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How Somalia Was Made ‘Great Again’

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In recent weeks the confluence of many issues and events of different shades and dangers made Somalia’s political situation more complicated. This being the last year of the current administration, challenges of that nature are not entirely new, but the intensity and volatility of these developments are.

However, this piece is not an attempt to chronicle each one of said challenges and lay the blame on one political actor or another, but to illustrate how the dirty and notoriously impulsive local politics that dominate the discourse has been turning the attention away from Somalia’s national interest and international predators that are elbowing each other for zero-sum booty control.  

The most critical being the American guerilla diplomats’ covert coup against their British counterparts that has been protecting Soma Oil and Gas’ exclusive interests. These diplomats adhere to no international laws and often employ shady tactics that neither the U.K. Foreign Office nor the US State Department would be willing to acknowledge.

Who Didn’t Start The Fire?

On Saturday July 25, the Lower House of the Somali parliament has held an extraordinary session passed a vote of no-confidence motion to oust Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire amidst electoral rancor that kept the federal states drifting away from the center.

Interestingly, the ousting came only a few days after he successfully orchestrated Dhusamareeb Agreement signed by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and the federal states and when there was less than six months remaining from the current government’s term.

After the election related items on the agenda were discussed, the Speaker of the Parliament, Mursal Mohamed Abdurahman, literally rammed in a no-confidence motion that was not even part of the agenda, ignored the ‘point of order’ raised by some MPs, and continued the hand counting. Within an hour or so, the surgical removal was complete: 170 ‘yes’ & 8 ‘no’. After ensuing commotion by the objecting MPs, the Speaker gaveled out of the session. Mission accomplished.

 Cold War Beween Partners 

Despite the popular perception that this was solely driven by that all too familiar ‘xilligii kala guurka’ (time to part ways) politics, this was the last phase of the diplomatic cleansing of the U.K. influence- Khaire. He was Soma Oil and Gas’ East Africa man whose initial appointment this analyst has vehemently opposed.

It was the culmination of a systematic, delicately executed overthrow to end UK’s dominance of the Somalia affairs. It started with the recruitment of Qatar to directly counter-balance against UAE and bankroll Farmajo’s election. It was not a hard sell under since Qatar was under a long simmering UAE/Saudi Arabia led aggression since the Arab Spring. Moreover, it may be worth noting that Qatar already had on the ground a network of brokers who in the past provided dark money to former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s administration for other projects.

Once Farmajo became the president, the systematic process to cut off all advisors, technocrats, security experts, and members of the Council of Ministers who were from or were associated with UK began. In a parallel process, the relationship with UAE had to be suspended. This was critical for mainly two reasons: One, it would get rid of UK’s cash cow of corruption. “Let me call our friends” was the notorious code of reassurance used by British diplomates that UAE embassy will be delivering the cash. This under the radar process kept their hands clean. Two—perhaps more important than the former—it would pull the plug off on the (UAE-funded) ICJ maritime case.

Though locally it is considered a patriotic initiative taken by former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, this was a Soma Oil and Gas project. ICJ rule in favor of Somalia meant another corrupt giveaway to this shady company that illegally owns Somalia’s natural resources. Farmajo is on board with a behind the curtain deal to pull the case out of ICJ and settle for a ‘negotiated’ deal with Kenya that brings in new partners. This may explain why there were multiple postponements of public hearings- something that, contrary to the Somali government’s claim, could not have been unilaterally done by the court. Hence, an official announcement after the extension is secured should shock no one.

 Going back to the first major step; it was followed by the takeover of the command center- UNSOM. Merely two months into his new position, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Nicholas Haysom, was accused of interfering in a sovereign state’s internal affairs. Tough I was never a big fan of the dubious role that the British diplomatic team and their field commanders at UNSOM played before Haysom, I was critical of the persona non grata charade and I suspected it being a “a cover up”. So Ambassador Haysom was shortly replaced by an American, Ambassador James Swan.

This was followed by pressuring Qatar to drop Prime Minister Khaire from the recipients of the electoral facilitation cash that brought him and President Farmajo to power. Khaire and his network of predatory capitalists spent two weeks in and around Doha meeting with certain elements in the (useful) king-making business. The answer was simple: the game has changed and you are on your own, old partner.

As soon as it became clear to Khaire that he could neither be part of any extension that may be granted to his partner (Farmajo) nor could he expect cash-loads coming from Qatar, he had to resort to a political kamikaze operation labled as a peace process. He reached out to the federal-states, especially Puntland and Jubbaland that lost trust on the central government, as his most viable partners; hence the Dhusamareeb Conference.

Dominance and Its Risks

Farmajo went to participate in the Dhusamareeb conference with his own uncompromising agenda: grant me a term extension of two years so I could marshal the nation to ‘one-person-one-vote electoral system’.  After Dhusamareeb One and Two, the federal-states and the central government reached an agreement: Farmajo will get no extension and a technical committee made of all stakeholders would determine the kind of election and it would be unveiled and ratified at Dhusamareeb Three.     

On Aug 13, with Khaire out of the way and Farmajo seeming to have gained a momentum for his term-extension agenda, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto’s office tweeted this:

@US2Somalia is eagerly waiting for #Dhusamareb 3 Mtg results. The need for wide spread consultations & genuine compromise is key. The election model needs broad based support from FGS, FMS, Parliament, & other stakeholders. Timely elections, no mandate extensions. #Somalia.”

And on Aug 20, as soon one-sided Dhusamareeb Three shenanigan to ensure the extension concluded, the same office tweeted:

@US2SOMALIA has worked for inclusion of all views at the table in #Dhusamareb3, but can’t help those absent. Spoilers withholding participation sacrifice democracy for own ambitions. Parties will need to move forward with timely model agreed.”

Though these statements are reminiscent of a bygone era known as the ‘transitional period’ it supports my last article that Somalia is under a dysfunctional trusteeship, I venture say it was intended to serve, on the one hand, as a reassurance for UK and other donor nations that US is not supporting an extension; on the other hand, to put a thumb on the scale and coerce the federal-states to march behind Farmajo. It is the only way to harvest what was sowed a few years earlier. But, since the term extension appears to be like striking a matchstick over a pool of kerosene, it must be done through a legitimate process- the federal parliament.

Execution Express

Meanwhile, following Trump‘s patented method of appointing care-takers to a number key posts to avoid congressional scrutiny, Farmajo appoints a Care-taker Prime Minister with a free-hand to exercise full authority over the Council of Ministers. This flies in the face of the very constitution that Farmajo often references to underscore the power vested in the federal parliament. So exercise and expedite to the max is what the care-taker did.

Immediately upon assuming his new post, the care-taker Prime Minister, Mahdi Guled, dashed through the approval of a few international projects and appointed the Somali Petroleum Authority without any transparency, without capacity and integrity review of the members of this highly critical body of trustees. This same questionable authority is all of sudden set to make a critical decision that could haunt Somalia for generations. The method, the timing, and the haste should raise a red flag. 

 Who Owns It?

These controversial events of the past three plus years that shook the foundation of Somalia’s political structure confirm a looming danger that some analysts were warning against- a perfect storm emanating from resource curse, geographical curse, and clannism curse.

There are two things that one must keep in mind when conducting any political affairs or developing any strategies for domestic or international end:

One, there is no such thing as ‘spontaneous combustion’ because all things political are driven by an overt or a covert objective, or both. Two, if you are not interested or are not able to assess behavioral patterns or connect the dots, you are better off finding another career to pursue.

2021 is here and not much has changed since the last election. The political situation is in total disarray, drone attacks reached the danger zone and security continues to worsen, corruption still remains a skill in high demand, sovereignty still remains a pie in the sky, and many hands continue to operate inside the cookie jar of resources. So long as the dominant political discourse remains on clans, personality politics, and methods of transitioning power, expect the wheel of exploitation to gain more ground and the predators to get more emboldened.   

Somalia still remains a political prospect that is between a romantic ideal and corrosive reality; between conformity with clannism and the reformation toward statehood; between a living idea and a dying potential; between yearning for liberty and enabling the subjugators; between individual interest and collective benefit.

An enlightened intergenerational movement to reclaim Somalia is needed more than ever; also, leaders with vision and strategy that transcend the clan mentality in order to reimagine a new nation and put the common good and national interest before all others.

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics. Twitter: @Abukar_Arman or reach him via e-mail: abukar_arman[at]yahoo.com

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African Youth Deserve Better Learning Opportunities

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photo: © UNICEF/Frank Dejongh

Authors: Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and Ousmane Diagana*

Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the education crisis in Western and Central Africa.  The pandemic hampered efforts to increase enrollment rates: indeed, more than 101 million children could not go to school and had little access to distance learning. As countries rebuild their economies, it is urgent to act now to secure the future of our children. We call for a general mobilization of our societies to invest in better education systems.

The leaders of the region recognize the utmost importance of educating our young girls and boys, and significant efforts have been made in this regard. Today, the average net primary school enrollment rate in the region is nearly 90 percent, a substantial increase from less than 50 percent in the 1990s. Likewise, secondary school enrollment has more than doubled in the last decade.

However, the population of Western and Central Africa is expected to double in the next 30 years, and significant challenges remain. More than 32 million children in the region are out of school. Furthermore, children who attend school do not always acquire the necessary knowledge or skills. Currently, 80 percent of children cannot read and understand a simple text by the age of 10, and options for formal skills acquisition are limited.

To reverse this trajectory, urgent action is needed to advance reforms in education and deliver better access to quality education for our children. This will require strong leadership, better implementation, and more investments in high-impact interventions, including a whole-of-society and government approach.

Strong leadership is critical to advancing reforms and scaling up innovations

We will not be able to deliver change without building and sustaining political momentum in the region. We are convinced that our call will echo the Nouakchott Declaration from the Heads of State at the Sahel Education Summit in December 2021. The countries in the region must continue to increase their investments in education. However, governments alone cannot bridge the financing gap and meet the massive and growing needs.

Many projects already demonstrate the tremendous results that can be achieved when leadership and political will are accompanied by sufficient funding. The Free Senior High School policy introduced by Ghana in 2017 is a good example of ensuring access, equity, and quality in education. Similarly, Sierra Leone’s Free Quality School Education initiative launched in 2018 offers all children tuition-free admission to government-approved schools. Mali’s PRODEC 2, a comprehensive 10-year national education program, takes a holistic approach to pursuing improvement in the school system, despite closures due to conflict and insecurity, among other issues. In the Edo State of Nigeria, the government is implementing a comprehensive approach that leverages technology and scripted lessons to improve teaching and learning outcomes.

The region can learn a lot from its own experiences

Time and again, the people of Western and Central Africa have proven their ability to learn from their experiences.

To deliver results at scale, we are committed to meeting ambitious targets and focusing on:  helping 30 million children to read by 2030; ensuring that 12.5 million more adolescent girls are in school by 2030; training 3.7 million more young adults in foundational skills by 2025; and ensuring that 1 million more youth acquire digital skills by 2025, of whom 60 percent will be expected to obtain better jobs.

Many inspiring projects already strive to attain these targets.  For instance, in Nigeria, the Better Education Service Delivery for All-BESDA Project is supporting the integration of school-age children who attend religious schools into public schools that teach the official curriculum. In Senegal, the Read@Home—Investing in Early Years for Human Development Project is improving child nutrition and early stimulation, thus improving teaching and learning. Further, across 12 countries in Western and Central Africa, the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACE) Projects are addressing the widespread skills shortages and mismatches by training post-graduate students. The Projects also support the scaling of research capacity and regional collaboration in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as the health and agriculture fields.

Better coordination and more inclusive decision-making

Although more investment is urgent, it cannot achieve the much-needed transformation without a coordinated approach at the national level, as well as the involvement of all concerned. In many of the region’s countries, more efforts are needed to rationalize the governance of education systems to achieve greater coherence, cooperation, and coordination.

Recognizing the diversity of our societies, languages, and educational practices, we must also ensure that our projects are developed in an inclusive manner. All stakeholders must be involved in an elevated dialogue so that we can have a common language and therefore coherence to define the goals we must achieve.

The vitality and innovative spirit of our young people are our best assets and hold great promise for our region. Only we will be able to harness the demographic dividend, but only if our youth are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to realize their full potential and ensure social justice and mobility for all. Our young people deserve better education. Their interests must come first. It is only then that the region can be robustly transformed.

*Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Vice President for Western and Central Africa

Originally published by Devex/ World Bank

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Russians’ Passion for Signing Agreements with African Countries

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Russia needs to go beyond its traditional rhetoric of Soviet-era assistance rendered to Africa. It is important now to highlight concrete success stories and policy achievements, at least, during the past decade throughout Africa. The young generation and the middle class, aged between 25 to 45 that make the bulk of the 1.3 population, hardly see the broad impact of Russia’s relations with Africa.

Russia plans to hold the second Russia-Africa summit later this year. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, indicated in mid-June message that “in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation.”

Lavrov said: “It is in the interests of our peoples to work together to preserve and expand mutually beneficial trade and investment ties under these new conditions. It is important to facilitate the mutual access of Russian and African economic operators to each other’s markets and encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects. The signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.” 

The above statement arguably offers some implications especially discussing this question of relationship-building. Nevertheless, Lavrov has aptly asserted that within the “emerging and sustainable polycentric architecture of the world order” relations with Africa is still a priority, but Russians always close their eyes on the fact that Russia’s foreign policy in Africa has failed to pronounce itself, in practical terms, as evidenced by the countable forays into Africa by Russian officials. 

The Soviet Union was quite extensively engaged in Africa, comparatively. Russia has only been criticizing other foreign players during the past two decades without showing any template model of building relationship. Its foreign policy goals is simply sustaining the passion for signing several MoUs and bilateral agreements with African countries. 

During the past years, there have been several meetings of various bilateral intergovernmental commissions both in Moscow and in Africa. The first summit discussed broadly the priorities and further identified opportunities for collaboration. It, however, requires understanding the tasks and the emerging challenges. The current tasks should concretely focus on taking practical collaborated actions leading to goal-driven results. Lavrov hopes “the signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.” 

Still Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry. While, given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role, according to Professor Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Researchers have been making tangible contributions to the development of African studies in Russia. This Moscow-based Africa Institute has a huge pack of research materials useful for designing an African agenda. In an interview, Professor Vladimir Shubin at the Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences reiterated that Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad sectors of the public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments of Russia’s economy, science and technology to form a positive perception of Russia within the context of the current global changes of the 21st century. 

As to Russia’s involvement, it has undoubtedly a vast experience in development of projects in Africa accumulated during Soviet times, building of power stations and dams or creating of technological training institutes. What is lacking nowadays is its ability to provide large investments, according to Shubin, “but Russian expertise and technology can still be used while carrying out internationally-financed projects in Africa.”  

As to the failures, perhaps, we have to point to the lack of deep knowledge of African conditions, especially at the initial stage of the involvement which sometimes resulted in suggesting (or agreeing to) unrealistic projects, But there are good prospects for reactivating diversified cooperation, he explained.

Chronological analysis shows that Russia’s politics toward Africa under President Boris Yeltsin (1991-2001) was described as a lost decade, both in internal and external affairs, including relations with Africa. Historical documents further show that after the Soviet collapse there were approximately 380 projects throughout Africa. In the early 1990s, Russia exited, closed a number of diplomatic offices and abandoned all these, and now hardly no sign of Soviet-era infrastructure projects there. 

Policy statements have indicated strong optimism for raising relations. That however, at least during the two past decades, official reports including speeches at high-level conferences, summits and meetings indicated there are projects being implemented in Africa by such leading Russian businesses as Rosneft, Lukoil, Rosgeo, Gazprom, Alrosa, Vi Holding, GPB Global Resources and Renova.

It is an acceptable fact that Russia has always been on Africa’s side in the fight against colonialism and now neo-colonialism. But the frequency of reminding again and again about Soviet-era assistance, that was offered more than 60 years ago, will definitely not facilitate the expected beneficial trade and investment ties under these new conditions. The United Nations declared Africa fully independent in 1960, and Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Afreximbank President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr. Benedict Okey Oramah, says Russian officials “keep reminding us about Soviet era” but the emotional link has simply not been used in transforming relations. Oramah said one of Russia’s major advantages was the goodwill. He remarked that even young people in Africa knew how Russia helped African people fight for independence. “So an emotional link is there,” he told Inter-Tass News Agency.

The biggest thing that happened in Africa was the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). That is a huge game-changer, and steps have been made lately in the African countries for creating better conditions for business development and shaping attractive investment climate. “Sometimes, it is difficult to understand why the Russians are not taking advantage of it?  We have the Chinese, we have the Americans, we have the Germans who are operating projects…That is a very, very promising area,” Oramah said in his interview last year.

Ahead of Sochi summit 2019, Oramah presented a useful economic report to a special business conference that ran from 18 to 22 June, the same year, and listed spheres for possible cooperation such as finances, energy, mining, railway infrastructure, digital technologies, cybersecurity, healthcare, education, food security in Africa.

That conference saw several agreements signed including between the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Sinara-Transport Machines JSC (STM), Transmash Holding JSC, Russian Export Center JSC, Avelar Solar Technology LLC, Chelyabinsk Pipe Plant PJSC, Kolon World Investment, and Opaia SA and the Roscongress Foundation. As far back in 2017, the Russian Export Center became Afreximbank’s third largest non-African shareholding financial organization shareholder, and expected to contribute to the acceleration of investment, trade, and economic relations between Russia and African countries.

Interesting to note here that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. The growing middle class, among other factors, constitutes a huge market potential in Africa. The African continent currently has enormous potential as a market, and some experts say it is the last business frontier. 

Many African countries are enacting economic reforms, demand is growing for high-quality, competitive products. Russian businesses are interested in this niche, but Russians are extremely slow. The snail-pace approach reflects their inability to determine financial instruments for supporting trade with and investment in Africa.

Accentuating the importance of multilateral cooperation between Russia and Africa, Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation, Anton Kobyakov, said: “The current situation in the world is such that we are witnesses to the formation of new centers of economic growth in Africa. Competition for African markets is growing accordingly. There is no doubt that Russia’s non-commodity exporters will benefit from cooperating with Africa on manufacturing, technologies, finances, trade, and investment.”

Kobyakov further pointed to modern Russia, which already has experience of successful cooperation with African countries under its belt, is ready to make an offer to the African continent that will secure mutually beneficial partnership and the joint realization of decades of painstaking work carried out by several generations of Soviet and Russian people.

With these impressive relations, Russia has not pledged publicly concrete funds toward implementing its policy objectives in Africa. Moreover, Russian officials have ignored the fact that Russia’s overall economic engagement is largely staggering, various business agreements signed are still not fullfilled with many African countries. 

Agreements and business negotiations resulted into 92 agreements, contracts and memoranda of understanding. Summit documents say a total of RUB 1.004 trillion ((US$12.5 bn) worth of agreements were signed at that highly-praised historic first summit in October 2019.

Large Russian companies have been unsuccessful with their projects, negatively reflecting the real motives for bilateral economic cooperation. There are several examples such as Rosatom in South Africa, Norrick Nickel in Botswana, Ajeokuta Steel Plant in Nigeria, Mining projects in Uganda and Zimbabwe, Lukoil in Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Currently, Russia is simply invisible in spheres providing infrastructures in Africa.

Undoubtedly, a number of Russian companies have largely underperformed in Africa, experts described was primarily due to multiple reasons. Most often, Russian investors strike important investment niches that still require long-term strategies and adequate country study. Grappling with reality, there are many investment challenges including official bureaucracy in Africa.

In order to ensure business safety and consequently taking steps to realize the primary goals, it is necessary to attain some level of understanding the priorities of the country, investment legislations, comply with terms of agreement and a careful study of policy changes, particularly when there is a sudden change in government.

What is abundantly clear is how to further stimulate African governments into exploring investment opportunities in Russia and also Russian investors into Africa within some framework of mutual cooperation. In order to facilitate both Russian and African economic operators to have access to each other’s markets and encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects must necessarily involve taking progressive practical steps toward resolving existing obstacles.

That said, preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit are currently underway. “The Russian side aims to continue preparing the second, as well as subsequent Russian-Africa summits and aims to make them as efficient as possible. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries are taking steps to build a full and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the African countries, including the formation of a reliable social and economic infrastructure, food and energy security on the continent,” said Oleg Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

Worth saying here that African leaders are waiting to cut white ribbons marking the successful completion of Russian-managed something. Really it is time to shift from juicy rhetoric and move on towards implementing the package of bilateral agreements especially those involving infrastructure investments, determine financing concrete projects and deliver on decade-old pledges to the people of Africa. 

While Russian and African leaders strike common positions on the global platform, there is also the need to recognize and appreciate the welfare of 1.3 billion population, majority impoverished, in Africa. Significant to suggest that with new horizons of the polycentric world order emerging and unfolding, active engagement of the African youth, women entrepreneurs, civil society leaders and active change-makers in the middle-class into policy efforts is necessary.

With the youth’s education, some experts are still critical. Gordey Yastrebov, a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne (Germany), argues in an email interview discussion that “education can be a tool for geopolitical influence in general, and for changing perceptions specifically, and Russia (just like any other country) could use it for that same purpose. However, Russia isn’t doing anything substantial on this front, at least there is no consistent effort with obvious outcomes that would make me think so. There are no large-scale investment programs in education focusing on this.” 

He explains that Russian education can become appealing these days, but given that Russia can no longer boast any significant scientific and technological achievements. Western educational and scientific paradigm embraces cooperation and critical independent thinking, whereas this is not the case with the Russian paradigm, which is becoming more isolationist and authoritarian. Obviously by now, Africa should look up to more successful examples elsewhere, perhaps in the United States and Europe.

As the official Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website indicated – it is evident that the significant potential of the economic cooperation is far from being exhausted, much remains to be done in creating conditions necessary for interaction between Russia and Africa. At a meeting of the Ministry’s Collegium, Lavrov further suggested, that was back in 2019, taking a chapter on the approach and methods adopted by China in Africa.

Now at the crossroad, it could be meadering and longer than expected to make the mark. Russia’s return journey could take another generation to reach destination Africa. With the current geopolitical changing world, Russia has been stripped of as a member of many international organizations. As a direct result of Russia’s “special military operation” aims at “demilitarization and denazification” since late February, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

For more information, look for the forthcoming Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities” (Part 2) devoted to the second Russia-Africa Summit 2022.

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Why Russia’s Vaccine Diplomacy Failed Africa

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President Vladimir Putin with Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

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. 

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