African partnership are in need of financial support from parties such as Afreximbank?
*Doing Business in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities
Today, Africa is one of the most promising and fastest-growing regions of the world, with leading powers actively competing with one another. However, the continent should not be viewed as a single, monolithic market. Its economy varies from place to place in terms of type, scale, and structure. Africa today is a place of great political, cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity. As a result, each country has a unique business culture, requiring an individual approach from any company wishing to enter its market.
*Biosecurity: Current Projects and Opportunities for Cooperation
Global threats in today’s interconnected world, such as epidemics of infectious diseases, have a huge impact on the development of African nations. Robust healthcare systems and the ability to react to these threats can boost prosperity and help countries to thrive. Over the past few years, the African continent has had to tackle outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases affecting thousands of lives and costing national economies millions of dollars. Russia has a great deal of experience in reacting to health threats, and today is implementing large-scale projects in countries around the world.
*Digital Transformation as a Driver of State Development
Today, digitalization is a major driver of state development. Effective e-government simplifies communication between people and the state, and helps create an effective system for departments to interact with one another. As a result, people gain quicker access to government services. In turn, this leads to greater user satisfaction, and substantial monetary savings.
*The Eurasian Economic Union and Africa: Trends and Opportunities to Develop Integrated Processes and Collaborate
Over the past few decades, economic integration processes have become an overarching trend in regional development throughout the world. They have helped member states to successfully embed themselves in the global economy and minimize the risk of crises occurring in various industries. Economic integration provides a new perspective on crucial projects related to infrastructure, logistics, energy, trade, agricultural and industrial development, digitalization, migration policy, and employment.
It offers additional opportunities to form common approaches to issues concerning the environment, renewable energy, and other factors determining scientific and technological progress. In view of the substantial expertise that regional associations offer, the next logical step is to foster dialogue between them and exchange experience at the forefront of integration, with the aim of optimizing economic integration processes and collaborating on the widest possible range of issues.
*Technological Sovereignty and Security in a Digital World: Solutions to Tomorrow’s Challenges
Africa’s fast-growing commercial sector is making rapid inroads in the virtual space. African companies are overcoming problems related to communication and financial infrastructure and choosing to immediately build their business online, implementing modern mobile solutions as they do so. However, the cyber security measures used by these fast-growing companies cannot keep up with their rapid development, leaving the companies vulnerable to cyber criminals.
In terms of governmental information systems, a monopolization of global IT markets by a handful of major Western corporations could result in financial losses in Africa, threatening citizens’ personal safety and Africa’s sovereignty at large. Russian companies are global leaders in digital security and are capable of protecting African businesses from cyber threats while ensuring digital sovereignty for African states. Success can be guaranteed through building partnerships between African and Russian companies and training up an IT security workforce in each country.
*Using Minerals in Africa for the Benefit of Its Peoples
There is a long history of Soviet and Russian specialists participating in and supporting the systemic geological study of a number of countries in the African continent. Their work on natural resource bases has done a great deal to aid mineral extraction. These countries now have the opportunity to leverage modern means of geological research and exploration, and in doing so, continue the comprehensive study of subsoil resources. This could lead to new and globally unique sites being developed, both on land and the continental shelf.
*Business Associations in Russia and Africa: A Starting Point for Long-Term Business Partnership
A major barrier hindering greater cooperation between the Russian and African business communities is a lack of awareness regarding the current state of markets, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is also an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. These issues can be solved through establishing an effective system of communication between public business associations in Russia and African nations. These organizations can both serve the interests of entrepreneurs, and also guarantee their reliability and integrity.
*Russia and Africa: Science, Education, and Innovation for Economic Development
The accelerated development of both Russia’s and Africa’s economic potential is inextricably linked to scientific output and the improvement of general education and professional training. The 21st century has heralded the rise of the knowledge economy. Scientific research and development results in new products and industries, and is able to make a vital contribution to tackling current social and economic challenges facing our countries. The Soviet Union made an invaluable contribution to developing the scientific and educational potential of a number of African countries.
*A Safe Africa
Illegal migration, contraband, and criminal activity are all too frequent problems facing the African continent. The biggest threat of all though is terrorism. Experts agree that to ensure a country’s national security, a set of measures needs to be taken, along with preventative action to combat possible threats. The biggest vulnerabilities in this regard include weak border control, unprotected industrial facilities, and large urban areas where it becomes easy to disappear into a crowd. An effective set of measures has been developed in Russia to counter terrorism, curtail illegal activity, and provide dependable protection for citizens. Russian organizations and companies are ready and able to share their experience with African partners.
*Drivers of Growth in National Healthcare Systems
National healthcare systems are simply unable to cope economically with the burden of disease in Africa. Particular attention is given to infectious diseases; however, there is a growing need to fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. What’s more, the high cost of medicines and services, together with a shortage of vital modern equipment, is hindering access to medical care in African countries.
The lack of medical personnel is a particularly pressing problem. Cutting-edge technologies, such as mobile phones, blockchain, 3D printing, UAVs, and others clearly need to be applied as drivers of growth in this area. If used correctly, they could significantly improve the quality of medical services while cutting costs. The high number of people in Africa suffering from chronic diseases and requiring remotely administered care and treatment will spur the development of telemedicine.
*New Forms of Cooperation between Russia and Africa: Opportunities for Special Economic Zones Based on the Project to Establish a Russian Industrial Zone in Egypt
A new model for the development of production lines is based on closing the gap between production and delivery to the end consumer, minimising logistical and technical expenses and facilitating projects with a social dimension to successfully develop the local economy. Based on this logic, creating and facilitating conditions conducive to competitive production, including the production of quality hi-tech products, can be done most effectively through the use of points of entry.
Such points draw on the advantages of special (free) economic zones, which provide additional competitive advantages when gaining access to local markets. The project to create a Russian Industrial Zone – devised and implemented at the interface between governments, state development institutions and business communities – is a unique step toward ensuring state investment and implementing the industrial zone mechanism to support access to foreign markets for relevant companies.
*Digitalization in the Mining Industry: New Opportunities, Robots, Artificial Intelligence
Africa is a world leader in volume of reserves and the extraction of many valuable raw materials and fuels, over 90% of which is then exported. The mining industry forms the basis of many countries’ industrial capacity and exports and accounts for around 75% of all foreign investments. Traditional field development methods are becoming increasingly expensive. Productivity is dropping due to high maintenance costs, unreliable equipment, reactive troubleshooting, low capacity factors, and incidents related to safety violations.
*Russian Geological Exploration in Africa: Looking to the Past and to the Future
Africa is exceptionally rich in mineral reserves, although these have not yet been studied comprehensively. Compared with other continents, it boasts the largest ore reserves of manganese, chromite, bauxite, gold, platinum, cobalt, diamond, and phosphorite. It also has substantial oil, natural gas, graphite and asbestos reserves. Russian companies, for their part, have a wealth of experience leading exploratory work and are interested in working on the African continent.
*Creating a New Quality of Life in Africa
Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world. Over 50% of people living in Africa are under the age of 26. At the same time, the quality of life in the African continent is one of the lowest in the world.
*Women in Russian-African Relations: Gender Balance in Politics, the Economy and the Social Sector
Developing female entrepreneurship and leadership is currently of interest in every region of the world and is discussed at platforms of leading international organisations and associations. According to forecasts, women’s full involvement in the economy will allow global GDP to reach 28 trillion dollars by 2025, which is equal to that of the Chinese and US economies combined. On average, a woman in Europe currently earns 15% less than a man working in the same position. This gender gap is even more pronounced in Africa and Asia. In 2019, Russia presented an integrated systemic development model entitled ‘Women and the economy’ at UNIDO, which was formed on the basis of best practice in Russia and beyond.
*The Contribution to Global Sustainable Development Made by Young People in Russia and Africa
It is crucial that young people play a role in international cooperation and efforts to build an environment allowing young leaders and entrepreneurs to be fully involved in efforts to tackling global challenges. These aims also tally with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Collaboration between young people in Russia and Africa can be strengthened by exchanging best practices and working together on specific projects. Leadership and startup communities play a particularly important role in establishing partnerships, as these are the most effective mechanisms for enacting a structural shift in the socioeconomic sphere.
*Oil and Gas Projects in Africa: Implementation Prospects
The African continent’s oil reserves are estimated at 129.2 billion barrels, or 7.5% of global reserves, and it produces 8.2 million barrels per day, representing 8.6% of global production. There is significant potential for the continent to increase production and monetize reserves. At the same time, Russian companies currently have a limited presence in the region. Broadening Russian-African cooperation could boost competition and efficiency in field development, and provide an additional stimulus for efforts to localize equipment and strengthen technological partnership.
*Sustainable Partnership in Agriculture: Institutions, Tools, and Guarantees
The steady development of African countries in the last few years, together with growing populations and income levels are all factors helping to boost agricultural production. However, a deficit of modern technology, lack of land suitable for farming, and a shortage of qualified personnel mean that the needs of the African market have not been fully met.
Russia’s unique geographic conditions, together with its vast land and water resources, provide the country with enormous agricultural potential. In the past few years, Russian companies have taken active steps to increase exports of agricultural products and food. Indeed, Russia is already one of the ten largest food suppliers to Africa. However, a range of barriers related to infrastructure is currently hindering effective trade. Removing these could help collaboration reach an entirely new level.
The Roscongress Foundation, a socially oriented non-financial development institution, is the organiser of the events, and the Russian Export Center and Afreximbank are the co-organisers of this first Russia-Africa Summit. Welcome to the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi and Modern Diplomacy also wishes you All the Best !
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.
We Should Exempt Africa from the Russia–UK Geopolitical Confrontation
Today neither Russia nor the United Kingdom can claim a leadership role in Africa. London reached the peak of its influence here between World War I and World War II, when the British Empire had a larger part of the continent under its direct control. Moscow’s heyday in Africa goes back to the 1960s – 1970s, with the Soviet Union having played the role of the main overseas supporter of various national liberation movements. The odds are that in the XXI Century African countries’ destinies will depend more on the logic of the emerging US – China global competition than on any decisions taken in the Kremlin or at Downing Street, 10.
Moreover, today both Russia and the UK have limited economic, political and strategic interests in Africa, compared to some other parts of the world — e.g. Europe or the Middle East. Arguably, this is the main reason why Africa does not look as toxic for Russia–UK relations as some other regions do. However, we cannot rule out potential clashes between the two powers in various present or future crises and conflicts in Africa. We should avoid underestimating the likely benefits of Russia–UK cooperation, even if it remains quite limited.
Many current trends suggest the role of Africa in the international system will continue to grow over time — both in terms of global challenges that the continent is likely to generate and in terms of global opportunities that it is going to offer. If everybody’s attention seems to be focused on the Middle East today, tomorrow it might well shift to Africa. Russian and UK stakes on the continent are likely to grow, while the price of an uncontrolled confrontation is expected to increase.
Moscow and London have to start working on how to contain risks and cut costs of this confrontation. Ideally — on how to exempt Africa from their geopolitical confrontation altogether. The first important step might be to try to agree on an appropriate ‘code of conduct’ on the continent, which could be applied not only to Russia and the United Kingdom, but also to external players in general. Africa may well be an ideal place to test new ideas about such controversial notions as responsibility to protect, failed state, hybrid war or regime change. London and Moscow are more likely to reach an agreement on many African crises than on more sensitive matters like Ukraine or Syria. At the same time, with an understanding on ‘rules of engagement’ in Africa in hand, it would be easier to approach highly divisive cases in Europe or in the Middle East.
Another area for potential Russia–UK collaboration or, at least, for coordination in Africa could be the area of ‘African commons’. The continent is in desperate need of essential public goods, the demand for them is huge and our two nations could do better avoiding old-fashioned competition and increasing the efficiency of their respective assistance projects in Africa. Take, for instance, the domain of general and higher education and human capital development in Africa, where both the UK and Russia have considerable experience and overlapping comparative advantages. Another area for potential cooperation is public health, which will require substantial investment, as well as personnel training and emergency management. Joint projects in infrastructure development, including private-public partnerships, constitute yet another opportunity.
In the security domain, Russia and the United Kingdom could explore options for more intense interaction in fighting international terrorism coming from Africa or targeting African countries. At the same time, Moscow and London could consider enhancing their respective roles in the UN led peacekeeping operations in Africa and demonstrating more appetite for consorted votes within the UN Security Council. They can work together in fighting piracy in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Guinea, and so on.
It is evident that any Russia–UK interaction in Africa or about Africa cannot and will not be completely separated from the rest of their bilateral relations. If we fail to settle the core problems dividing Moscow and London today, this divisive agenda will continue to limit opportunities for cooperation in Africa as well. However, the Africa of today and especially the Africa of tomorrow will be too important for the world at large to approach it only as an extension of the ongoing Russia–UK confrontation. It is one of the most apparent cases, in which an exemption would not be a manifestation of weakness or cynicism, but rather a demonstration of political wisdom and a strategic foresight.
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