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Moscow’s Institute for African Studies Marks its 60th Year

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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.

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

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Ukraine Prioritizes Africa’s Food Security, Opens Diplomatic Offices in Africa

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Wheat harvest near the Krasne village, Ukraine. © FAO/Anatolii Stepanov

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, has agreed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Vincent Biruta, to establish diplomatic office in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. An objective has been set by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry to broaden Ukraine’s presence in Africa.

“Following our thorough analysis, we planned to set up new embassies in African countries, one of which we will open in Rwanda. The Rwandan side has already given its official agreement to the creation of a Ukrainian diplomatic mission in Kigali,” Ukrainian media quoted Kuleba as saying in a statement circulated by the Foreign Ministry’s press service.

“Ukraine will step up its foreign policy on Africa aimed at a Ukrainian-African renaissance. This year, we intend to open new embassies in different parts of Africa and plan to hold the first Ukraine-Africa summit,” the minister said.

According to our research, Ukraine currently has about 10 embassies on the continent in Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. Sources indicate that Russia has a wider footprint in Africa with about 44 embassies and consulates. 

On Russia-Ukraine crisis, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba point-blank emphasized that Kiev “is open to discuss any peace initiatives, if they honor two principles: neither include territorial concessions, nor lead to a frozen conflict instead of peace. At the same time, “it is the Ukrainian peace plan that should be a foundation of any peace efforts,” the minister said.

The parties also signed a memorandum on political consultations between the Foreign Ministries of Ukraine and Rwanda, and further agreed to hold the two countries’ business forum soon. Kuleba invited Biruta to visit Ukraine.

He emphasized that Kiev “is open to discuss any peace initiatives, if they honor two principles: neither include territorial concessions, nor lead to a frozen conflict instead of peace. At the same time, “it is the Ukrainian peace plan that should be a foundation of any peace efforts. 

According to our research sources, a peace initiative put forward by six African countries including Uganda, South Africa, Congo, Senegal, Zambia and Egypt will be discussed at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, which is slated to take place late July 2023. 

Beijing has already leveraged with Russia to end the war in Ukraine. China’s peacemaking efforts were unsuccessful, especially the necessity to respect the principles of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

African countries are not going to sacrifice their ties to Russia, Kenyan Ambassador Benson Ogutu told the local Russian Izvestia newspaper, noting that his country for instance maintains good relations with both Russia and the West, as well as the East and North. It is precisely this neutral position that allows African countries to act as mediators in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and gives promise to their efforts at fostering reconciliation.

At their meeting, the foreign ministers discussed Ukraine’s “peace formula”, food security in Africa, Ukrainian grain exports as part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and the Grain from Ukraine humanitarian program. Food security in Africa became a separate topic of the meeting, the press service for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said. Kuleba noted that thanks to the operation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative 123 ships carrying 3.3 million tonnes of agricultural products have been exported to African countries as of early May.

The Ukrainian minister said that under the Grain from Ukraine humanitarian program the Ukrainian government sent six ships carrying 170,000 tonnes of wheat to Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen between December 2022 and March 2023. Ethiopia received 90,000 tonnes, Kenya 25,000 tonnes, Somalia 25,000 tonnes, Yemen 30,000 tonnes. Ships with agricultural products are planned to be sent to other countries in the near future.

In practical terms of working with Africa, Ukraine is ready to train African specialists, expresses readiness to invest in diverse employment-generating spheres and forge cooperation in concrete economic sectors across the continent. Kuleba strongly called for cooperation rather than confrontation, clearly underscored the system of approach and as the basis for emerging multipolar world. 

Despite the geographical distance, Kuleba explained that Ukraine and Africa share deep historical ties and have always shared and supported the aspirations of African nations towards independence, unity, and progress. In his view, especially at this new stage, “we want to develop a new quality of partnership based on three mutual principles: mutual respect, mutual interests, and mutual benefits.”

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It is the second-largest in the region and shares borders with Russia. The Ukrainian republic is heavily damaged by the current war, and it requires significant efforts to recover. It has dramatically strengthened its ties with the United States. Ukraine considers Euro-Atlantic integration its primary foreign policy objective, but in practice it has always balanced its relationship with the European Union.

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Africa Day 2023: Remembering the Past and Looking for a Better Future

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The phenomenon of colonialism created the Africa Day 60years ago. And Africans always remember May 25th, a momentous occasion observed with receipt of friendly messages from across the world. While its primary continental goals include ‘sustainable peace and development’, and ‘unity in diversity’, these still remain integral challenges. Despite recognising the significance of some achievements during the past 60 years, Africa extends far beyond.

The African Union itself said in an official statement posted its the website that “celebration of the 60th anniversary is an opportunity to recognize the role and contribution of the founders of the continental organization and many other Africans on the continent and in the diaspora who have contributed greatly to the political liberation of the continent, and equally, to the socio-economic emancipation of Africa.”

Further, it is an opportunity to share the information, knowledge and best practices of the past and to encourage each other to take on the vision of the African Union, as well as to drive the realization of the “Africa We Want” under Agenda 2063. It is also an opportune moment for the African Union to reflect on the spirit of pan-Africanism, which connects the past to the present and to the continent’s aspirations for the future. 

Across the world, Africa is considered as a burgeoning economic powerhouse, it holds immense potential and deserves to be acknowledged for the remarkable strides it has made. In fact, Africa’s economic growth has been nothing short of remarkable. With a burgeoning middle class, expanding industries, and a rising wave of entrepreneurship, the continent is experiencing an economic transformation that cannot be ignored. Gone are the days when Africa was seen solely as a land of challenges; it is now a land of extraordinary opportunities.

According to the popular belief, Africa’s vast natural resources, including oil, gas, minerals and agricultural produce, are driving global industries to invent a new future. The continent’s potential for renewable energy, particularly solar and wind power, is unrivalled. As the world increasingly shifts towards sustainable solutions, Africa stands at the forefront, poised to become a leader in the clean energy revolution, even while suffering the climate consequences caused almost entirely by the so-called developed countries.

However, it would be remiss to discuss Africa’s economic growth without addressing the challenges that persist. Poverty, inequality, and lack of infrastructure continue to hinder progress. It is our collective responsibility to work towards addressing these issues, ensuring that the benefits of Africa’s economic growth are inclusive and sustainable.

The beauty of Africa lies not only in its economic potential but also in its vibrant and diverse cultures. From the pulsating rhythms of Afrobeat music to the captivating tales woven into African literature, the continent’s cultural contributions enrich the global community. Africa’s arts, fashion, and cuisine resonate across borders, fostering cultural exchange and mutual understanding.

Despite the growing hatred for the United States and Europe, the condemnation for colonial policies and blamed for under-development in Africa, the leaders have recieved congratulatory messages. Africa’s “non-Western friends” such as China and Russia also sent goodwill messages.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his message for example, described Africa Day, a holiday that has become a symbol of the victory of the peoples of your continent over colonialism, their striving for freedom, peace and prosperity.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity. This representative international structure has played an important role in the development of multilateral dialogue and cooperation for several decades. Today, its good traditions are continued by the African Union, within which all states of the continent actively cooperate,” he noted. 

“Thanks to their joint efforts, it was possible to establish mechanisms for collective response to local crises, to launch regional integration processes in various formats. This undoubtedly contributes to the social and economic development of Africa and the enhancement of its role in international affairs,” he added.

Russia has always attached particular importance to strengthening friendly relations with African partners. The holding of the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in 2019 served to intensify ties in many areas. The second Russia-Africa summit, which to be held in St. Petersburg in July, would make it possible to define new tasks for expanding our country’s constructive cooperation with African partners in the political, trade, economic, scientific, technical, humanitarian and other fields. Putin said in conclusion.

Similarly, President Xi Jinping sent a message to the African Union (AU), extending warm congratulations to African countries and the African people. In the message, he pointed out that the AU has united and led African countries to actively respond to global challenges and speed up the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and played an important role in mediating hotspot issues in Africa, which has boosted Africa’s international status and influence. 

He, however, expressed his sincere wishes that African countries and people will continue to achieve greater success on their path of development and revitalization. He emphasized that China-Africa relations maintained sound momentum of development, and China-Africa cooperation has moved ahead to be all-round, multi-tiered and high-quality, taking the lead in international cooperation with Africa. 

President Xi expressed his readiness to work with leaders of African countries to further strengthen friendly cooperation between China and Africa, enhance coordination and collaboration on international and regional affairs, and work for the building of a high-level China-Africa community with a shared future.

Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, said “We mark Africa Day at a time when cooperation and solidarity to advance the continent’s future is more needed than ever.” Africa’s dynamism is unstoppable; its potential is breathtaking, from the vibrancy of its huge number of young people to the possibilities of free trade. The African Union has designated 2023 the year of the African Continental Free Trade Area. When fully established, the world’s largest single market could lift 50 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035, driving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.

António Guterres looks forward to African governments continuing to seize the opportunities presented by the continent’s natural, human, and entrepreneurial richness, by working to increase private investment and raise resources at home.

He urges the international community to stand with Africa.  Currently, historic and economic injustices hamper its progress. Multiple crises – from COVID to climate and conflict – continue to cause great suffering across the continent. African countries are under-represented in global governance institutions, from the Security Council to the Bretton Woods System, and denied the debt relief and concessional funding they need.

António Guterres noted further that Africa deserves peace, justice and international solidarity. The continent should be represented at the highest level of the international financial system. Multilateral Development Banks should transform their business models and leverage funds to attract massive private finance at reasonable cost to developing countries. Developed countries should provide the support they have promised for action on climate change, and go further. And we must support efforts to silence the guns across the continent.

The United Nations will continue to be a proud partner in advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights for the people of Africa. With international cooperation and solidarity, this can be Africa’s century. 

Exactly 60 years ago, on this day in 1963, the founding of the Organization of African Unity was announced, which marked the beginning of the progressive movement of the continent along the path of political and economic integration. Today, the successor to its cause is the African Union, whose task is to develop collective approaches to the problems of maintaining peace and security, strengthening democratic processes, developing human potential, and ensuring socio-economic growth.

In the context of a multipolar geopolitical order, African leaders and the African Union should strengthen their positions regarding external partnerships. If not, the continent risks being left behind and used as a pawn in an increasingly divided global order. The African Union (AU), an organization uniting 55 African states, has to consistently place focus on its empowerment, support its status and in practical tems, to remain overwhelmingly committed to the development Agenda 2063. 

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Africa needs peace and stability to develop, says AU Chairperson Assoumani

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President Azali Assoumani addressing parliamentarians at the opening session.

President of the Union of Comoros and Chairperson of the African Union (AU), President Azali Assoumani has reiterated, at the opening of the ordinary session of the Sixth Parliament held in Midrand, South Africa, under the AU theme for 2023, “Accelerating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)” that for Africa to develop, it need relative peace and stability.

That it was necessary with determination to work in favor of the defense of the interests of the African peoples as the continental legislators seek to work in close collaboration with African governments and other AU institutions, including the Pan-African Parliament, for more peace and progress in continent. 

He, however, encouraged African legislators to help establish appropriate conditions to promote socio-economic development in the continent. “Our continent has many natural resources with the potential to become one of the largest markets in the world. With the appropriate conditions, we can promote socio-economic development for a sustainable economy. We have succeeded to set up the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and it has become our continental priority,” he underlined.

Assoumani also underscored the fact that for Africa to develop and grow, peace and stability must prevail. “It is clear that in addition to terrorist threats, unconstitutional changes of government, the war in Sudan has worsened the situation.  Not only does this war create chaos in this country, but it risks destabilising an already fragile region, with all the consequences this may have on the people,” he explained.

On this aspect, it is necessary to unite efforts and agree on the actions to be implemented, to convince the warring parties to reach a ceasefire in order to have negotiations, he said, and encouraged Africans to work together in order to achieve a common desire for peace, stability and development.

On his part, Pan-African Parliament President, Hon. Chief Fortune Charumbira noted that parliament has, in the past eleven months, made significant strides in the fulfilment of its mandate. He further emphasised on the need for the AU to reconnect with the African citizenry. “Linking to grassroots in Africa is even more imperative for the pan-African parliament which was undoubtedly established with this very objective in mind. A parliament is not a parliament if it is remote and inaccessible to the people. A parliament is not a parliament if its agenda does not respond to the people’s hopes, ideals and aspirations,” said Charumbira.

He reported that this was one of the major outcomes of the strategic reorientation workshop that was convened last year. The workshop refocused the pan-African parliament’s attention on impactful deliverables that affect citizens. The agreement was that the continental parliament ought to be for the greater good of the people.

Addressing the plenary session, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Hon. Candith Mashego-Dhlamini disclosed that her government is encouraged by the deliberations of the parliament on the implementation of the AfCFTA and its specific focus on the significant role that the African parliamentarians could play in its acceleration.

“You may recall that during the Summit held on 19 – 20 February this year, the Heads of State adopted three protocols to the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area, namely, on competition policy, investment as well as on intellectual property rights. We look up to the parliamentarians to facilitate the ratification of these protocols so that they may be integrated into national legislation, thus providing a legal basis to underpin an effective single market for Africa, and meaningful market access across the AfCFTA for the private sector, especially the SMMEs led by women and young entrepreneurs,” strongly noted Mashego-Dhlamini.

Mandated with facilitating the implementation of policies, objectives, and programmes of the AU, and overseeing their execution by the various organs of the Union, the parliamentarian session focused on the unbundling of the AfCFTA agreement and the strategies put by the legislative arm of the African Union to accelerate the landmark accord. Over 250 African parliamentarians convened for the session to devise ways to fast-track the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), in line with the African Union (AU) theme for 2023. 

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