The inaugural Russia-Africa Summit which was hosted in the black sea city of Sochi just ended a summit which was full of huge deals and commitments as well as enhancement of the relations between Russia and the African continent. Dating back to the soviet glorious days there was a strong Russian influence in Africa. The post-independence governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt, Uganda, Angola, Mozambique, and Benin at some point all received diplomatic or military support from the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, this began to change after the superpower started to collapse in December 1991. More than a quarter of a century later Russia’s President Vladimir Putin seems to have new aspirations in Africa. This is in line with his desire to restore Russia to great power status.
Putin places a high premium on geopolitical relations and the pursuit of Russian assertiveness in the global stage. This includes re-establishing Russia’s sphere of influence, which extends to the African continent and this was seen in the concluded Russia-Africa-Summit in was held in Sochi.
Moscow’s places a distinctive method of trade and investment in Africa which is without the conditionality’s of actors like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund rather Moscow believed in the win-win cooperation.Russia is gradually increasing its influence in the African Continent through strategic investment in the energy and minerals sector. It’s also using military muscle and soft power.
“Let’s drink to the success of our joint efforts to develop full-scale mutually beneficial co-operation, wellbeing, peaceful future and prosperity of our countries and people,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a toast at the formal summit dinner in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. This might sound a toast expression but it is a commitment.
With the attendance of some 40 African heads of state in the black sea historical city of Sochi, the opening day of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit kicked off with an explosion. In an introductory address, the Russian president Vladimir Putin positioned his renewed push in the continent in the soviet tradition of fighting colonialism.
Russian official argued deals with modern Russia offered African states their independence, presumably implying deal with former colonial powers like the UK, and France or global powers like China and the United States come with strings attached one way or another.
Even though deals in nuclear energy, oil, gas, Diamonds, and agriculture took a prominent place, two of the main attractions for African heads of states are military cooperation and military hardware.
Russia, which is the second-largest supplier of arms in the world today, is already a major supplier of arms to African countries. The number of arms supplied by Russia keeps increasing and reports notes Russia sales of weaponry to African countries has doubled in the year 2017 compared to the previous years. United States and China are also crucial weapons suppliers but in Africa, they fall behind Russia, which supplied 39% of Africa’s imported arms between 2017 and 2013.
However, competition among major powers in the African continent is raising, both Russia and China are keen to play a future role in Africa. The difference between these two major powers is that China forms part of the Asian regional economy. This will surpass North America and Europe combined, in terms of global power – based on GDP, population size, military spending, and technological investment.
China and India have sustained impressive economic growth over many years. And, their enormous populations make them two world powers of extraordinary importance. Growth predictions for the Russian economy, on the other hand, remain modest – between 1.5% and 1.8% a year for 2018-2010, against the current global average rate of 3.5% a year.
Still, Russia remains a major power in global politics. For African leaders, the keyword is agency and the question is how to play the renewed Russian attention to their countries’ benefit, and not to fall victim to the contemporary “geopolitical chess” game played by the major powers on the continent.
Why Russia’s Vaccine Diplomacy Failed Africa
In these difficult and crucial times, the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy, declared Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister. The difficult times understandably refers to both the Covid-19 pandemic and the current period when Russia’s own “special military opeartion” in Ukraine has shattered the global economy. But why is Russia so quiet over its vaccine diplomacy in Africa? What has Russia-African Union relations brought to the health sector in Africa? Why Russia’s vaccine diplomacy could arguably be described as a failure for vaccinable people among the 1.3 billion population.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) estimated approximately 28 percent of the entire Africa’s population was vaccinated over the past two years. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and a few African leaders have vehemently accused European and Western countries with advanced pharmaceutical technologies of hoarding Covid-19 vaccines.
Russia was the first advanced country that came out with Sputnik V in August 2020 less than a year when coronavirus was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). But, Sputnik V has never been approved by the WHO primarily because of a lack of transparency of Russian laboratories. In addition to the fact that it was approved before going into compulsory phase III clinical trials, breached relevant international protocols and ruined its reputation from the outset, including in Russia as demonstrated by a high degree of vaccine hesitancy.
According information sources, the Sputnik V was developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. It was later registered under the emergency use authorization procedure, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) website. The RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. The Kremlin offered this agency the full-fledged task of managing and directing all aspects of Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution.
The RDIF has made a substantial contribution to developing and marketing Sputnik V, the first registered Covid-19 vaccine, in the world. Sputnik V was heavily promoted via a professional international marketing campaign and Russia obtained commercial contracts for close to 800 million doses of Sputnik V. Russia has only delivered 108 million doses, i.e. less than 15%.
In the first place, Sputnik V has little impact in Africa. Second, there are no African country manufacturing Sputnik V so far. In fact, Russia signed manufacturing agreements with no less than 23 countries to produce Sputnik V. However, only a few countries actually started production, due to delays in the supply of raw materials. As one of very few countries, Russia stayed completely outside the COVAX Facility and it played no significant role in vaccine donations.
Holding the heck of the bumpy road during the pandemic period, Russia made progressive steps, resembling a substantial breakthrough to save human extinction. It swiftly registered the vaccine in many countries and often promised to establish manufacturing points in a number of countries, including Africa. But in critical assessment, we cannot skip the messy description, from various points of views, that Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has failed Africa. Certainly, that was the case with Russia’s diplomacy in Africa.
President Vladimir Putin has oftentimes praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry reports indicated that the Sputnik V vaccine was registered in the following African countries: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.
However, majority of African countries where Sputnik V was registered could not get supplies to purchase as promised. Admittedly, Russia faces vaccine production challenges to meet the increasing market demand and to make prompt delivery on its pledges to external countries.
Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. It has made some vaccine deliveries, but only to its preferred countries including North Africa (Algeria Morocco and Egypt), in East Africa (Ethiopia), in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and West Africa (Guinea). Media reports say South Africa, a member of BRICS group, categorically rejected Sputnik V donation from Russia.
Furthermore, an official media release mid-February 2021 said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – set up by the African Union (AU) to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa could attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was described as a “special offer” from Russia. In the end, Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines as contracted.
In the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and was released in November 2021, pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honoring its several pledges over the years was vividly highlighted. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa that was not fulfilled through the African Union was mentioned as an example in the report. “Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers failed to meet its contractual obligations,” says the report.
Another report also compared Russia’s vaccine diplomacy with Europe, China and other external countries: (https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/vaccinating-world-between-promises-and-realities_en). The report says one and a half years after the start of Covid-19 vaccines rollout, the European Union (EU) can be proud of what it has achieved to help vaccinate the world, and in particular low- and middle-income countries. The EU’s record stands in contrast to what China and Russia did beyond the bluster of their noisy “vaccine diplomacy” during these years.
In 2021, the subject was not only dominating the headlines, but also at the centre of international relations, with major powers, in particular China and Russia, conducting active vaccine diplomacy to extend their global influence by promising to provide vaccines to the world. From the outset, EU had chosen to act in a multilateral framework, by supporting the COVAX facility launched by the WHO to jointly purchase and supply vaccines for low and middle-income countries.
The report says, based on data collected by the multilateral institutions, the EU has actually been by far the largest exporter of vaccines in the world. With 2.2 billion doses supplied to 167 countries, we exported almost twice as much vaccines as China, three times as much as the United States and 20 times as much as Russia.
Of these 2.2 billion exported doses, 475 million were donated to 104 countries, of which 405 million via COVAX and 70 million bilaterally, particularly in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. In terms of donations, the United States did slightly more than EU, with 542 million doses donated to 117 countries. But, EU has actually donated far more vaccines than China – with just 130 million to 95 countries – and Russia – with only 1.5 million doses to 19 countries.
The EU has not only exported and donated vaccines but also helped to develop vaccines production in Africa: last year, the EU with its member states and financial institutions have committed over one billion euros to finance this development.
By 2040, the African Union wants that 60% of the vaccines used on the continent are manufactured in Africa and the EU fully supports that goal. This year already, two factories will be installed in Rwanda and Senegal and commercial production is set to begin in 2023. Close cooperation is also ongoing with South Africa’s Biovac Institute and with partners in Ghana.
In these difficult and crucial times, Russian vaccine diplomacy has been a total failure and this was already the case before its “special military operation” in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. In short, the vaccine diplomacy of these two countries, Russia and China, can be summarized as “great expectations – broken promises.”
The EU has a lot to be proud of, not only did it manage to vaccinate its own population against Covid-19 in a short period of time, but it has also been the world’s largest exporter of vaccines and the second largest donor to low- and middle-income countries. The EU has accomplished much more in this area than China and Russia together. Building on this solid track record, the EU will continue to support access to vaccines worldwide, in particular by helping with vaccine manufacturing in Africa.
Ethiopia still in grip of spreading violence, hate speech and aid crisis
UN Human Rights Council-appointed rights investigators announced on Thursday that they’ve launched a probe into an alleged massacre of at least 200 people in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.
Kaari Betty Murungi, chair of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, was briefing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in what was the Commission’s first appearance since its creation in December last year.
The Commission had received reports last week of the killings in Western Oromia, as it continued its work investigating rights abuses linked to conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, that flared in November 2020.
Don’t forget Ethiopia
Despite many other conflicts around the world, Ms. Murungi said that the world must not ignore what was happening in Ethiopia:
“The ongoing spread of violence, fuelled by hate speech and incitement to ethnic-based and gender-based violence, are early-warning indicators of further atrocity crimes against innocent civilians, especially women and children who are more vulnerable. The expanding conflict makes worse the existing humanitarian crisis that is being experienced in Ethiopia and the region.”
The Commission, established in December 2021, is mandated to conduct investigations to establish the facts and the circumstances surrounding alleged violations and abuses of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law committed by all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia since November 2020.
Lack of access
“The dire humanitarian crisis made worse by lack of access in some areas by the civilian population to humanitarian assistance including medical and food aid, obstruction of aid workers and persistent drought, exacerbates the suffering of millions of people in Ethiopia and in the region”, said Ms. Murungi.
She added that “the Commission emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Ethiopia to bring to an end such violations on its territory and, bring those responsible to justice”.
Since the outbreak of armed conflict in November 2020 in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, Ethiopian national forces, Eritrean troops, Amhara forces and other militias on one side, and forces loyal to the Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have forced hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans to leave their homes through threats and intimidation in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign.
The violence escalated and began to affect neighboring regions Afar and Amhara, with Afar providing the only channel of access for aid into Tigray.
Warring parties are accused of carrying out widespread human rights violations, including massacres, gender-based violence, extra judicial killings, forced displacements, violence against refugee camps and internally displaced persons.
In March this year, the Ethiopian government declared a humanitarian truce, an agreement that opened the door to much-needed access to aid for citizens in the region.
Ethiopia ‘turning a page’
In its reply to the Commission’s report Zenebe Kebebe Korcho, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the UN in Geneva, said that “the country is now turning a page. The Government of Ethiopia has decided to seek a peaceful end to the conflict. An inclusive national dialogue is launched to address political problems across the country. The government has taken numerous confidence building measures”.
The Commission which was appointed in March, is also mandated to provide guidance on transitional justice including accountability, national reconciliation, healing and make recommendations to the Government of Ethiopia on these measures.
According to ambassador Zenebe Kebebe Korcho “Ethiopia has also taken measures to ensure accountability for alleged serious human rights violations. The Government of Ethiopia facilitated the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to conduct a joint investigation within the context of the conflict in the Tigray region.”
South Africa Stands on Verge of Massive Domestic Crisis
Russian tourists in South Africa usually go home lost in admiration, at least they did before the pandemic. Palm trees, beaches, exotic African animals and folk dances to the beat of the drums, stunning natural reserves, wonderful roads, marvelous restaurants, luxury hotels, amazing wine. South Africa produces the ultimate impression of a prosperous and stable country—both economically developed and politically stable. Indeed, South Africa is rich in mineral resources that are constantly going up in price, and it has a relatively developed industry. It regularly holds quite democratic elections, whose results have never been contested so far.
However, the prosperous façade is hiding a host of grave problems. Economy-wise, the principal issue lies in the public sector. Virtually every state corporation is billions in debt accrued owing to corruption, embezzlements, inefficiency, inept management. Eskom alone, a state corporation that controls power generation and distribution, owes the state about ZAR 400 bn. (USD 26 bn.). This is a tremendous amount for South Africa. Eskom cannot even pay interest on it. Its power plants are in such a state that shutting the power down for several hours a day for another round of repairs is a rule rather than an exception. This is not at all conducive to normal functioning of businesses and industry. Eskom’s predicament is one of the main reasons why South Africa has lost its once high investment rating.
And here we arrive at politics. Technically, South Africa can generate far more energy than it does now. Large enterprises, mines, and many farmers have long since installed solar panels and other devices to make sure they have electric power. Many offer to supply their extra power to Eskom, but the government turns them down. This also limits amounts of energy private businesses can generate. Privatization is out of the question, while it is the only thing that could save the power grid from collapse. The government is quite content with its role of a monopoly that generates power from coal and has no competition. The reasons for that are pure politics.
The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party, sees itself as the party of workers and the poor, and although it does not assume the name of a socialist party, it clearly prefers a government-controlled economy. Additionally, there are more practical reasons: trade unions are the ANC’s core voters, and they are opposed to privatizing Eskom and other state corporations. Additionally, they are fundamentally opposed to bringing private businesses into the power generating industry, since such a move may result in competition and lower wages that are far higher in South Africa than in countries with comparable GDP despite its 45% unemployment rate, which is an abnormal combination.
Today, the ANC is facing a choice: either in-depth structural reforms that are unpopular, or stagnation and possible collapse. The party arrives at this choice in a state of internal crisis. The ANC’s leaders and local functionaries are locked into a struggle between corrupt and political groups, clans, and factions. In the upcoming December, the ANC’s party conference is to choose a new leader or re-elect the current president Cyril Ramaphosa. At the next national elections, the elected leader will inevitably become the country’s president. Even though the ANC is losing its popularity, Mr. Ramaphosa will remain the leader of the majority party since there is no real electoral alternative. Ramaphosa’s main rivals are supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, who advances a populist agenda (for instance, expropriation, primarily of land, and introducing universal healthcare, which the country has no money or infrastructure for).
Contradictions within the party are running so high that political assassinations have happened locally. Membership in provincial delegations that will be attending the December elections is bought and sold along with votes of individual delegates and entire delegations. The delegation of the province of KwaZulu-Natal (Zuma’s province) is the largest, since the ANC has the largest membership here. Zuma’s supporters have good chances. A split in the party and anarchy cannot be ruled out in the event of one of their candidates being elected. Even if the party subsists as a united organization, a change in its course will result in expropriation or takeover of farms, enterprises, or maybe even banks. That will plunge South Africa in utter economic collapse.
If the current president’s faction remains in power, he will have to implement unpopular market reforms and attempt to fight corruption: he simply has no other agenda. His opponents will be destabilizing the situation up to inciting riots. Such riots were already organized in June last year allegedly in support of Zuma who had been charged with corruption and contempt of court. In reality, it was an attempt to show the party and the people that Ramaphosa was unable to control the situation, or maybe even to remove him from the office of the president of the party and the country. Back then, crowds numbering in thousands looted and burned down thousands of stores and warehouses, including the huge warehouses in the port of Durban; they houses commodities for the entire country. South Africa’s economy lost billions, and over 400 people died. A replay of these events amid unemployment and poverty already exacerbated by the pandemic cannot be ruled out.
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