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Russia and China: Geopolitical Rivals and Competitors in Africa

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The growth of neo-colonial tendencies, the current geopolitical developments and the scramble for its resources by external countries in Africa: these are some of the issues researcher and business analyst Lipton Matthews recently discussed with Kester Kenn Klomegah for InDepthNews (IDN). Matthews is associated with Merion West, The Federalist, American Thinker, Intellectual Takeout, Mises Institute, and Imaginative Conservative.

In particular, Matthews gives in-depth views on China’s valuable contribution to various economic sectors especially infrastructure development spanning three decades and on the possible implications of Russia-China collaboration in Africa.

Matthews talks also on the positive prospects and significance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and advises both African leaders and corporate business leaders to collaborate in strengthening trade networks within the continent, take up the emerging challenges and seize the opportunity to build a better Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

What do you think of China’s and Russia’s engagement with Africa in general? What would you say comparatively about these two foreign players in Africa?

Matthews: African experts like Peter Kagwanja and Rahamtalla Mohamed Osman have rubbished the claim that China is colonizing Africa. In general, African leaders perceive China to be the driving force behind modernization in the region. For example, during 2001-2002, China’s Foreign Direct Investment in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 53% yearly, dwarfing American investment that grew by a mere 14%. Moreover, neither were African countries among those at the UN rebuking China for its treatment of the primarily Muslim Uyghur population in 2020.

Nevertheless, reports deriding China’s influence in Africa are pervasive in the West, but in reality, Africans are appreciative of China’s role in the region. Since the days of the Cold War, developing countries have viewed China as an ally. Therefore, the ascent of China is perceived favourably by African policymakers because it represents the aspirations of the developing world.

Meanwhile, China has greater legitimacy in Africa considering that it did not possess a colonial empire in the region. Likewise, Russia had an empire in Europe, but not in Africa, so the Russians are positioned to portray themselves as liberators. Furthermore, Russians were never a part of the political West and during the Cold War, they collaborated with Africans against Western hegemony. So, consequently, Africans are likely to embrace Russia as an ally and not construe her interference in the region as an act of imperialism.

Though Russia’s investment in Africa is not on the scale of China, it appears that Russian players have identified the region as a source of raw materials and are exploiting the opportunities offered by the continent. Western pundits fail to recognize that Russia and China are harnessing their distinctiveness from the West to acquire political mileage in Africa. The West is losing the battle for dominance in Africa due to ideological reasons. For instance, Westerners preach classical liberalism, whereas Russia and China champion a statist approach to development. Because the doctrines of these powers are consonant with the left-leaning philosophy of Africa, their actions are less likely to invite contempt.

Do you also think there is an emerging rivalry in geopolitics, consistent confrontation against the United States and Europe (especially France) in Africa and what if China and Russia team up together?

Matthews: There is always rivalry in geopolitics, but the tactics of Russia and China have been misunderstood. Both countries are playing a spoiler role in Western politics. They intend to foment chaos in Western democracies to accelerate tensions, and in the era of social media, they have been able to do so on a grand scale. Unlike the West, Russia and China are led by brilliant strategists. The Russians and Chinese duped Western strategists into thinking that they want to challenge Western hegemony.

However, they only aim to create spheres of influence that are divorced from Western interference. Russia wants to contain America’s presence in Eastern Europe and China envisions creating a Sino-Centric Order in Asia. For Americans and the broader Western community to deter the rise of China and Russia, they must leverage soft power to obtain the favour of developing countries. Developing countries value the non-interference stance of Russia and China, so if Western countries were to affirm a less moralistic foreign policy they could shift the balance of power in their favour.

Compared to America, China and Russia are technological laggards and paper tigers, but they understand the primacy of ideas. Westerners think that they are fighting a geopolitical war, when they are actually competing for ideological supremacy. For example, Russia is popular in Mali, unlike France, because the former can deploy propaganda to present herself as a victim of Western imperialism, even though Russia was an imperial power and today exerts its clout in Eastern Europe.

Another issue is that, in this case, the colonial power was France and not Russia, so the latter can always project legitimacy. Conversely, Russia and China acknowledge that war is not required to undermine the West, because Western countries no longer believe in themselves. Throughout the West, white people are assaulting Western history and since demoralized people are not motivated to fight wars, China and Russia have already won the battle.

Lastly, China and Russia are unwilling to team up in order to defeat the West, since this is not a necessity. It is obvious that the West is the architect of its demise. Similarly, Russia and China are competing for influence, so it is more feasible for either partner to associate with the West to constrain the potential of her rival. To forestall the rise of her adversaries, West leaders need to employ foreign policy strategists who actually understand ideas and history.

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

Matthews: First, we need to acknowledge that colonialism is not a new phenomenon and neither is it unique to Europeans. History also documents examples of Europeans colonizing predominantly white territories in Europe. For example, Sweden once had an empire in Europe. However, colonization is an expensive endeavour and the association between economic growth and empire is actually negative, according to the late Paul Bairoch.

In fact, many countries have recorded astounding growth without possessing empires. On the other hand, we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that colonialism is inherently exploitative. Most people would prefer sovereignty to colonial rule, but the truth is that colonial status does not impede economic growth and some colonies in Africa experienced faster growth during the colonial era. We should give greater priority to good governance than national sovereignty. It is better to be under the rule of benevolent colonizers than to be the subject of a dictator.

Additionally, in relation to the issue of neo-colonialism concerns are misplaced. China is in the business of maximizing the potential of Africa’s resources, not empire-building. The problem is that governance structures in Africa are weak, so it is easy for China to evade regulations. The perception that China is colonizing Africa is a consequence of Africa’s history of defective governance. In actuality, China through its infrastructural projects is presiding over the modernization of Africa, similar to what Europeans and Americans did in the developing world years ago.

However, the difference is that the Chinese are not imposing their standards on Africans. Yet this could be a disadvantage because linking investment to the implementation of higher standards could result in ameliorating governance structures in Africa thereby increasing the region’s propensity to attract investment. But African leaders appreciate that Chinese investments are not wedded to reforms. Though overall, China’s influence in Africa has been positive.

According to scholars based at John Hopkins University and Boston University, during 2000-2015, China lent $95.5 billion to Africa and 40 per cent of the loans financed power generation and transmission, and the remaining 30 per cent modernized Africa’s dilapidated infrastructure.

Further, despite the narrative that Chinese investments are allotted to extractive sectors, they account for one-third of the total Chinese investment in Africa, according to Dollar et al (2015). The study also notes that China’s share of foreign investment is higher in weak governance states, and as a result, Africa is a prime target since governance is less effective in the region. Therefore, Africa is susceptible to exploitation by China, since several countries failed to improve governance.

Do you think, with the adoption of African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA), 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?

Matthews: First. The relationship between trade openness and economic growth in Africa is positive. Further, the World Bank estimates that by 2035, this project will rescue 68 million people from poverty and increase gross domestic product by $450 billion.

By removing barriers to trade in the region, the agreement will create new entrepreneurial activities and spur innovations in technology. The free trade agreement will even be more beneficial if Africa’s policymakers ensure that intellectual property is not over-regulated. Innovations can occur without intellectual property laws and society is more likely to benefit when ideas are freely released into the public domain.

In order to aid Africa, Russia should assist Africa in transitioning to a knowledge-based economy by promoting technology transfer agreements. Russians must also invest in more R&D collaborations with their African partners. This agreement will revolutionize. Africa’s economy and a richer Africa is a positive for Russian investors. If African is properly managed, then the continent should succeed. [….]

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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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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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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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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