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In the Era of COVID-19, Russia’s Strategic Politics of Aid Takes the Stage in Africa

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With coronavirus rapidly spreading among the population of 148 million, Russia took the third position in the world. According to the official data provided on May 11, Russia had an aggregate total of 221,344 COVID-19 cases. The United Kingdom and Italy earlier reported 219,183 and 219,070 cases, respectively. Spain comes in second with 224,390 coronavirus cases, and the United States ranked first with nearly 1.4 million cases.

That is a huge gap compared to over 50,000 cases among 1.3 billion population of Africa, at a first glance, and readily offered an understandable story. South Africa and Maghreb region are the hardest hit and worse affected with the coronavirus in Africa. As expected, the pandemic places diverse impact on the global economies and the society, recommended measures have been taken in a bid to prevent the coronavirus spread.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report, Africa still behind European countries when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak and is far from seeing its peak. While Africa has only reported more than 50,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus early May, the UNECA-released report “COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies” said “anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.”

According to the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), the hardest hit are South Africa and mostly Maghreb countries of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. These Maghreb countries have strengthened information controls, instead of upholding transparency during the health crisis, but generally reported to have more than 5,000 infections, while in Tunisia, there are 1,018 patients and 43 people have died. In sub-Saharan West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are also among the top ten African countries affected the pandemic.

While Russia, for a time, appeared to escape a serious coronavirus outbreak, the situation there has changed drastically during these two months of April and May, – passing Germany and France to become the third most-infected country in the world, according to The Moscow Times. Russia now has the fastest rate of new cases in Europe, and second-fastest rate of new cases in the world behind the United States.

In an important part, Russian health workers are still reporting a shortage on protective equipment. With the picture getting highly scary, Russian President Vladimir Putin worries about any slightest missteps when, in one of his live television speeches, he warned: “We cannot jump ahead of ourselves. Any carelessness or haste may cause a setback.”

Despite its internal difficulties, Russia has been offering coronavirus assistance to a number of Africa countries. Russia is using it bilateral and multilateral mechanisms in addressing these requests filed by African countries since March after the coronavirus pandemic had spread to the continent that consists of 54 countries. However, Lesotho and Comoros are free from the coronavirus.

Russian Foreign Ministry said a number of African countries have requested Moscow’s assistance in combating the coronavirus. “A number of countries on the African continent have requested Russia’s assistance in combating COVID-19. African nations need a wide range of medical equipment, including ventilators, as well as testing systems, individual protective gear, disinfectants and consumables. These requests are carefully studied and the situation in a particular country is taken into account,” it reported, adding that coronavirus spread rates were relatively low in African countries, with the exception of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.

“However, this issue is causing serious concern to many countries on the continent. The social and economic situations in many of these countries are complicated, while high population density, poor healthcare systems, various crises and conflicts, transparent borders and uncontrolled migration can lead to a sharp rise in cases and unpredictable consequences,” the statement said.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the pandemic may negatively affect African countries’ ability to carry out major tasks to overcome poverty, ensure sustainable development and implement integration projects. Russia had been assisting African countries in responding to natural disasters and the spread of infectious diseases, including the Ebola fever. “We will do what we can to help the continent combat the coronavirus pandemic, using bilateral mechanisms and those of international organizations,” the ministry said, noting that “when making decisions, we will take a whole set of factors into account, including Russia’s coronavirus spread rate.”

Understandably, wholesale provision of coronavirus assistance is, absolutely and practically, impossible to Africa. Therefore, in the shadow of COVID-19, Russia is strategically choosing for its coronavirus aid destinations inside Africa, experts argued. Historically, Russia has had a high preference for the Maghreb region and southern African countries. Thus, in the months of April and May, aid was delivered to Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. Ethiopia and Djibouti in eastern Africa. In southern Africa, the beneficiaries included Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to various media reports inside Africa.

On May 11, at the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more than 28 thousand units of laboratory supplies and 8 thousand units of personal protective equipment including protective clothing, respirators, reusable full-face masks with a set of filters and gloves were delivered. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs media report, the cargo was sent by Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor.

The delivery event was attended by the DRC Minister of Health, Dr Eteni Longondo, Advisers to the President, P. Muanda Congo and S. SialSial, as well as the Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (NIBI), Professor J.M. Muyembe Tampam and Russian Ambassador Aleksey L. Sentebov.

According to WHO, Congo confirmed its first case of coronavirus mid-March, and as of May 5, there were only 264 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in a country of some 80 million people. Therefore, the Russia’s assistance provided is extremely timely, since epidemics of coronavirus, Ebola, Cholera and Measles broke out, at the same time, in the country. In difficult sanitary and epidemiological conditions, DR Congo is experiencing a sharp shortage of equipment, tests, medicines, vaccines, and there are not enough masks, gloves, and disinfectants.

In this regard, the Congolese are looking forward to the arrival of two mobile laboratories at the end of May this year, which, due to their versatility, can be used to combat the spread of a number of especially dangerous infections, including COVID-19. Russia plans to train Congolese personnel in these microbiological complexes.

In addition, as part of the provision of gratuitous anti-epidemic assistance, Rospotrebnadzor plans to send modern laboratory equipment, diagnostic preparations, vaccines against BVE, cholera, plague and measles, test systems for the detection of Ebola, dengue fever, malaria, cholera and coronavirus to Kinshasa.

Russian-Congolese health contacts are quite extensive and are backed by an agreement signed between the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Humanitarian Affairs and the DRC on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 in Sochi. Over the course of several years, Russian virologists have repeatedly visited this country in order to identify its urgent needs, held meetings with local specialists and, in the most difficult period of the global spread of coronavirus in the Republic of Congo.

Russia’s Sputnik News, under the headline, “Tunisia Asks Russia for Respirators, Masks, Medical Equipment Amid Pandemic” quoted the Tunisian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Tarak ben Salem who said: “This request for assistance is a part of friendly relations between Tunisia and Russia. Tunisia, like many other countries, is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. We need respirators, masks and medical equipment that will help provide services in public hospitals.”

“Tunisia, a country close to Italy, appreciated the assistance provided by Russia to this neighboring friendly country,” Salem explained and added “Tunisia hopes for a step forward from Russia, which has promised to consider our request. This can only confirm the quality of friendly and fraternal relations between our countries and our peoples.”

Nevertheless, Russia is also exploring the opportunities in Tunisia, and as part of its geopolitical expansion and influence in Maghreb region. According to the ambassador, Russia has pledged to look into Tunisia’s request.

The United States had granted $500,000 in health assistance to address the coronavirus outbreak in Djibouti. Shortly thereafter, the Russian Foreign Ministry also posted to its official website that Russia had delivered humanitarian assistance to Djibouti in East Africa. Late April, Russian humanitarian aid to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Djibouti was delivered and was described as part of a joint project with the World Health Organization. It was financed by the Russian Government to enhance Djibouti’s potential in the field of medical emergency readiness and response.

“This humanitarian action comes in response to an official request from the Djiboutian authorities in view of the serious deterioration in the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country caused by heavy floods and the spread of the novel COVID-19 infection. A consignment of humanitarian aid weighing a total of 13.5 tons and consisting of more than 20 multi-purpose medical modules to fight dangerous infectious diseases was delivered to Djibouti’s seaport. The shipment included tents and components to build two medical units for rendering skilled assistance to over 200,000 people,” according to report of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The report indicated that “the ceremony was attended by Russian Ambassador to Djibouti Mikhail Golovanov, WHO Representative Dr Ahmed Zouiten and Djiboutian Minister of Health Mohamed Warsama Dirieh. The Djiboutian leadership expressed its sincere appreciation to the Russian side for the assistance amid such a complicated epidemiological situation.”

Djibouti has seen a rapid spike in coronavirus cases with the Horn of Africa nation, as the population largely ignores measures imposed by authorities. As a tiny country, it shares borders with Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north and the Red Sea. Djibouti is a multi-ethnic, with a population about one million, but strategically important country that hosts the United States and French military bases, has recorded 1,116 positive coronavirus cases — small on a global scale. Only two (2) people have died to date, according to the report from the Ministry of Health.

With its burgeoning commercial hub, it serves strategically as the site for various foreign military bases. The hosting of foreign military bases is an important part of Djibouti’s economy. The United States pays $63 million a year to rent Camp Lemonnier, France and Japan each pay about $30 million a year and China pays $20 million a year. The lease payments added up to more than 5% of Djibouti’s GDP of $2.3 billion in 2018.

China has, in recent times, stepped up its military presence in Africa, with ongoing plans to secure an even greater military presence in Djibouti specifically. China’s presence in Djibouti is tied to strategic ports to ensure the security of Chinese assets. Djibouti’s strategic location makes the country prime for an increased military presence.

Undoubtedly, Russia has shown interest in strengthening its ties with the country. Russians believe it could take steps to overcome the impasses in the disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea, between Ethiopia and Djibouti, as well as international support for Somalia’s efforts to restore its statehood in the Horn of Africa. It has proposed an elaborate plan from maintaining peace and security to promoting socioeconomic development in the Horn of Africa and that includes Djibouti.

Over the past few years, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had extensive discussions on investment in high technology and transport logistics in Djibouti and Eritrea, both neighboring countries in the region.

It is worth to note that Russia and Algeria has friendly sustainable relations. A Russian cargo aircraft has delivered personal protective equipment to help tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic in Algeria. Algeria’s Minister of Health, Population and Hospital Reform Abderrahmane Benbouzid and Russian Ambassador Igor Belyaev were at the air base of Boufarik, Blida (50-km south of Algiers), to take delivery of the cargo, Algeria Press Service reported April 30.

According to the information made available, the Russia’s humanitarian aid, consists of medical protective equipment was purchased by the Rosoboronexport, the State Arms Exporter, it was done upon the Russian government’s instructions in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic. “Among the medical items delivered to Algeria are infrared thermometers, suits, medical masks and other goods, needed by the friendly nation of Algeria and its healthcare sector,” the media said. Cooperation in fighting COVID-19 strengthens the humanitarian aspect of Russian-Algerian relations.

Given this global scenario of COVID-19, it becomes a conduit to play some game cards. For instance, Russia’s pursuit of playing a bigger role in global political realm is grounded on the consequences Russia faced in the aftermath of the collapse of USSR. That was followed by a huge political chaos and instability of its socio-economic space. However, Russia cling to it as the new game changer and now plays the catch-up. Russia seems to have neglected the potential opportunities in Africa, according to PunsaraAmarasinghe, a former research fellow at the Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and now a PhD candidate in international law from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.

“Perhaps, Russia needs a lot more of efforts to revive old ties in African countries, to engage in a large scale investments and energy. Humanitarian assistance could be a strategic mechanism, the lack of Russian soft power in African states is another main trouble that continues to hinder Russia’s realization of its policy projects,” Amarasinghe wrote in his emailed discussion.

He further compares how Britain, France and even India are performing with the use of their soft power in African space, added finally that “Russia still has the opportunities, Moscow only needs to address more on African states beyond arms trade and offering assistance, but covering much important issues such as education, energy politics and investment. These have to be taken in practical terms, not just mere rhetoric.”

On April 29, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a powerful autonomous Russian NGO that focuses on foreign policy, held an online conference under theme “The Future of Africa in the Context of Energy Crisis and COVID-19 Pandemic” – with participation of foreign policy experts on Africa.  Chairing the online discussions, Igor Ivanov, former Russian Foreign Affairs Minister and now RIAC President, made an opening speech. He pointed out that Russia’s task in Africa following the pandemic is to present a strategy and define priorities with the countries of the continent, built on the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit, held in Sochi in October 2019.

On the development of cooperation between Russia and African countries, Igor Ivanov strongly reminded that “Russia’s task is to prevent a rollback in relations with African countries. It is necessary to use the momentum set by the first Russia-Africa Summit. First of all, it is necessary for Russia to define explicitly its priorities: why are we returning to Africa? Just to make money, strengthen our international presence, help African countries or to participate in the formation of the new world order together with the African countries? Some general statements of a fundamental nature were made at the first Summit, now it is necessary to move from general statements to specificity.”

The speakers presented scenarios of the development of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on the continent, the impact of the coronavirus on various industries, the economic and social development of African countries. Experts discussed the role of integration associations on the continent, the existing and the expected problems in the work of humanitarian missions and programs supervised by international organizations.

For many African countries, it is the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to COVID-19. It is time to take the opportunity it offers to catalyze action on structural deficits. The current predicament triggers long-term shifts toward universal access to health and education. It is time to think of improving communities with the necessary infrastructure. Although it has abundant natural resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, the result of a variety of causes include corrupt governments, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

With its 1.3 billion people, Africa accounts for about 16% of the world’s human population. Africa, comprising 54 countries, is the world’s second largest and second-most populous continent after Asia. As the coronavirus spreads around the world, many foreign eyes, such as the United States and Canada, Europe, China, Russia and the Gulf States, are still on Africa.

Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), Regional organization and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable economic development and subsequent integration. It sets further as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significance of these in the context of tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

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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SADC Summit Ends With Promises of More Meetings

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held an Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo to deliberate on measures on addressing terrorism and its related impact on the current development specifically in the Mozambique and generally in southern Africa. The Cabo Delgado crisis started in 2017 with insurgents taking control of parts of northern Mozambique.

One of the two troikas consists of the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of SADC (namely Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania), while the second is formed by the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of the SADC organ for politics, defence and security cooperation (Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers of international relations, defence and state security attended the meeting. It was also attended by Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The summit was called in the wake of the terrorist attack of 24 March against the town of Palma in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, but the leaders did not pledge any immediate practical support for Mozambique.

SADC Troika heads however said the acts of terrorism perpetrated against innocent civilians in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, could not be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response and reported that 12 decapitated bodies have been found behind a hotel in the region.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, warning of the spread of violence throughout Southern Africa.

Among the measures that the SADC countries should implement to combat terrorism is strengthening border control between Southern African countries, he said, and further added that Southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Nyusi stressed that the organization should implement practical acts to combat this scourge of terrorism to prevent its expansion and destabilization of the region, and warned of the risk that the actions of armed groups with a jihadist connotation could hinder regional integration.

According official reports, SADC fends off United States / European Union anti-terror intervention in Cabo Delgado. It further said no to another Mali / Somalia / Libya / Syria disaster on the African continent, adding that the global Anti-Terror lobbies are frustrated.

Deeply concerned about the continued terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, especially for the lives and welfare of the residents who continue to suffer from the atrocious, brutal and indiscriminate assaults, the leaders decided at their meeting to deploy a technical mission to Mozambique. It’s not clear what action the region will take but the deployed technical mission will report back to heads of state by 29 April.

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

The Summit expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

The extremely brief communiqué mentioned no other specific measures.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation about a fortnight ago when armed groups attacked the town of Palma, which is about six kilometres from the multi-million dollar natural gas, according to United Nations data.

The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province since the conflicts data. Several countries have offered Maputo military support on the ground to combat these insurgents, but so far there has been no openness, although reports and testimonies are pointing to security companies and mercenaries in the area.

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African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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Authors: Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkooijen*

After a dark 2020, a new year has brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people were driven into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future beckons as the economy is forecast to return to growth this year.

Africa now has an opportunity to reset its economic compass. To build back not just better, but greener. Particularly as the next crisis—climate change—is already upon us.

Africa’s food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts, and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come into play.

With mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to reach half a billion this year, digital services offered via text messaging can reach even the most remote village. And at least one-fifth of these phones also have smart features, meaning they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness have lifted the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent, and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out the middleman have lifted the price for maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farmgate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance, and greater economic security, which in turn enables farmers to increase their resilience to climate change—by experimenting with new, drought-resistant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant, and when to harvest.

In Niger, a phone-based education program has improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow the cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

The data footprints phone users create can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services also speed up the spread of information through social networks, helping farmers learn about new drought-resistant crops or services that can increase productivity. Free-to-use mobile phone-based app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to internet-based services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, equipment-sharing platform Hello Tractor is helping farmers rent machinery by the day or even hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the non-government organization Project Concern International with the World Food Programme and the Ministry for Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so problems can be spotted quickly to aid remedial action.

Transforming food systems digitally has demonstrably excellent results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated over half of its climate financing to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average 60 percent through applying digital technology, for example.

This is why the Global Center on Adaptation and the African Development Bank have launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative climate-change adaptation across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes such projects easy to replicate elsewhere and scale, even across large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

Further, adaptation projects are proven to be highly cost-effective, often delivering value many times the original investment and so helping African economies grow faster and create many more much-needed jobs.

This makes it imperative that the global resolve to rebuild economies in the wake of Covid-19 is harnessed in the most effective way. We must not simply replicate the mistakes of the past. We must build back stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are embedded to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more empowered farmers.

We have the means and the technical capability to put Africa well on the way to achieving food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help millions move out of food poverty. We must not squander this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

AfDB

*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

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Towards the Second Russia-Africa Summit

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Following the instruction of Russian President on the preparation of the second Russia-Africa Summit in 2022, a working meeting between Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS), the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum and the Roscongress Foundation was held in Moscow.

Among the participants of the meeting were Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation Anton Kobyakov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Alexander Stuglev and Head of AECAS Alexander Saltanov.

They discussed the prospects for further development of relationships with African countries in accordance with the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit that was held in Sochi in October 2019, as well as the key aspects of preparation for the next top-level Russian-African meeting in 2022, including the need to establish efficient information cooperation with African countries.

Adviser to the President was presented with the interim results of the work done by the Secretariat that was created in 2020 for coordination and preparation of events within the Russia-Africa format, as well as advances made by AECAS, the establishment of which is an important achievement on the way to efficient and fruitful preparation for subsequent events of the Russian-African track.

The day before Russian President Vladimir Putin informed the participants of the International Inter-Party Conference Russia-Africa: Reviving Traditions about the preparation for the second Russia-Africa Summit in a telegram and noted that the first Summit «gave a strong momentum to the development of friendly relationships between our country and countries of the African continent.»

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, who took part in the Inter-Party Conference, said that the Summit is already being prepared and filled with meaningful content, and roadmaps of Russian-African economic, scientific and humanitarian cooperation are to be drafted in the near future. Minister also noted that African issues are supposed to be included in the programme of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. These topics will be further discussed at the next meeting of foreign ministers of Russia and the African Union trio that is scheduled for 2021.

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