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Russia-Africa: Time to Act –interview with Alexander Stuglev

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Within the framework of the joint declaration adopted in Sochi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation created a Secretariat of Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat’s primary task is to coordinate efforts for promoting cooperation between Russian and African business associations, ensure political and diplomatic support for projects carried out by Russia’s state-run and private companies in Africa, and coordinating aspects of preparations for future Russia-Africa summits.

During its September meeting, the Secretariat created Coordinating Council headed by Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Roscongress Foundation Alexander Stuglev. Early October, Alexander Stuglev gave an exclusive interview to Modern Diplomacy’s Special Regional Representative, Kester Kenn Klomegah, in which he discussed some aspects of Russia’s plan to raise its economic, investment and trade profile in Africa.

Q: Is it comfortable for you to discuss the key questions that were raised during September meeting of the Secretariat under the slogan “Time to Act” and what is the main advantage to have Roscongress Foundation acting as the coordinator for business-related aspects with Africa?

A: The main objective of the event held in Moscow was to make all stakeholders based in Russia and African States aware of two specialized bodies that were established following the Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum in 2019. These are the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States.

The Summit and Economic Forum laid the foundations for further collaboration. The wide-ranging and ambitious task now ahead of us is to create the conditions and to identify opportunities which will allow us to strengthen and increase Russian-African cooperation across the board.

Three interdepartmental councils have been established within the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat: a coordinating council, research council, and public council. By working together, these three bodies will enable us to take a comprehensive approach to fulfilling existing and new emerging tasks. We have a great deal of work ahead of us right now, and the outcomes will be discussed at the next Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum, which is set to take place in 2022.

For our part, we will continue working hard to promote the African agenda, including at key events organized by the Roscongress Foundation. We will involve all stakeholders in the process, especially our African partners. I have every confidence that the Foundation’s experience, extensive international ties, and expertise will enable us to build an integrated ecosystem which will facilitate effective collaboration between the business, political, and expert communities of Russia and Africa. That is our long-term objective as we see it.

Q: What are your views on trade between Russia and Africa following the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in October 2019? Trade needs to flow in both directions. What can Russia offer Africa, and vice versa?

A: Russia has achieved impressive results across numerous areas to date, and is ready to share its experience and expertise with its African partners. Specific examples would include agriculture, energy, medicine, digital technologies, and infrastructure projects. There is interest on both sides in working together in these areas – a fact which was demonstrated at the Economic Forum in Sochi. Something that is crucial and extremely relevant for the times we currently live in is the successful experience of working together in healthcare. Up to 60% of yellow fever vaccines imported by Africa are produced in Russia. A Russian vaccine against Ebola has also shown to be highly effective, and is currently being used in Guinea.

At the same time, I am convinced that Africa possesses enormous potential to become, for example, one of the key players on the international food market. It is Russia’s objective to help Africa achieve this by entering into an equal and mutually beneficial partnership. By working together, we can fully deal with any of the difficulties which can be encountered in certain regions of Africa. We can increase the amount of cultivated land, improve irrigation systems, and increase the use of fertilizers. I believe that close collaboration in this area could serve as a good example of a mutually beneficial endeavour which results in African states improving their agricultural sectors and increasing production, and over time, in Russia having the opportunity to purchase high-quality agricultural products.

Q: According to official statistics, Russia’s current exports to Africa are worth US$20 billion. However, two thirds of exports go to the Maghreb region or North Africa. What could be the reasons for the low level of trade with countries in sub-Saharan Africa?

A: I would highlight two key problems here which have negatively impacted trade with countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Firstly, there is a lack of mutual awareness. Unfortunately, the African continent remains little known in Russia, and in Africa, there’s only a vague notion of what Russia is. All of this ultimately leads to the creation and reinforcement of stereotypes, and puts up barriers to more productive cooperation. Russian businesses simply don’t know what to expect from Africa or vice versa.

Secondly, the risks can be high, and investors are often not willing to assume all these risks alone. I think that a possible solution to this problem could lie in the creation of mechanisms to facilitate inter-governmental collaboration and provide support. That way, an investor can feel assured that in the event of force-majeure, such as socio-political unrest, their investment is protected by the state in question. An additional security guarantee for investments could be provided by having two or more states involved via subregional organizations and large African banks, for example.

Q: For many years now, trade between Russia and Africa has been unbalanced, and has often been one-sided in Russia’s favour. What measures could be taken to overcome this disparity?

A: As I have already mentioned above, the experience and expertise that Russia is able to offer African states can, in the long-run, positively impact the level of exports from Africa to our country. It therefore follows that balancing out trade between Russia and Africa depends, to a specific extent, on the willingness of Russian businesses to invest in promising areas of Africa’s economy and to share their knowledge, and on the willingness of partners in Africa to facilitate this process by putting in place all the necessary prerequisites for this to happen.

The mutual awareness factor I mentioned will also play an important role. As far as that is concerned, it will be crucial to raise awareness in our countries, both through having an increased Russian media presence on the continent, and as a result of joint humanitarian initiatives. I believe that centres of expertise and business support centres will do a great deal to help resolve this issue locally, as will working together with the local population on a regular basis.

Furthermore, I would like to highlight the question of mutual trust. An initiative by our partner -the African Export-Import Bank – deserves special attention in this regard. They have built a platform called MANSA, which collates verified information about African organizations which are registered there. That means that MANSA operates as a guarantee of sorts, and as a one-stop resource to find reliable partners on the continent. We will step up our collaboration with Afreximbank in this area and identify common areas of interest together with members of the Russian business community.

Q: Do you see any difficulties for African exporters? What advantages exist, particularly in light of the establishment of the new Eurasian Union, which is made up of five former Soviet republics?

A: Of course, Russian imports of goods from Africa make up the smallest percentage of total trade by some distance (accounting for around 15%). However, this figure is growing faster than the average rate of growth of imports among all trading partners in Africa. There are also no global barriers in this area. You are correct to note that trade and economic ties are being strengthened through regional and continent-wide intergovernmental organizations. Of course, one of the main outcomes of the Summit was the signing of a memorandum between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union Commission. We see enormous potential in this area.

Indeed, since 2010, trade between the EAEU and African nations has grown by almost 170%.Presuming that free talks between the EAEU and Egypt conclude successfully, the parties involved will be able to enjoy free movement of goods, services, and capital. This in itself is already unprecedented in the context of our trade relations with the continent. The EAEU and a number of African countries are already discussing mutual settlements in national currencies in order to avoid incurring cross-rate costs. This, in my objective view, will help boost trade.

Q: The African Union has established the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which allows for the free movement of goods and services across the entire continent. With that in mind, what would be your advice to Russian exporters?

A: For my part, I can say that the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area represents an important step forward, both in terms of trade on the continent, and trade with foreign partners. I believe that as competition for African markets increases, it is essential to increase the number of trading partners we have in Africa, to increase the amount of trade we do, and to provide assistance in creating the right conditions for increasing African exports to Russia.

Q: What immediate plans does Roscongress have with regard to Africa? What prospects exist for strengthening relations between Russia and African countries?

A: The Roscongress Foundation’s priority is to create opportunities, build communication platforms, and to make it possible for members of the Russian and African business communities to discuss their ideas and proposals directly. Dialogue lies at the heart of everything. Without dialogue, it is difficult to build trusting relations.

That is why we are continuing to collect ideas and proposals from our colleagues and partners so that we can analyse them and try to implement them in practice. There is no doubt in my mind that there is enormous potential to build relations between Russia and Africa, starting with the investment and financial sphere, and ending with various humanitarian projects in culture and sport. Each area is unique and significant in its own way. That is why it is vital to pay close attention to everything, even details which may appear, at first glance, to be wholly insignificant. A comprehensive approach must be employed when building Russian-African relations. It was with this aim in mind that the interdepartmental councils were established.

I would like to highlight the role of the Roscongress Foundation’s regional partners who have expressed an interest in working together with Russia. It is our hope that the Foundation’s partnerships in Africa will only become stronger and encompass more countries on the continent. For our part, we are always open to new initiatives and mutually beneficial partnerships. After all, it is by working together that we will be able to create a space defined by trust, which is vital in the current environment, as it continues to be shaped by a new reality.[Modern Diplomacy]

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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Kenya’s Peter Mathuki appointed as Head of EAC Secretariat

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Kenya’s Peter Mutuku Mathuki has been appointed to head the East African Community (EAC), the regional bloc that brings East African countries under one umbrella. Mathuki replaces Burundi’s Liberat Mfumukeko, whose five-year term ended early 2021. The post is usually rotational for five years.

As Secretary-General of the regional bloc, his key tasks include regional development, increasing inter-regional trade and addressing investment possibilities for both potential internal and external investors.

According to his profile, Mathuki has worked as Executive Director at the East African Business Council, and consequently emerged as the top candidate for the new position. Over the years, he has been dealing with the corporate business sector, and believed to have sufficient experience and contacts useful to address incessant wrangles in the East African Community.

Mathuki previously served as a member of the East African Legislative Assembly, chairing the Committee on Legal Affairs and Good Governance as well as Accounts, Trade and Investment.

He has held political positions in Kenya and in international bodies including the International Labour Standards at the former International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU-Africa), now ITUC-Africa, which he served as director. He was also a consultant for European Union programmes in Kenya.

Mathuki comes on board as the African continent implements the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement, where he has been involved in the creation of the nascent African Business Council. Trading under this AfCFTA began on January 1, 2021 and opens up more opportunities for both local African and foreign investors from around the world.

Mathuki was taken on as a rectification strategy by Kenya, following a low-key leadership by Mfumukeko. Under his term, countries routinely skipped summits and member states wrangled over tariffs and political accusations. His secretariat faced financial constraints as member states delayed remitting their membership dues and donors reduced funding following allegations of corruption.

The latest report from the East African Community Secretariat for this year shows, for example, that South Sudan is the most indebted member of the EAC. It owes US$24.6 million in funding towards the main budget even though it should pay up to US$32.4 million including this year’s dues. It should also pay US$2.8 million to the Inter-University Council of East Africa and another US$345,000 to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization.

The main budget usually funds the operations of the EAC Secretariat, the East African Court of Justice, the East African Legislative Assembly and other bodies dealing with specified fields. The Secretary-General is the principal executive and accounting officer of the community as well as the secretary of the summit and serves for a fixed period of five years.

Many businesses and market players perceive the region as progressively stable for long-term beneficial business, investment and trade. With a combined population estimated at 173 million, the region is relatively large. The East African Community (EAC) is an intergovernmental organization composed of six countries in the Great Lakes region in Eastern Africa. The members are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

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A Fault Line Named Farmajo

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Somalia, a country of many political fault lines that indicate looming earthquakes of great magnitude, now has a new one- the Farmajo fault. Mohmed Abdullahi Farmajo is the malignantly polarizing president of Somalia.

Two of the Farmajo fault’s severe foreshocks or preliminary shakers have occurred on Thursday 18 February and Friday 19 February. In the first one, government troops have attacked two former presidents and current candidates at a hotel where they were organizing to lead a peaceful march against Farmajo’s illegally delayed election the next day.

The second one occurred on Friday when the government fired indiscriminately at a peacefully marching citizens led by Farmajo’s former prime minister, former ministers and a few other candidates. An estimate of twenty people was reported dead or seriously injured

That was the most callous act that any leader or ruler could have ordered at a time of high political volatility. It is the opinion of this author that that has ended Farmajo’s political future. He severely wounded himself in his first reckless attack and committed suicide in his second.

Nature of the Violation

According to Article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

And, according to Article 20:

(1)   Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association

(2)   No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

These universal rights coupled with the freedoms expressed in Somalia’s provisional constitution, affirm that those whose Friday march was violently aborted had the right to protest and chant ‘Doorasho diid dooni meyno!’ which means we don’t want election refuser. No one should be bullied, violently attacked, injured, or killed for their verbal expressions of discontent.      

What was witnessed in Mogadishu in that bloody protest was something not seen in a number of decades. The protesters were not those often seen in the streets of Mogadishu- IDPs and other poor women draped in the Somali flags who are stationed in street corners, under the baking sun, to get paid a few dollars at the end of the day, and children shouting slogans that they do not understand.

Any government that resorts to violence in order to silence its opposition, activists, or dissidents inevitably loses its legitimacy. So more often than not, such government’s days become numbered.

Anyone who has been following my commentaries on Somalia knows that I neither support nor think the opposition (any one of the 14 presidential candidates) could help save this nation that is sinking deeply into quicksand of distrust, for that requires more than election. Yet, I—like many others who have no horse in this bloody race—am committed to defend their right to publicly and privately express their political views. 

 Spin Doctors of Halane

The aforementioned Friday violence occurred within a walking distance from Halane (Somalia’s Green Zone) and key actors in that compound were well aware, at least for a few days before the event, that an anti-Farmajo protest would led by a coalition of presidential candidates who felt scorned and disenfranchised by the ‘Madaxweynaha uu xiligiisu dhamaaday’ or the President whose term has ended.

In reaction, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) @UNSOM offered this solution “The UN in #Somalia notes that the clashes in #Mogadishu underscore the urgent need for Federal Government and Federal Member State leaders to come together to reach political agreement on the implementation of the 17 September electoral model.”

The U.S. Embassy in Somalia followed with a paraphrased version of the same statement from another planet. ” We urge an end to all violence and remind all parties of their commitment to immediately conclude an FGS-FMS agreement on #election implementation.”

Interestingly, the referenced ‘electoral model’ is at the heart of the presidential candidates’ grievance. They were denied to be part of it. These statements on behalf of the U.N. and U.S. were adding insult to an injury. As a result, the coalition of presidential candidates reasserted their position of not considering Farmajo as a legal president and that they would continue protesting until he comes back to his senses.

In solidarity with the disenfranchised presidential candidates, both the leader of Puntland federal-state and Jubbaland federal-state (who were at odds with Farmajo for long) have declared said agreement null and void. The 19 February bloody event has killed 17 September agreement.

In a no hold barred televised speech, President Said Abdullahi Deni of Puntland said “We are not going to a conference with Farmajo…” He described Farmajo as a “dictator” who has been dividing the country, and warned against regression into a renewed civil war.   

Recommendations

1)      Allow the candidates and all others who want to march to do so freely, and all domestic and foreign stakeholders should support their right to do so

2)      Farmajo must be pressured to step aside without being barred of participation in the election- a constitutional right that he cannot be denied

3)      The 2009 precedent should not be followed. When then controversial president, Abdullahi Yusuf, was pressured to step aside, his Prime Minister, Nur Adde, was asked to lead the country while a new government was being formed in Djibouti. Nur Adde was not seen as partisan as the current Prime Minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, who recently declared to unilaterally conduct elections without Puntland and Jubbaland       

4)      Since no official in the Executive or the Lower and the Upper House branches has a mandate to lead the country while stakeholders are negotiating the right model of election and implementing it, the Speaker of the Upper House, Abdi Hashi, should be entrusted with that responsibility for the following reasons:

a)      He is a tower of patriotism among the current politicians

b)      He is the oldest, most ethical, and indeed most credible member of the parliament

c)      He is the only leader who has been playing by the rules

d)      He is the only one who refrained from the cut-throat politics that kept all others in a state of hyper-paranoia

e)      He is one of the Senators who represent Somaliland in the clan-based federal system

f)       He represents one of the four ‘major clans’ in the so-called 4.5 system that never held the presidency, even transitionally

g)      Once a new parliament is elected and a new president is elected or selected, Speaker Hashi clears the way for that new president

The Farmajo fault should not be underestimated. His prolonged stay could wholly tribalize the issue and subsequently make matters worse. Though the clan rhetoric has not been absent, so far the dichotomous divide between the political elite is not fueled by clan politics. Certain foreign actors possess more political leverage than the clans.

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African problems require African solutions

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In order to strengthen political dialogue and promote economic relations, Professor Robert Dussey, Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration and Togolese Abroad, held diplomatic talks on February 16, 2021 with his Russian counterpart Minister Sergey Lavrov in St. Petersburg. According to reports, Professor Dussey’s visit was on the invitation by Moscow, and came on exactly one year after their last meeting February 15 in Munich.

After their closed-door discussion, Lavrov told the joint news conference that there is a mutual interest in intensifying and deepening the entire scope of bilateral ties, including trade, the economy and investment, and have agreed to look for specific opportunities for joint projects in areas such as energy, natural resources, infrastructure, transport, and agriculture.

Regarding issues on the African continent, Lavrov re-emphasized that African problems (of which there are many) require African solutions. “We strongly support the African Union, the G5 Sahel, and the sub-regional organizations in Africa, in their efforts to resolve numerous local conflicts and crises. We specifically focus on supporting the fight against terrorism, which poses a real threat, including for our friends in Togo and other coastal countries in the region of the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.

In fact and as always, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s commitment to continue to act actively in pursuing peace and, to this end, called for the peaceful settlement of all kinds of differences, and reaffirmed support for sustainable development there in Africa.

Regarding issues from the last summit held in Sochi, Lavrov stressed: “We are interested in developing the resolutions of the Russia-Africa summit. We spoke in detail about the implementation of these agreements. The coronavirus pandemic has required adjustments. Nevertheless, the results on implementing the Sochi agreements are obvious. This year we will actively continue these efforts.”

The Association for Economic Cooperation with the African States was created in Russia following the 2019 Sochi summit. It includes representatives from the related departments and major Russian companies. The Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, which is a political association, was created, its secretariat is located at the Russian Foreign Ministry. The primary tasks of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum includes preparation and organization of the next Russia-Africa summit scheduled for 2022. The venue to be chosen by African leaders.

“We are still slightly behind other states, but trade between Russia and the African countries has been growing quite rapidly lately. I think we will soon make up for the time we lost in the years when, at the dawn of the new Russian statehood, we were too busy to maintain proper ties with Africa. A very strong foundation was laid in Soviet times, though,” Lavrov said further at the news conference about the current situation with relations between Russia and Africa.

It has always been the wish of both Russia and Africa to have an excellent quality of cooperation and partnership relations between the two regions and to diversify and deepen them as best as possible in order to provide an appreciable geopolitical influence and strategic power balance in Africa.

Russia and Togo, as with many other African countries, have had long time-tested relations over the years. The most recent high-level meetings were between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe during sidelined bilateral meeting in October 2019, when Gnassingbe participated in the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, and on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in July 2018.

With an estimated population of about 7.9 million, Togo is among the smallest countries in Africa. Its economy depends highly on agriculture. Togo pursues an active foreign policy and participates in many international organizations. Relations between Togo and neighboring states are generally good. It is particularly active in West African regional affairs and in the African Union.

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