Russia is working consistently on strengthening multifaceted relations with Africa despite the numerous challenges. After the first Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi, authorities have been moving to build on this new page in the history of Russia’srelations, based on shared values and interests, with African countries. Within the framework of the joint declaration adopted in Sochi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation created a Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.
On May 18, Deputy Director of the Department of Africa at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Oleg Borisovich Ozerov, was appointed Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. He is a diplomat with extensive experience at the Foreign Ministry, including with Arab and African countries. In 2010-2017, he was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and in 2011-2017, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
In this interview with Modern Diplomacy, Oleg Borisovich Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, talks about the primary tasks of the Secretariat, current efforts at supporting Russian companies to work in Africa and the way forward with Russia-African relations. Here are the interview excerpts:
Q: Why it has become important, in the first place, to create the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation?
A: In October 2019 Sochi hosted the first ever Russia-Africa Summit, ushering in a new era in the history of Russian-African cooperation. The outcomes of this event are evident in its final declaration. The first few points in the document outline decisions made by the event’s participants concerning the establishment of a Russia-Africa Partnership Forum as the Summit’s supreme body. It also stipulates that annual political consultations will be held between the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and African States acting as the present, former and future presidents of the African Union.
There needs to be coordinated action between Russian government bodies and economic actors. This is to ensure that the decisions reached at the previous Summit can be implemented, preparations for the next high-level Russian-African meeting made, and diplomatic support provided for communicating with the African Union and government bodies in Africa which oversee foreign policy. This need for coordinated action has led to the establishment of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Incidentally, one of its key objectives will be to organize and conduct the aforementioned political consultations. The first round of these consultations was held in July of this year.
Q: The Secretariat has already held a few meetings. Could you please talk about some of the decisions that have been taken with regards to strengthening cooperation with Africa?
A: I would like to make a small correction. On 9 September this year, Moscow hosted the official presentation of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States.
The senior management of the Secretariat’s working bodies were presented at this event. These included the heads of the coordinating council, research council, public council, and the working media group. These people are, respectively, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Roscongress Foundation Alexander Stuglev, Director of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Irina Abramova, Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Yevgeny Primakov, and Director General of TASS Sergey Mikhailov.
The first meeting of the coordinating council is planned for October this year. The research and public councils should meet accordingly shortly afterwards. Draft resolutions concerning the work of the Secretariat will be discussed at the aforementioned meetings, and the media will be informed of the outcomes in due course.
Q: Is it possible to discuss the roles of the three created councils (business, research and public) that were created during the meeting of 9 September?
A: The decision to set up the councils was taken much earlier, as the concept for the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat was being drawn up, which was established, as we know, in June this year. The Secretariat does not have a business council. Issues regarding coordination between federal government bodies and the business sector come under the remit of the coordinating council.
The Association of Economic Cooperation with African States also performs the role of a business council, and operates in close collaboration with the Secretariat. All the three councils are staffed by highly qualified professionals. They include people specializing in international relations, economics and finance, science, business, society and the media, who provide expert support for the Secretariat’s operations.
Q: In your objective view, is there a lot of potential in terms of increasing trade and economic cooperation between the African continent and Russia?
A: Speaking to the press at the end of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin noted that in 2018 Russia’s trade with African states exceeded US$20 billion. As pointed out by the Head of State, “It is absolutely feasible to reach higher, and bring the value of trade to, at least, US$40 billion over the next few years.”
The official figures to come out of the Sochi Summit pay testament to the enormous potential of economic relations between Russia and Africa. Of particular note is the fact that delegations from 54 African nations took part in the event. Of these, 45 were led by Heads of State and Government. The Summit was also attended by the heads of eight regional organizations in Africa, 109 foreign ministers, and two vice presidents.
The Russia-Africa Economic Forum, which took place alongside the Summit, was attended by more than 6,000 participants from 104 countries and territories. These included more than 1,100 foreign business leaders, 1,400 Russian business leaders, and 2,200 members of official delegations from Russia and abroad. Ninety-two agreements, contracts, and memoranda of understanding were signed worth a total of more than RUB 1 trillion.
I would say that when organizing and holding the next high-level Russian-African meeting, one of the main objectives will be to further reinforce the powerful momentum built up in Sochi in 2019 in terms of economic collaboration between Russia and African countries. We are now enjoying comprehensive and enduring collaboration which is founded on long-term programmes.
Q: Doing business is not easy in Africa, but what kind of approach do you envisage adopting when it comes to dealing with such issues?
A: We see our mission as uniting economic operators from Russia and Africa, and facilitating the sharing of information between them. We also aim to ensure there is political and diplomatic support for Russian businesses in African countries. The Secretariat will work in close collaboration with the aforementioned Association of Economic Cooperation with African States.
We enjoy robust ties and have established communications with relevant Russian ministries and government bodies responsible for foreign trade, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Coordinating Committee on Economic Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa (AfroCom) and many other organizations.
The task before us is to coordinate the actions of all stakeholders with the aim of effectively promoting Russia’s economic interests in Africa and to foster mutually beneficial cooperation with African nations.
Q: Apart from corporate business at the state level, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has spoken about developing medium-sized enterprises. Is this part of your plan?
A: Small and medium-sized enterprises have already been using the AfroCom platform to work together with African countries for a long time. Incidentally, this organization is planning to soon join the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States. Our embassies’ consular departments and trade missions – where they exist – are also providing assistance to small and medium-sized Russian businesses. They are helping them to find partners in African countries and to establish business ties.
In accordance with the decisions made at the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit, we will also help build partnerships for small and medium-sized businesses, and help them to be more active and effective. The plans and strategies, which will be employed to achieve this, will be discussed at the first meeting of the coordinating council this October, as well as at other events.
Q: Looking at current developments and other active foreign players on the African continent, what do you see as the key challenges there?
A: In terms of intensifying economic collaboration between Russia and African countries, we need to anticipate the technical aspects of having Russian businesspeople, firms, and companies do business on the African continent. In particular, this means looking at transport accessibility (by air and sea), processes and forms related to mutual settlements, making payments, investment, providing loans, hedging risk, providing legal services and insurance, etc. Work on these aspects must be done immediately, in parallel with work on organizing the next Summit.
That said however, the current coronavirus pandemic is causing considerable difficulties, at the moment. It is affecting international travel and is hindering economic activity across the board, including in African countries.
In terms of competing with other countries on the continent, we are counting on building relations between Russian firms and companies in such a way as to create a sense of camaraderie and solidarity when it comes to withstanding foreign competitors on the African market. This will be another area of focus for the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States as it works in close collaboration with the Secretariat.
Q: Why do you think Russia’s soft power is not what it was during the days of the Soviet Union?
A: I cannot say I fully agree with that statement. There are numerous examples of how Russia has achieved notable success through soft power. I would like to particularly draw attention to the fantastic work being done by the Russian news channel Russia Today, under Margarita Simonyan’s leadership. And I cannot ignore the fact that in many African countries, a number of important roles within the African Union and a host of other regional organizations are staffed by graduates of Soviet and Russian universities. This says a great deal about the nature of Russian-African partnership. And there is still a high degree of interest among African people in studying in the Russian Federation.
I am also aware that Rossotrudnichestvo (the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) is working hard to make Russia’s humanitarian presence both more effective and more keenly felt abroad, including in African countries.
Q: What plans do you have in terms of developing cooperation in education, the media and culture over the next few years?
The final declaration of the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit includes an entire section on our collaboration in science, culture, education and social ties. Rossotrudnichestvo is the main body in Russia responsible for humanitarian cooperation, including with African states. At the next meeting of the public council, we intend to discuss this agenda in detail with Yevgeny Primakov, who heads the organization. This discussion will take place within the context of implementing the decisions of the Sochi Summit and working towards fulfilling associated objectives.
African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter
A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.
The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.
Earlier in August 2021, UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.
August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.
Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.
Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax
It is one year since the international community gave its backing to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to lead a worldwide effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. The initiative aimed to ensure that every country, and not just those with sufficient money or resources, could access life-saving vaccines once they became available. As G20 health ministers prepare to meet in Rome on September 5-6, they are in a position to ensure that COVAX fulfills its mission.
A year ago, no one knew when or even if it might be possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, let alone the 20 that are available today. But since making its first international deliveries in February, COVAX a partnership established by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has delivered more than 235 million vaccine doses to 139 countries, and expects to deliver another billion doses in the fourth quarter. Only China, India, and the United States have delivered more. This start to the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history has given hope to millions of people and laid solid foundations for how we respond to future pandemics.
Yet, so much more could, and should, have been achieved by now. It is unacceptable that only 1.8% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. This shocking inequality is as economically senseless as it is destructive to human life, with the latest estimate of the cost of the slow rollout amounting to $2.3 trillion.
The world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, and this is reflected in the challenges COVAX has faced. By the time initial funding arrived, wealthy countries had already locked up early vaccine supplies. Export bans affecting key suppliers, and difficulties experienced by many manufacturers in scaling up production to the required level, also undermined COVAX’s ability to access doses early.
Given increasing global vaccine inequity and the rise of new, more contagious coronavirus variants, we must put these challenges behind us. Thanks to the support of almost all G20 governments, alongside that of foundations and private businesses, COVAX has now raised nearly $10 billion and secured more than 600 million donated doses. All the preparations are in place for the most comprehensive vaccination effort that the world has seen.
Based on the committed orders COVAX has placed with vaccine manufacturers and the additional donations, hundreds of millions of new doses should now be available each month. We need to make sure they reach poorer countries and get into people’s arms. To avoid further delays, and for the facility to succeed, we need support from G20 leaders in four key areas.
First, we need doses, and we need them now. The premise of COVAX was always that the facility should be able to negotiate and buy its own doses. With our early vaccine access compromised, donations have played a vital role in maintaining our ability to keep doses flowing to those most in need. Of the 600 million doses pledged to COVAX to date, 100 million have now been delivered. We need more, and soon, with longer shelf lives and greater certainty so that recipient countries have time to plan their rollout. This can be achieved without jeopardizing high-income countries’ national vaccination efforts.
We also need G20 leaders to support our call for transparency. COVAX has legally binding agreements with manufacturers for more than four billion doses, but has all too often faced delays in accessing them. Without greater clarity regarding firms’ order books, it is impossible to know whether these holdups are due to production challenges or preferential treatment for bilateral arrangements. Insisting that manufacturers are transparent about their order timelines can ensure a level playing field where no one particularly those living in developing countries gets bumped to the back of the vaccine queue because of another bilateral deal.
In addition to ensuring that manufacturers keep their commitment to COVAX, governments should make global vaccine access their highest priority. Countries with pending orders for doses that they currently do not need should allow COVAX to take their place in the queue so that we can get doses to needy countries now.
Finally, lower-income countries require continued financial and technical support for their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Strengthening national health systems will help these countries to ensure delivery of doses and mitigate the pandemic’s secondary effects, and will leave in place infrastructure critical to future global health security.
By recommitting to COVAX, G20 leaders will recommit to a multilateral solution that builds on the astounding scientific progress of the past year. Based on COVAX’s latest forthcoming supply forecast, when topped up with doses through bilateral deals, equitable COVID-19 vaccine access can protect up to 60% of the adult population in 91 lower-income countries. This would represent a huge step toward the WHO target of 70%, which is needed to suppress the coronavirus everywhere, and COVAX represents the best opportunity to achieve it.
Failure would mean more lives lost, broken health-care systems, even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight. The G20 must not allow that to be an option.
More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.
During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.
Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”
An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.
According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.
“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.
“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.
Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.
Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.
Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”
Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.
On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.
“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”
According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:
• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19.
• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years.
• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots.
• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades.
• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine.
• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V.
• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world.
In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.
Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.
Russian Direct Investment Fund (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. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.
In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.
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