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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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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

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.

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Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax

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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.

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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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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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