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Russia Readies for Challenges and Opportunities in Africa

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Within the framework of the joint declaration adopted at the historic Russia-Africa Summit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has established a Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum has also moved to create an Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS).

The Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum primary task is to coordinate efforts for promoting cooperation between Russian and African integration associations, ensure political and diplomatic support for projects in Africa carried out with Russia’s leading state-run and private companies’ involvement, and for other aspects of preparations for Russia-Africa summits.   

The Association of Economic Cooperation with African States was established as a non-profit organization on 12 April 2020 in accordance with a directive of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin dated 21 March 2020 with the assistance of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  

On September 9, the Roscongress Foundation and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS) held a ceremony in Moscow to sign a cooperation agreement as part of a presentation of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The agreement was signed by Roscongress Foundation CEO and Chairman of the Board, Head of the Russia—Africa Partnership Forum Coordinating Council Alexander Stuglev and the Head of AECAS Alexander Saltanov.

The speeches delivered at the meeting provided detailed information on the current and prospects of cooperation, and development of relations between the Russian Federation and African countries in the context of the results of the Sochi Summit. The discussions offered an insight into the main areas of activity of the Secretariat and the Association, their tasks to expand and strengthen Russian-African ties in within the framework of the dialogue mechanism of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. 

“The Russia-Africa agenda has taken on special relevance today: the first Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum demonstrated the true potential of strategic relations between our countries. We are ready to make efforts and, jointly with the Association, help to create a favourable business climate, while serving as a bridge between Russian and African businesses and providing both sides with high-quality conditions for collaboration,” Stuglev said at the signing ceremony.

On his part, Saltanov said “Russia’s interest in economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation with African countries is long-term, sustainable and importantly, has historical roots. For their part, African countries are interested in Russian investments, technologies, and opportunities for training skilled personnel. The Association’s current goal is to actively search for new growth points and build a structure to expand the scope of common interests and further cooperation with the African continent.”

Mikhail Bogdanov, Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, attended the event. Delivering the opening speech, he said that “The first Russia-Africa Summit, a truly historic event that took place in Sochi in October last year was a response to these changing global challenges. It convincingly illustrated that Russia and its friends in Africa see each other as important and promising partners.

He further explained: “To provide efficient functionality for this new dialogue mechanism the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum has been created. This structure aims to coordinate the entire range of relations with the African countries. It will oversee the formation of interagency expert groups that will come up with tangible solutions to develop and enrich economic, research, and humanitarian cooperation with the preparation for new Summits in mind.”

Oleg Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, stressed that “The first Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum was a landmark event and achievement that made it possible to bring together all key politicians and business representatives from Russia and the African continent, establish contacts and agree on future cooperation areas. The second Russia-Africa event, in turn, will demonstrate the results of our efficient interaction, and, above all, economic results.” 

In May, Ozerov was appointed Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The secretariat will prepare the second Russia-Africa Summit due in 2022 as per the agreements reached at the first ever Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi. Biographical document made available says Ozerov is a diplomat with extensive experience at the Foreign Ministry, including with Arab and African countries.

As part of its preparation for the next Summit in 2022, the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum has created three new Councils. (i) The Coordinating Council will be led by CEO and Chairman of the Roscongress Foundation Alexander Stuglev, (ii) The Research Council will be chaired by Irina Abramova, Director of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and (iii) The Public Council will be headed by Yevgeny Primakov, Head of Rossotrudnichestvo.

These three councils will closely cooperate and hold regular meetings, under the control and with the participation of the Russian-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat. Besides coordination, the Councils will deal with developing substantive conceptual offers for the development of economic, science-technical, humanitarian and other types of cooperation between Russia and the African states.

Russia has been looking for ways to continue building relations based not only on the nostalgic memories of shared past, that of the liberation of African states, but on new values as well: protection and reinforcement of the African states’ sovereignty, the idea of maintaining and strengthening peace, good neighbourliness and cooperation with Russia.

Further, Russia is interested in the exploration and development of mineral resources and energy. It has not significantly invested in needed infrastructure in the continent, while agriculture remains only as a promising area for cooperation. That compared to the golden days, Soviet specialists built major infrastructure facilities, including hydroelectric power plants, roads and industrial enterprises across Africa.

Now, Russian companies are ready to work with their African partners to upgrade transport infrastructure, develop telecommunications and digital technologies, provide information security, and offer the most advanced technologies and engineering solutions.

In 2018, Russia’s trade with African states grew more than 17 percent and exceeded $20 billion. During the Sochi summit, President Vladimir Putin said he would like to bring the trade figure to, at least, $40 billion in the next years. Experts, however, argue that with more than two decades of missed opportunities, Russia could significantly increase trade by improving its own export products and that means competing with other foreign players in Africa.

The first Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum was held in Sochi in October 2019 under the slogan – For Peace, Security, and Development. That event attracted over 6,000 participants, including representatives of all 54 African countries, 45 of which were represented by Heads of State and Governments.

The Summit culminated in the adoption of a final declaration that sets out the goals and objectives that have been endorsed for further development of Russia-Africa cooperation in different dimensions. It designated the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum as a new mechanism for dialogue in addition to summits in the Russia-Africa format once every three years. The second Russia-Africa Summit will be held in 2022.

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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‘Full scale’ humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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Ethiopian refugees fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, rest and cook meals near UNHCR's Hamdayet reception centre after crossing into Sudan. © UNHCR/Hazim Elhag

A “full-scale humanitarian crisis” is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region each day to seek safety in eastern Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported on Tuesday. 

More than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan through crossing points in Kassala and Gedaref states, as well as a new location further south at Aderafi, where Ethiopian refugees started crossing over the weekend, according to UNHCR

The scale of the influx is the worst that part of the country has seen in over 20 years, according to the agency. 

“Women, men and children have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response capacity on the ground,” said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, briefing reporters in Geneva. 

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings”, he added. 

According to news reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has indicated the military operation that was launched in response to the reported occupation of a Government military base by Tigrayan forces nearly two weeks ago, would continue, although he said it was now in its “final phase”.  

‘Needs continue to grow’ 

UN agencies, along with relief partners have ramped up assistance – delivering food rations, hot meals and clean water, as well as setting up latrines and temporary shelters. They are also supporting the Sudanese Government in its response. But the needs continue to grow.  

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also supporting other humanitarian workers in its response, providing fuel for vehicles and generators in remote locations. The UN Humanitarian Air Service, managed by WFP, has also increased flights from three times per week to daily flights for aid workers. 

Since Saturday, UNHCR has relocated 2,500 refugees from the border to Um Raquba settlement site, in eastern Sudan. There is however, a “critical need” to identify more sites so that refugees can be relocated away from the border and can access assistance and services, said Mr. Baloch. 

UNHCR has also issued an emergency fundraising appeal, through which people can help provide urgent, lifesaving assistance to refugees. Click here to make a donation

‘On standby’ in Tigray 

Meanwhile in the Tigray region of Ethiopia itself, lack of electricity, telecommunications, fuel and cash, continue to severely hamper any humanitarian response, the UNHCR spokesperson said.  

“After nearly two weeks of conflict, reports of larger numbers of internally displaced grow daily, while the lack of access to those in need, coupled with the inability to move in goods to the region, remain major impediments to providing assistance,” he said. 

UNHCR and partners are on standby to provide assistance to the displaced in Tigray, including basic items, when access and security allow. 

The conflict is also a major ongoing concern for the Eritrean refugee population of nearly 100,000 in Tigray, who are reliant on assistance from UNHCR and partners.  

“Potential for further displacement of refugees inside the country is increasingly a real possibility … The humanitarian situation as result of this crisis is growing rapidly” he warned, reiterating UNCHR’s call for peace and urge all parties to respect the safety and security for all civilians in Tigray.

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Russia to Build Naval Facility in Sudan

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Emerging from the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi a year ago, Russia will make one huge stride by establishing a naval facility in Sudan. This marks its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region. Sharing a northern border with Egypt, Sudan is located on the same strategic coastline along the Red Sea.

According to the executive order, the published document says “the proposal from the government of the Russian Federation to sign an agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Sudan on creating a facility of the Navy of the Russian Federation in the territory of the Republic of Sudan be adopted.”

It also authorizes “the Defense Ministry of Russia to sign the aforementioned agreement on behalf of the Russian Federation.” The document stipulates that a maximum of four warships may stay at the naval logistics base, including “naval ships with the nuclear propulsion system on condition of observing nuclear and environmental safety norms.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin approved the draft agreement on establishing a naval logistics base in Sudan and gave instructions to submit the proposal to the president for signing. The draft agreement on the naval logistics facility was submitted by Russia’s Defense Ministry, approved by the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee of Russia and preliminary agreed with the Sudanese side.

As the draft agreement says, the Russian Navy’s logistics facility in Sudan “meets the goals of maintaining peace and stability in the region, is defensive and is not aimed against other countries.”

The signing of the document by the Russia president shows the positive results of negotiations, the possibility of constructing a naval base in the region, over the years with African countries along the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.

During a visit by then-President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir to Moscow in November 2017, agreements were reached on Russia’s assistance in modernizing the Sudanese armed forces. Khartoum also said at the time it was interested in discussing the issue of using Red Sea bases with Moscow.

On the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Russia had a naval base in Somalia during the Soviet days. Currently, Djibouti hosts Chinese and American naval bases. China’s military base in Djibouti was set up to support five mission areas. India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. In order to protect its commercial sea-lanes from piracy, it has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean.

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Will South Sudan follow its northern neighbour’s lead?

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As the world watches to see whether President Trump accepts the US election results, few have noticed thatcivil war is looming in Ethiopia, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he was sending troops to the Tigray province. This imperils not only Africa’s second most populous state but its neighbours, Sudan and South Sudan, as well.

Sudan has had a good run recently and is in a better position to weather any regional conflict. In a surprise movelast month, President Trump announced Sudan’s removal from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST)in exchange for normalising relations with Israel. The US is understood to have sweetened the deal with a raft of economic and political incentives, including humanitarian assistance and high-level trade delegations. It would also support Sudan in its discussions with international finance institutions on economic and debt relief.

Since the toppling of President Bashir in 2019, the new transitional government, led by Prime Minister Hamdok, has focused on reviving Sudan’s economy and managing its $60bn debt burden. Hamdok faces a severe economic crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation and the worst flooding in decades, that has affected more than 800,000 people and destroyed homes and large tracts of farmland just before the harvest. Food, bread and medicine are in short supply.

Thesanctions removal means that Sudan can now expect substantial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bankand unlock investment into its fledgling economy.

This is good news for Sudan. But where does it leave its neighbour, South Sudan?

The international community had high hopes for South Sudan when it announced independence in 2011. But its optimism was misplaced. It never understood the Sudanese conflict that began with British colonialism and erupted after the British left in 1956. It wasn’t just a war between the Government of Sudan and the southern Sudanese rebels. Nor was it a fight between the Islamic North and the Christian South. It was a fight over resources and power.

South Sudan continues to fight. After its first post-independence civil war in 2013 and its endless cycle of violence and retribution, South Sudan is now as unstable as it was before it seceded from Sudan. To accommodate the different factions and keep old military men in power, the South Sudanese government and bureaucracy is peopled with those loyal to the former rebels.

Few have the skills needed to manage the country properly. They have squandered their oil opportunity, through mismanagement and corruption. With falling oil growth demand, oil is unlikely to remaina sustainable revenue source. This will challenge the South Sudanese economy which is 90% reliant on oil.

South Sudan is also facing multiple sanctions. In 2014, the international communityimposed travel bans and asset freezes, as well as an arms embargo. In 2018, the EU designated sanctions against individuals involved in serious human rights violations, alarmed  by “the outbreak of a destructive conflict between the Government of South Sudan and opposition forces in December 2013.” Most recently, the US added First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Gai to its Global Magnitsky sanctions list for his involvement in the disappearance and deaths of human rights lawyer Samuel Dong Luak and SPLM-IO member Aggrey Idry.

If US foreign policy towards Sudan was driven by religious and ideological interests in the 1990s and 2000s, what we are now seeing is a shift to transactional diplomacy. There is no reason to think that President Biden would change course.

South Sudan is watching closely. It may be why it has instructed a US lobbying  firm to allegedly lobby for their own sanctions removal. It is also why it welcomed a peace deal between Sudan and five rebel groups in September, paving the way for increased oil export cooperation with its neighbour. 

But stability in the youngest African state is fragile. Even with a recently signed peace agreement between former foes, President Kiir and Vice-President Machar, violence is always lurking. South Sudan is plagued with the same environmental challenges of flooding and poor harvests.  The fighting in Ethiopia will not help. 

As South Sudan looks to the North, it will see a New Sudan, unshackled by the weight of its history and benefitting from international goodwill. Will this encourage South Sudan to look forward instead of back? Or will it unleash demons from the past? 

Let’s hope that the international community pulls itself away from Trump’s horror show and starts paying attention to East Africa. It may be a long winter.

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