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Developments in Russia’s Humanitarian Policy in Africa

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Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian politician, and journalist has been appointed the head of Rossotrudnichestvo, an agency promoting Russia’s humanitarian policy, following a decree signed by Vladimir Putin. Primakov is the successor to Eleanora Mitrofanova, who led the department since December 2017. Future changes in humanitarian policy embodied by Rossotrudnichestvo are thought to create a more favorable regime for Russia in the world arena along with more solidarity.

In order for that to be the case, Russia’s humanitarian policy needs a fundamental review. In recent years, trends that may serve as an impetus for necessary future changes have emerged. The first innovation concerns the functioning of organizations promoting Russia’s international policy and the assessment of their performance. The second determines their regional focus.

As for the revision of the functional features of Russian institutions of humanitarian policy, the necessity to work with NGOs on the ground and use digital technologies seems crucial. Firstly, clarification of the country’s priorities in the field of humanitarian policy could turn useful. Drawing attention to modern power diffusion from state actors to non-state ones, Russian institutions may concern themselves with Russian humanitarian projects’ effectiveness and motivate Russian donors and actors to be more focused on practical work “on the ground.” A shift from only international level cooperation to cooperation on supranational and subnational levels could ensure Russia’s influence and, as a result, a more favorable treatment.

The further issue is effectiveness. With specific humanitarian projects, this means that institutions could improve the situation of the population, communities, and households — only such an effect can and should be a criterion for the effectiveness of the humanitarian policy. Along with official channels, the implementation of this mission requires a more active involvement stemming from the non-governmental sector, namely the media community, and Russian business companies conducting foreign economic activity. It is a search for common ground, universal themes, and areas of interaction in which public opinion abroad (non-governmental organizations, communities) in the future could become a decision-making center for the development of joint dialogue and mutual understanding. In conditions of high uncertainty, digital technologies could have a positive effect on more efficient work.

When it comes to reorienting the regional foreign policy of humanitarian diplomacy institutions, the African continent appears as a priority. The humanitarian policy includes the promotion of humanitarian values. Historically, Russia defends such humanitarian values as peace preservation and justice. Considering the current power transition among states (and it’s moving from West to East and stronger cooperation North-South), Russia could be perceived in international affairs as a guarantor of peace. Consequently, the second apparent humanitarian policy shift is developing more adequate approaches in several areas and regions. The most relevant policy directions for Russia are the countries of the former USSR, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, Africa, and South America. The last two are considered to be resource centers as well as business hubs that if successfully overcame (concerning Africa) problems such as mass hunger and the spread of diseases, could become a field of activity for Russian companies’ interest, and contribute to the development of humanitarian initiatives. These humanitarian initiatives should not be taken as a thing-in-itself, initiatives just for existing initiatives, but rather as a useful tool, providing new employments, further education, and better life opportunities.

The change in the humanitarian agenda is visible on the example of topics within the SPIEF. The SPIEF is an annual Russian business event in the economic field, which has been held since 1997. The Forum’s key mission is to be a practical tool for business, allowing to overcome the barriers that divide Russia and other countries, both geographical and informational. If we look at the previous discussions’ development in relation to the humanitarian agenda, the movement toward the shifts has already begun. Further analysis covers humanitarian issues discussed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017-2019. The Forum has been attended by senior officials of international organizations, representatives from around 140 countries.

Since 2017, the Forum has been showing the need for interaction with NGOs. The topics of discussion of the Forum 2017 covered corporate social responsibility programs, the implementation of humanitarian initiatives, and the public sector’s cooperation with NGOs. The two messages leading the meeting were: any investment project needs a humanitarian component. The costs borne by the state will primarily lead to an improvement in other’s people lives, their health and safety.

The SPIEF-2018 was more focused on “work on the ground initiatives,” as well as with their performance evaluation. In this regard, coordination at the international level alongside the public sector’s active participation in overcoming the obstacles of the agricultural sector of countries is necessary. Going beyond the scope of symbolic activities, corporations make a significant contribution to the implementation of programs aimed at improving the social situation, the quality of life, the provision of humanitarian and medical care services, as well as combating epidemics. Moreover, the state and business’s interaction reduces the risks of natural disasters, but the market underestimates the effectiveness of investments in security. In this regard, state bodies should provide new conditions for beneficial cooperation with the entrepreneurs.

The SPIEF-2019 brought to the surface the digitalization and the level of women’s participation in solving global problems. The topic diversified more into humanitarian cooperation of the state and business on healthcare, culture, education, and digitalization. For the first time, the African continent became more active as representatives from some African countries attended SPIEF. The parties expressed the necessity to develop joint educational programs in education globalization and the labor market. Participants concluded that the digital economy provides women with more opportunities for self-realization. However, to popularize a successful woman’s image and create comfortable working conditions for women, there is still a lot of work to do.

The African direction from 2019 is becoming predominant. Hence why the regional movement of the Russian humanitarian mission is primarily aimed at the South. It is also worth highlighting the Russia-Africa dialogue. Over the past 20 years, African countries have improved cooperation significantly. The problems identified during the discussion are as follows: underdeveloped infrastructure in Africa’s transport, energy, and finance; the African economic overdependency on natural resources; and insufficient level of business interests in Africa. The participants concluded that it is necessary to stimulate cooperation and raise business awareness of the African and Russian markets’ possibilities.

The development of relations between Russia and Africa is officially recognized as a priority. The problem of mutually beneficial Russian-African cooperation is highly multifaceted, far-reaching and essential to ensure Russia’s interests in the international arena. The expansion of Russian presence now results from an increase in the supply of industrial and food products, development of investment cooperation, expanding Russian participation in the development of the economics of the African continent.

Russian-African relations have enough opportunities to play a prominent role in efforts to promote Russia’s humanitarian policy. Russian humanitarian policy needs a fundamental revision at the functional and regional levels. At the operational level, this is expressed in closer cooperation with NGOs and digital technologies to work more effectively on the ground. Through interaction with the regions, the importance of Africa has increased. For Russia, this is a promising area for promoting humanitarian values such as peace preservation and justice.

In this regard, Rossotrudnichestvo is perhaps the primary tool for implementing Russian humanitarian policy. Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) was established in 2008 and today operates in 80 countries. As for Africa, the Russian centers of science and culture (RCSC) are open in Egypt, Zambia, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Morocco, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Ethiopia; Agency representative works at the Russian Embassy in South Africa.

Thus, changes in Russia’s humanitarian policy abroad are expected with the appointment of the new head of Rossotrudnichestvo. Humanitarian policy needs to be revised both functionally and in interaction with the regions. Russia has historically promoted such values as peace preservation and justice. Based on the tendencies and intentions of Mr.Primakov, there is a potential for cooperation with local NGOs. After analyzing the discussions on the humanitarian topics of the SPIEF for 2017-2019, two more trends are emerging. In addition to working closely with the community, there is a need to use digital technologies. This will allow Russia to work not from organization to organization, but from organization to individual. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed Russian education towards cyberspace, which will allow more to receive it. These are precisely life, health, safety, the level of women’s participation in solving global problems that are the goals of humanitarian policy, Russia can and knows how to work on them. In connection with the strengthening of interaction in the Russia-Africa direction, this region is clearly coming to the fore for Russian work. It is the region, like no other, that needs peace preservation and justice. So why shouldn’t Russia satisfy the external demand having the resources to do so?

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Critical Views On Russia’s Policy Towards Africa Within Context Of New World Order

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In September WhatsApp conversation with Matthew Ehret, a Senior Fellow and International Relations Expert at the American University in Moscow, he offers an insight into some aspects of Russia-African relations within the context of the emerging new global order. 

In particular, Matthew gives in-depth views on Russia’s valuable contribution in a number of economic sectors including infrastructure development during the past few years in Africa, some suggestions for African leaders and further on the possible implications of Russia-China collaboration with Africa. Here are important excerpts of the wide-ranging interview:

What are the implications here and from historical perspectives that Russia is looking for its allies from Soviet-era in Africa…and “non-Western friends” for creating the new world order?

Russia is certainly working very hard to consolidate its alliances with many nations of the global south and former non-aligned network. This process is hinged on the Russia-China alliance best exemplified by the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union with the Belt and Road Initiative and the spirit of cooperation outlined in the the Feb. 4 Joint Statement for a New Era of Cooperation.

Of course this is more than simply gaining spheres of influence as many analysts try to interpret the process now underway, but has much more to do with a common vision for instituting a new system of cooperation, creative growth and long term thinking uniting diverse cultural and religious groups of the globe around a common destiny which is a completely different type of paradigm than the unipolar ideology of closed-system thinking dominant among the technocrats trying to manage the rules based international order.

Soviet Union, of course, enormously supported Africa’s liberation struggle and resultantly attained political independence in the 60s. What could be the best practical way for Russia to fight what it now referred to as “neocolonialism” in Africa?

Simply operating on a foundation of honest business is an obvious but important thing to do. The African people have known mostly abuse and dishonest neo-colonial policies under the helm of the World Bank and IMF since WW2, and so having Russia continue to provide investment and business deals tied to the construction of special economic zones that drive industrial growth, infrastructure and especially modern electricity access which Africa desperately needs are key in this process.

African countries currently need to transform the untapped resources, build basic infrastructure and get industrialized -these are necessary to become somehow economic independent. How do you evaluate Russia’s role in these economic areas, at least, during the past decade in Africa?

It has been improving steadily. Of course, Russia does not have the same level of national controls over their banking system as we see enjoyed by China whose trade with Africa has attained $200 billion in recent years while Russia’s trade with Africa is about $20 billion. But despite that, Russia has done well to not only provide trains in Egypt, and has made the emphasis on core hard infrastructure, energy, water systems, and interconnectivity a high priority in the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and the upcoming 2023 Summit.

Generally, how can we interpret African elite’s sentiments about Russia’s return to Africa? Do you think Russia is most often critical about United States and European Union’s hegemony in Africa?

I think the over arching feeling is one of trust and relief that Russia has returned with a spirit of cooperation. According to all the messaging from Lavrov who recently completed an important Africa tour late July, I can say that Russia is very critical of the USA and EU approach to hegemony in Africa. As Museveni and the South Africa Foreign Minister have recently emphasized, they are sick of being talked down to and threatened by western patronizing technocrats, whereas we see a sense of mutual respect among the discourse of Russian and Chinese players which is seen as a breath of fresh air. 

While the west is obsessed with “appropriate green technologies” for Africa while chastizing the continent for its corruption problems (which is fairly hypocritical when one looks at the scope of corruption within the Wall Street- City of London domain), Russia supports all forms of energy development from coal, oil, natural gas and even nuclear which Africa so desperately needs to leapfrog into the 21st century.

Understandably, Russia’s policy has to stimulate or boost Africa’s economic aspirations especially among the youth and the middle class. What are views about this? And your objective evaluation of Russia’s public outreach diplomacy with Africa?

So far Russia has done well in stimulating their youth policy with expanded scholarships to African youth touching on agricultural science, engineering, medicine, IT, and other advanced sectors. Additionally the Special Economic Zones built up by Russia in Mozambique, Egypt have established opportunities for manufacturing and other technical training that has largely been prevented from growing under the IMF-World Bank model of conditionality laced loans driven primarily by the sole aim of resource extraction for western markets and overall control by a western elite. Russia has tended to follow China’s lead (and her own historic traditions of aiding African nations in their development aspirations) without pushing the sorts of regime change operations or debt slavery schemes which have been common practice by the west for too long.

Sochi summit has already provided the key to the questions you have, so far, discussed above. Can these, if strategically and consistently addressed, mark a definitive start of a new dawn in the Russia-African relations?

Most certainly.

Geopolitical confrontation, rivalry and competition in Africa. Do you think there is an emerging geopolitical rivalry, and confrontation against the United States and Europe (especially France) in Africa? What if, in an alliance, China and Russia team up together?

China and Russia have already teamed up together on nearly every aspect of geopolitical, scientific, cultural and geo-economic interest imaginable which has created a robust basis for the continued successful growth of the multipolar alliance centered as it is upon such organizations as the BRICS+, SCO, ASEAN and BRI/Polar Silk Road orientation. This is clear across Africa as well and to the degree that this alliance continues to stand strong, which I see no reason why it would not for the foreseeable future, then an important stabilizing force can not only empower African nations to resist the threats, intimidation and destabilizing influences of western unipolarists. 

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Sahel security crisis ‘poses a global threat’

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Refugee women prepare food in a displacement site in Ouallam, in the Tillaberi region of Niger. © UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

Rising insecurity, including the proliferation of terrorist and other non-State armed groups, coupled with political instability, is creating a crisis in the Sahel that poses a “global threat”, the UN chief warned Thursday’s high level meeting on the vast African region, which took place behind closed doors at UN Headquarters in New York.

“If nothing is done, the effects of terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime will be felt far beyond the region and the African continent”, said Secretary-General António Guterres, in his remarks issued by his Spokesperson’s Office.

“A coordinated international breakthrough is urgently needed. We must rethink our collective approach and show creativity, going beyond existing efforts.”

The insecurity is making a “catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse”, he said, leaving some beleaguered national governments, without any access to their own citizens.

‘Deadly grip’ tightening

Meanwhile, “non-State armed groups are tightening their deadly grip over the region and are even seeking to extend their presence into the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.”

The indiscriminate use of violence by terrorist and other groups means that thousands of innocent civilians are left to suffer, while millions of others are forced from their homes, Mr. Guterres told the meeting of national leaders, during the High Level Week summit.

Women and children in particular are bearing the brunt of insecurity, violence and growing inequality”, he said, with human rights violations, sometimes committed by security forces mandated to protect civilians, “of great concern”.

Climate factor

And the crises are being compounded by climate change, said the UN chief, with soil erosion and the drying-up of water sources, “thereby contributing to acute food insecurity and exacerbating tensions between farmers and herders.”

“Against a global backdrop of turmoil on energy, food and financial markets, the region is threatened by a systemic debt crisis that is likely to have repercussions throughout the continent.”

The conventional international finance remedies are not helping, the UN chief said bluntly, with more and more countries forced to channel precious reserves into servicing debt payments, leaving them unable to pursue an inclusive recovery, or boost resilience.

“It is absolutely necessary to change the rules of the game of the financial reports of the world. These rules of the game are today completely against the interests of developing countries, and in particular the interests of African countries”, said Mr. Guterres, “with debt problems, with liquidity problems, with inflation problems, with instability, necessarily posed by this profound injustice in international financial and economic relations.”

Democracy, constitutional order

The UN chief called for a “renewal of our collective efforts to promote democratic governance and restore constitutional order” across the whole Sahel, which stretches from Senegal in the west to northern Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east, a belt beneath the Sahara of up to 1,000 kilometres.

The rule of law and full respect for human rights are indispensable for ensuring security and sustainable development, Mr. Guterres said.

Addressing national leaders and senior politicians from the region, he said the UN “stands ready to work alongside you, with urgency and solidarity, for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Sahel.”

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South Sudan: Extended roadmap for lasting peace deal, a ‘way point, not an end point’

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Since 2018, the Revitalized Agreement between the key players in South Sudan’s long-running civil war has provided a framework for peace, the Head of the UN mission there, UNMISS, told the Security Council on Friday – “despite continued outbreaks of intercommunal violence”. 

UN Special Representative Nicholas Haysom said that although key provisions of the Agreement are set to end by February, the parties agreed in August on a Roadmap that extends the current transitional period by 24 months. 

While a welcome development, he reminded that “there is no alternative to the implementation of the peace agreement”. 

“Let me underscore that the roadmap is a way point, not an end point”, he said. 

Inclusive political process 

The UNMISS chief flagged the importance of an inclusive political process and the opening of civic spaces as “essential conditions” for a robust and competitive electoral process. 

He then outlined some steps underway – from President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar’s agreement to resolve the parliamentary impasse, to the graduation of the first class of joint armed forces recruits – for which budgetary resources, integration and deployment, are vital to allow a broader security sector transformation. 

“Failure to address these critical issues…have the potential to reverse the gains made,” Mr. Haysom warned. 

Violence continues 

He went on to describe violence on the regional level, marked by cycles of cattle raiding, abduction, and revenge killings along with fighting in Upper Nile state that has displaced thousands of people. 

The Special Representative reported that while conflict-related violence is also increasing, UNMISS continues to support prevention through policy frameworks and other areas. 

“The Mission is strengthening its support to the justice chain in each state…to address crimes that risk destabilizing the peace, including those involving gender-based violence,” he told the ambassadors. 

‘Double pivot’ 

Mr. Haysom said that UNMISS has managed to accomplish a “double pivot” in its focus and operations, by channeling resources towards the political process; proactive deployment to violent hotspots; and expanding its protection presence for civilians. 

He assured that South Sudan’s natural resources have “tremendous potential” for either conflict, or cooperation.  

“It is always political that can make the difference”. 

Turning to the humanitarian situation, he acknowledged that food security continues to deteriorate, leaving some 8.3 million people in need and outstripping available funding. 

Noting that the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 44.6 per cent funded, he urged donors to fulfil their pledges. 

‘Litmus test’ 

He asserted that the next few months would be “a litmus test” for the parties to demonstrate their commitment to the Roadmap, warning against “delays and setbacks”. 

In closing, the Special Representative reaffirmed the importance of the international community’s support. 

“Our collective task now is to support the parties in fulfilling their obligations to the people of South Sudan as per the timing of the Roadmap,” he concluded. 

Indispensable timelines 

Meanwhile, Lilian Riziq, President, South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network discussed a broad-based and inclusive process for all key participants, underscoring the need for a new transitional governance process.  

She underscored that election timelines are indispensable, noting that four years on, levels of revitalized agreement implementation have not brought security or ended humanitarian misery. 

She also highlighted ways that precious oil revenues in South Sudan, have been heavily misused. 

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