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Africa – A Continent with No Desire to Develop Economic Independence

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Associate Professor Ksenia Tabarintseva-Romanova, (left) Ural Federal University, Department of International Relations and Assistant Professor Alexei Antoshin (right)

After the Soviet collapse, Russia has maintained strong and time-tested relations with African countries, and of course, the Soviet Union had played an important role during the decolonization of Africa. The African continent comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of development setbacks and challenges. The political culture and investment climate are, in fact, diverse but are also important forces in the economy.

According to several development reports, Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world: the average annual GDP growth rate estimated at 3.5% to 5% on the continent. The reports have strongly encouraged African leaders to initiate development-oriented policies, prioritize sustainable development as a practical step towards raising the living standards of millions of impoverished population and further guide against the revival of neo-colonialism, the destructive attitude towards the resources in Africa.

In this interview, Associate Professor Ksenia Tabarintseva-Romanova, Ural Federal University, Department of International Relations and Assistant Professor Alexei Antoshin share their views and opinions about Africa today, the current economic cooperation between Africa and Russia. As widely known, Russia plans to hold theSecond Russia-Africa summit in 2022.

Here are the interview excerpts:

How do researchers (during academic discussions) of the Department of International Relations at Urals State University generally look at Africa today? What are the popular perceptions and so forth about Africa?

KseniaTabarintseva-Romanova: Unfortunately, this region is not actively studied directly by teachers and students of the Department of International Relations at the Urals State University. It is most often explored when examining issues such as human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Alexei Antoshin: For many years, I have been a member of the RAS Scientific Council on African problems, interacting with the RAS Institute for African Studies and the Center for African Studies of the RAS Institute of General History, publishing in scientific journals and collective monographs on this topic. For 20 years now, at the Faculty (Department) of International Relations, I have been teaching the course “Russia and Africa”, dedicated to various spheres of interaction between our country and African states. In addition, for the last five years I have been teaching the course “Culture of Modern Africa” which is also of great interest to the students of the Department of Oriental Studies.

The problem of the influence of African culture on contemporary global art (music, street art, etc.) is of particular interest to students. In addition, annually under my leadership, term papers and graduate qualifications are written on various aspects of China’s policy in Africa, the expansion of Chinese capital, and the activities of Confucius Institutes on the Black Continent.

What comes to mind when we talk about sustainable development, and its interpretation, in Africa?

KseniaTabarintseva-Romanova: When writing an article on the Red Cross and the SDGs, I came to the conclusion that the main problems are related to the environment (lack of drinking water), the complexity of health care, the problems of realizing the rights of vulnerable groups of the population.

Alexei Antoshin: Unfortunately, Africa firmly holds the first place among continents in terms of poverty, the number of hungry and refugees, and the spread of AIDS. A colossal problem is the conflict potential of the region, political instability, and the failure of democratic transition. True, in comparison with the 1990s, which were extremely unfortunate for the continent, the situation has improved somehow, but many experts attribute this to fluctuations in world oil prices.

What, in your opinion, are the main challenges hindering the realization of expected development there?

Ksenia Tabarintseva-Romanova: In my opinion, this is due to historical and geographical factors: the colonial past – there was no desire to develop “economic independence” of the region; consumer attitude to territories and resources; isolation of the region from world production chains. During the Cold War, the USSR and the USA, competing for influence on the continent, were forced to develop industry and infrastructure. After the end of the Cold War, this was no longer necessary. Many states have lost their statehood, centralized power and territorial integrity (Somalia, Libya).

Alexei Antoshin: Yes, unfortunately, paradoxically, Africa is “lost” from the end of the Cold War. Now both the United States and Russia are losing the “battle for Africa” ​​to China: its investments in Africa are several times greater than those of Russia and the United States. The problem is that the Chinese expansion is already causing an ambiguous reaction from the local population: the PRC’s consumer attitude towards the richest resources of the region, underestimation of environmental problems lead to public discontent. An additional factor is activation.

Islamist extremist groups in many countries of the region. The fall of apartheid in South Africa also led to a surge in extremism, the problem of “black racism”, a drop in the level of education in South African universities, which traditionally occupy high places in world rankings.

Do you think much depends on African leaders and its people (African solutions to African problems) to work toward long-term sustainable development?

Alexei Antoshin: Most experts were skeptical and still refer to the economic programs developed by African leaders and Africans themselves. This applies to integration within the framework of the African Union (copying the European Union is unproductive), and to its economic program NEPAD – New Partnership for Africa’s Development. In the world rankings of bureaucratic corruption, African countries are in the first place.

How do you interpret current engagement of foreign players (countries) in Africa? Do you also think there is geopolitical competition and rivalry among them there?

Alexei Antoshin: As I have already noted, this competition is underway, since Africa’s resources are colossal. The potential winner is likely to be China.

Is it appropriate when we use the term neo-colonialism referring to activities of foreign players in Africa? What countries are the neo-colonizers in your view?

Alexei Antoshin: Difficult question. Colonialism was a controversial phenomenon: it was the colonialists who created the infrastructure that modern Africa uses. A number of experts call the current policy of the PRC “neo-colonial”, but it is also ambiguous.

Do you think, with the adoption of African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA), it offers a window of hope for attaining economic independence for Africa? What role Russia can play in this or of what significance is it for potential Russian investors?

KseniaTabarintseva-Romanova: The free trade zone is the most important modern tool for the economic development of regions, but it is not a panacea. Successful implementation requires a sufficiently high level of economic development of the participating countries, logistical accessibility, developed industry with the prospect of introducing new technologies. This means that in order for AfCFTA to effectively fulfill its tasks, it is necessary to enlist the provision of sustainable investment flows from outside. These investments should be directed towards the construction of industrial plants and transport corridors.

President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, has stated for several years that Africa is a strategic region for Russia, which has a large number of long-standing economic partners. For example, the construction of a new naval base in Sudan (the creation of service industries, the supply of new equipment, the renewal of the army is envisaged); cancellation of debts to Angola, preparation for the Russia-Africa summit 2022. Russia already has vast experience with the African continent, which now makes it possible to make investments as efficiently as possible, both for the Russian Federation and for African countries.

If we talk about the interaction of the Sverdlovsk Region and Africa, then according to the Ministry of International and Foreign Economic Relations, at the end of 2018, among the trading partner countries of the Sverdlovsk Region, Algeria ranked 22nd among the 159 trading partners of the region. The trade turnover amounted to almost US$ 138 million.

On February 6, 2020, during the visit of the delegation of the Sverdlovsk region to the province of Mpumalanga of South Africa, an Action Plan was signed to implement the Agreement between the Government of the Sverdlovsk Region and the Government of the Mpumalanga Province on the implementation of international and foreign economic relations in trade, economic, scientific, technical, cultural and humanitarian spheres for 2020 – 2022. The following enterprises of the Sverdlovsk Region cooperate with South Africa – OJSC Uralasbest, LLC Viz Steel, PJSCU ralmashzavod.

Alexei Antoshin: Russian state corporations are participating in the “Battle for Africa” and the main significant problem is the high risks associated with investing in Africa. In addition, unfortunately, in Russia there is a shortage of qualified personnel who know African markets, the specifics of the business culture of Africans and so forth. Although there is also an underestimation of the continent’s potential associated with the image of Africa as a “black hole” which is also due to the fact that the bulk of the Soviet debts of African countries had to be written off. These are the realities of the situation with Africa.

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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Africa

Hydro-projects in Africa: Interview with Vladislav Vasilyev

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As widely known, Russia plans to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, as a further step to make inroads into Africa – that comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of development setbacks and challenges. The political culture and investment climate are, in fact, diverse but are also important forces in determining the levels of the economy.

As it aims at raising its economic profile, Russia is strongly encouraging Russian business leaders to prioritize sustainable development-oriented projects as a practical step towards raising the living standard of millions of impoverished population in Africa.

For instance, JSC Institute Hydroproject promises to transfer its experience in advanced and innovative technologies, and efficient use of water resources, especially ways of managing and ensuring reliable hydro-energy supply. JSC Institute Hydroproject can further help in the accelerated social and economic development in Africa. 

In this interview, Vladislav Vasilyev, Head of International Projects Department at JSC Institute Hydroproject, discusses his company’s efforts directed at establishing hydro-projects in Africa, further touched on the state support for Russian business in Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

– How important is African market for your company, JSC Institute JSC Institute Hydroproject?

JSC Institute Hydroproject has vast working experience in African countries wherein we have done designs of HPPs in Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, San Tome and Principe, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia. We would like to separately emphasize about the masterpiece high class engineering of the Aswan dam on the Nile river in Egypt. JSC Institute Hydroproject management has deep knowledge of the African market.

– What are your expectations from African governments, industrialists and agribusiness directors in cooperating on products and services of your company?

African countries are among the fastest growing in the world. About one and half billion people live there, and that constitute approximately 20% of the world’s population. At the same time, there is a big demand in infrastructure development. Even the United Nations, forming the “Sustainable Development Goals” emphasizes the high development needs of the African region.

The African market is a big challenge in all areas of water use, from land reclamation to large and complex knowledge-intensive industries, not to mention the usual but much-needed electricity generation. In this regard, we see many opportunities for cooperation with governments, industrialists and in the huge agroindustry.

– Do you envisage any key problems and impediments to developing business, especially in the sphere of agriculture in African countries?

Difficulties and obstacles are possible – this is life. However, we can look at things differently, and see the obstacles as opportunities and incentives. For example, the lack of land reclamation networks makes it possible to build and develop a water delivery system that can become a link to strengthen the local neighboring countries and peoples.

The construction of a hydroelectric power station requires a channel with a large water pressure, which means the presence of a water basin, a reservoir. This will not only provide the local region with electricity, but also provide water. Here are a number of issues that are being resolved with the participation of the design and survey and research school of such a company as JSC Institute Hydroproject.

– How competitive do you see African market for Russian companies, generally, and for your company, specifically? From the previous experience, what challenges Russian companies and investors face in Africa?

There are several challenges, which are still in place for Russian engineering companies on African market. Russia is still not a member country of African Development Bank. AfDB announces many tenders, which are closed to companies from non-member countries. Still it is only a few African countries, who signed an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation with Russia.

– Business needs vital information, knowledge about the investment climate and so forth. Do you think there has been an information vacuum or gap between the two countries?

In my opinion we can talk about the rapprochement of the positions of Africa and Russia, the formation of new and strengthening of long-standing ties. This is explicitly noted, for instance, by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Head of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uganda, Olive Kigongo.

Joshua Setipa, Managing Director of the United Nations Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, says of the importance of high-tech companies: “It is important for us to continuously develop our partner network and establish cooperation with organizations that can help and support less developed countries with their technological and innovative potential. I am sure that working in Russia and, in particular, at the events of the Roscongress Foundation will help us to use the country’s opportunities for the benefit of others.” He said so at the recent Russia-Africa summit in Sochi.

– In your opinion, does the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022 hold an opportunity for raising the level of investment and business engagement with Africa?

Russia-Africa summit is unique platform that is expected to bring together corporate business directors and potential investors from both regions – Russia and Africa. We can simply agree that investments are always possible, and Russia is highly interested in them. This is also a state and business interest. Such people and companies are also among our partners. 

According to the achievements of recent years – this is not only the First Joint Russia-Africa Summit, but also during many previous bilateral forums, it is important to say that cooperation in the business sphere is just gaining momentum.

Now there is a lot of work to be done, including a well-structured and well-coordinated policy for Russian business, restructuring foreign policy and supporting economic circles – with African politicians, business people and residents of African countries. It is necessary to cooperate between scientific, technical, humanitarian, information, and digital platforms, and ultimately to develop common approaches for the implementation of our upcoming joint projects.

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Nigeria- Ghana Trade War: Where to from here

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Several months after a series of bilateral talks between the Nigerian government and authorities in Ghana aimed toward addressing the nearly a decade-long controversy that led to the closure of Nigerian traders’ shops in Ghana, the problems have not been resolved. Hundreds of shops belonging to Nigerian traders are still under lock and key; while most of the owners are stranded. A number of them said they beg to feed, as many of them remain reluctant to return to Nigeria despite a window created by the Nigerian government to facilitate their safe return.

What has happened so far?

President Muhammadu Buhari stunned Nigeria’s neighbors when he unexpectedly closed the country’s land borders to goods trade, saying the time had come to crush contraband trade. The land borders with neighboring Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger were closed to goods in August 2019, with partial openings and closings for people prompted by the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020.

The center of the lingering controversy was a $1 million levy imposed on Nigerian traders and other foreign investors to pay Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) before the shops would be opened. The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities had triggered a debate in Nigeria and within the African sub-region, which many considered as a breach of ECOWAS’ trade protocols.

However, on 19 June 2020, armed men entered the compound of the Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, and destroyed buildings under construction. Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama described the vandalism as “outrageous and criminal” and urged the Ghanaian authorities to make sure that they protect Nigerian diplomatic buildings. Nigerian residents in Ghana held a demonstration calling for Nigerian government to take action. Although a piece posted on the Nigerian High Commission website in Ghana places responsibility on a businessperson who had previously claimed he owned the land where the building was being built, Nigerians living in Ghana still took to the streets to protest for their protection. The Ghanaian foreign ministry also promised that security had been “beefed up”.

Flashback on bilateral talks

The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had last year summoned Ghana’s Chargé d’Affaires to Nigeria, Ms. Iva Denoo, with whom he discussed the closure of the Nigerian-owned shops in Accra with a view to addressing the problem. Onyeama described the action taken by the Ghanaian authorities as politically motivated. However, his Ghanaian counterpart, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, countered his allegation, insisting that the crackdown was on illegal foreign retail businesses in Ghana.

Botchwey, described in a tweet by Onyeama, tagging Ghana’s policy on retail business as a politically motivated move as ‘most unfortunate. She said the Ghanaian government did not target any particular nationality in the exercise. “Countries sometimes take tough decisions in order to enforce their laws, just as Nigeria took a decision to shut its borders to stop smuggling, despite its impact on ECOWAS member countries,” she had said.

Is Ghana innocent?

While it’s easier to quickly point a finger at Nigeria as the aggressor, given it’s the bigger country who opted to shut its borders, therefore creating a ripple effect in the smaller economies, Ghana also has laws that clash with ECOWAS protocol, which ensures the free movement of the community’s citizens, as well as free and fair trade. The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (GIPC) is one such Act. It prioritizes the interests of Ghanaian traders and business owners by designating certain only its citizens, whereby foreigners wanting to set up shop in Ghana must have a minimum equity capital of $10,000, run enterprises. That alone limits the number of foreigners – particularly from the poorer surrounding West African countries – who can successfully work in Ghana.

Where to from here

While tariffs can result in individual ‘winners’, a full trade war, protectionism, and a reversal of decades of globalization would damage economies across the board, hitting emerging markets particularly hard. COVID-19 has arguably pushed many countries towards concentrating on themselves, as many economies have been negatively affected in an exceedingly shocking manner. Although few expect to see the kinds of tensions witnessed in the 1980s when Nigeria expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana.

Key takeaways

  • Nigeria border closure weakened trade across West Africa
  • A full trade war and globalization reversal will benefit nobody
  • Nigerian traders have suffered the most; Ghanaians also faces pain
  • Traders have seen big losses.
  • Demolition of Nigerian High Commission building in Accra.

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Africa

H.E. President John Mahama Appointed As AU High Representative for Somalia

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The Chairperson of the Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has announced the appointment of H.E John Dramani Mahama, former President of the Republic of Ghana, as his High Representative to Somalia.

As the High Representative for Somalia’s political track, President Mahama will work with the Somali stakeholders, to reach a mutually acceptable compromise towards an all-encompassing resolution for the holding of Somali elections in the shortest possible time.

In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative will be supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to ensure that the mediation efforts and the peace support operation work together seamlessly.

The Chairperson of the Commission calls on the Somali stakeholders to negotiate in good faith, and to put the interests of Somalia and the well-being of the Somali people above all else in the search for an inclusive settlement to the electoral crisis.

This should usher in a democratically elected government with the legitimacy and mandate to resolve the remaining outstanding political and constitutional issues that are posing a threat to the stability of the country and the region as a whole.

The Chairperson of the Commission also encourages all the Somali stakeholders and the international community to extend every support to the High Representative, who will arrive the country in the coming days.

Ambassador Abukar Arman, a former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst says there have previously been interventions from neighbors have not brought Somalia the promised peace.

It is clear that no Somali can pursue a political career in his own country without first getting Ethiopia’s blessings. Already, Ethiopia has installed a number of its staunch cohorts in the current government and (along with Kenya) has been handpicking virtually all of the new regional governors, mayors and so forth.

In October 2010, the African Union appointed Jerry John Rawlings as the AU High Representative for Somalia to “mobilize the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia.”

That however, Ambassador Arman says the former Ghana president and AU Special Representative for Somalia is now assuming his new post with significant diplomatic capital, mainly resulting from the credible work of his fellow countryman, former president, and Special Envoy to Somalia, Jerry John Rawlings.

“On the other hand, he would be carrying the hefty political burden that comes with the so-called African Solutions for African Problems and its cash-gulping record. The concept is taken hostage by African sloganeers and foreign elements eager to advance zero-sum interests,” he wrote me in an emailed message.

Make no mistake, Somalia is held in a nasty headlock by a neighbourhood tag-team unmistakably motivated by zero-sum objective. It is their so-called African solution (not so much of the extremist group al-Shabaab) that is setting the Horn on fire.

According to AFP news report, Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule. But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.

Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital. The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.

Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohamed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks. Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.

But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms. Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.

In early May, Mohamed re-launched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote. In the meanwhile, the international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon.

Somalia remains the epicenter of global geopolitical and geo-economic competition. Some of the major ones are in a cut-throat competition that further complicates the Somalia conundrum. With its longest coastline, bordering Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the southwest and the Gulf of Eden, Somalia has attracted many foreign countries to the region in East Africa.

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