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Russia – Africa in the Mirror of the Media

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As part of the activities marking Africa Day, (historically celebrated May 25), the Russian Association for International Cooperation (RAMS), the Russkiy Mir Foundation and the Association for Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS) held a snapshot videoconference under the theme, “Russia – Africa in the Mirror of the Media” at the offices of TASS News Agency.

The roundtable discussion was devoted to mapping out strategies on how to inform effectively the African public about Russia and the Russian public about Africa. Nearly all the participants acknowledged the important role media can play in strengthening economic and cultural cooperation between Russia and Africa.

With Russia speedily entering a new phase in consolidating multifaceted relations with Africa, the participants noted that Russian state media needs to make more efforts in getting information to the African public and Russian authorities also have to support African media broadly interested in Russian affairs.

For a successful return of Russia to Africa, it is necessary to expand information cooperation in order, among other things, to destroy negative myths on both sides, and to understand the prospects of information interaction between the media in the coverage of Russia on the African continent and Africa in Russia. The media can, and indeed must, be a decisive factor in building effective ties.

Over the years, many experts and academics have said, during different meetings, conferences and forums, that in African countries as a whole, in the local media market, there is an acute shortage of information about Russia. As a result, the task now could be facilitated by the creation of an Association of Russian-speaking journalists and bloggers in Africa.

But this media cooperation, in practical terms and during the past years, has not been prioritized by authorities. European and Western media brands, such as British Broadcasting Corporation, Cable News Network, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Press, Quartz, Al-Jazeera, Bloomberg, Xinhua News Agency et cetera, are active with their African partners, while the Russian media are largely invisible.

Besides the roundtable fixed in the building of TASS News Agency, other participants spoke, via video communication, about culture and education-related topics, on how to tackle existing challenges as well as the continent’s media landscape from Morocco, Egypt, Mauritania, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Nigeria.

Over the years, many experts and researchers have offered their observations and made several recommendations. Russia has all the institutional tools, such as Russia Today, Sputnik, Voice of Russia, Interfax Information Service and TASS News Agency and many others, to create its own positive image in Africa. Instead, Russia has been critical on western media in Africa, often speak about anti-Russia propaganda and information war.

In addition, the Department of Information and Press of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds the responsibility for accreditation of foreign media. It has granted accreditation to only two African media from Morocco and Egypt. Both are from the Maghreb region. Within the foreign policy in Africa, without doubt, North Africa is highly considered a strategic region for Russia.

That however, the prospects for collaboration in the information sphere in Africa, in November 2018, the State Duma, lower house of parliamentarians, during a special session on Africa unreservedly called for an increased Russian media presence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, told Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, “it is necessary to take certain steps together for the Russian media to work on the African continent. You know that the Russian media provide broadcasting in various languages, they work in many countries, although it is certainly impossible to compare this presence with the presence of the media of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany.”

In an email conversation a decade ago, Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal ‘Russia in Global Affairs‘ and Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, wrote “Soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era. Russian media write very little about Africa, economic and political dynamics in different parts of the continent.”

“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” according to him.

As far back as 2014, Olga Kulkova, Research Fellow at the Centre for Studies of Russian-African Relations, noted “in the global struggle for Africa, Russia is sadly far from outpacing its competitors. In terms of stringency of strategic outlook and activity, Russia is seriously lagging behind key global players in Africa.”

Kulkova further proposed: “Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and quality analytical articles about the continent, and on-the-spot TV reports in order to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa.”

Professor Vladimir Shubin, from the Institute for African Studies, explained in an interview with me ten years ago, that political relations between Russia and Africa as well as the economic cooperation would attract more and more academic discussions, and such scholarly contributions, in essence, would help deepen understanding of the problems that impede building solid relationship or partnership with Russia.

In order to maintain the relationship, both Russia and Africa have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting the most development needs in a comprehensive way for mutual benefits using the media, according to the academic professor.

“African leaders do their best in developing bilateral relations,” he added. “Truly and passionately, they come to Russia more often than ten years ago, but a lot still has to be done; both Russian and African media, in this case, have a huge role to play.”

Quite recently, the question on the media was, again raised and discussed, at length, at the second Russia-Africa Public Forum. It is necessary to maximize the potential of public, cultural and business diplomacy using the basic instrument of the media, according to the Chairman of the Board of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s Development and Support Foundation, Andrei Bystritsky, speaking at the plenary meeting of the Second Russia-Africa Public Forum held in November 2020.

“On the one hand, the Russian public knows little about Africa. And I guess people in Africa know little about Russia,” he noted, and further explained that Russia and Africa need to communicate more. Creating necessary conditions for conversation is important, as communication is the foundation of development, and will help strengthen the mutually beneficial ties between Russia and Africa.

While highlighting the key obstacles facing the development of Russia-African ties during a session at Urals-Africa economic forum in Yekaterinburg, the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Mikhail Bogdanov, assertively remarked: “One must admit that the practical span of Russian companies’ business operations in Africa falls far below export capabilities, on one hand, and the huge natural resources of the continent, on the other.”

According to him, one major obstacle has been insufficient knowledge of the economic potential, on the part of Russian entrepreneurs, needs and opportunities of the African region. “Poor knowledge of the African markets’ structure and the characteristics of African customers by the Russian business community remains an undeniable fact. The Africans in their turn are insufficiently informed on the capabilities of potential Russian partners,” Bogdanov stressed.

The past few years are marked by a noticeable re-activation of the whole complex of relations between Russia and Africa, Professor Irina Abramova, Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, explicitly noted in an exclusive interview with me in May 2016.

The media should more actively inform Russians about the prospects for the development of the African continent, its history and culture. Unfortunately, the Russian man, in the street, does not know much about Africa. There has to be an active work in the information sphere with the African Diaspora in the Russian Federation.

For Africans, so far, Russia is associated with the Soviet Union, although majority of Africans still have very warm feelings towards Russia. But that aside, the Russian Federation in Africa, and Africa in the Russian Federation are very poorly represented in the media, according to Abramova.

“It is a direct challenge – to move from declarations to deeds by bringing together government, diplomatic, scientific, economic and financial resources in order to promote Russian business on the continent.  I think and will strongly suggest that Russia should take the lead in preserving the balance of interests on the African continent as it seeks cooperation on the full range of African issues,” she added.

On the other hand, Professor Abramova explained that Africans are poorly informed about the possibilities of Russian partnership. Interest in quality enhancing economic ties, including the line of private enterprises, with a tendency of growth. To do this, first of all, it is absolutely necessary to establish an effective exchange of information about the investment potential of the business, to focus efforts on expanding various partnerships.

A number of Moscow- based African ambassadors and senior diplomats have also acknowledged in separate interviews with me that the weak media connectivity between the two regions is one of the deep cracks or potholes in the post-Soviet diplomacy, most especially now when Russia is making efforts at strengthening its relations with the continent. Admittedly, Russians always refer to Africa as a priority region.

In their objective observations, despite prospects for strengthening relations, even as outlined during the first Russia-Africa summit held in 2019, African media and their representatives are hardly supported, and encouraged to work in the Russian Federation. The second Russia-Africa summit is planned for 2022 in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.

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

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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