Bogdanov’s Passion for Africa and the Critical Russia’s Policy Debates -Part 2

Since his appointment as the Russian Presidential Special Representative for Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov has all these several years discussed the prospects for promoting relations with African countries. While this strictly falls within the scope of his official responsibilities, Bogdanov has to equally underline what has been achieved during his period. The changing global geopolitical situation is already known to all African politicians and business elites in Africa. Still Russian politicians spend most of the time drumming home those known facts, and in addition stretch criticisms against other players from the skyline to the earth, instead of translating their passion into practical tangible actions in Africa.

Bogdanov’s late April interview to Interfax correspondent Ksenia Baygarova focused on problems with Russia’s relations including the contradictions, confrontations and complexities with Western and European countries. “Africa has always been an important region for us from the point of view of foreign policy,” he stressed. Further along the line, blamed the United States, Britian and France – the colonizers for Russia’s weak performance in Africa. He offered the accusation thus: “Another issue is that colonial powers, as well as neocolonialists, have never let the Africans take advantage of the treasure which is literally right under their feet.”

Why does Bogdanov have to blame external countries for under-development in Africa? Africa has the capacity to overcome its own social, political and economic problems. The leaders have the power, political mandates and all the resources to address their current socio-economic and political challenges. Critics have often raised institutional and systemic corruption, lack of transparency and poor development strategies among factors adversing affecting development in the continent. 

With appropriate strategies they can achieve the seemingly elusive development and add value to living standards of the population. The African Union and, of course, the regional blocs have been guiding 54 countries on the continent under the slogan “Africa We Want” and a designed continental agenda – African Union Agenda 2063. 

“Most importantly, given the sanctions imposed on Russia by the collective West, it would be necessary to substantially adapt many mechanisms of our cooperation with African countries to the new realities,” Bogdanov told Interfax news agency. Understanding this position, the best way to support Africa is for Russia to adopt new mechanisms of pursuing its policy goals by implementing those bilateral agreements signed these past several years.

Russia has to get focused, one optional way to support Africans fight existing “neocolonialism” is to admirably invest in the continent. Leading an emerging new world order, not by words and slogans, but by building sustainable relationships with consistency and with concrete and feasible economic projects. At least, it couldd be enough commendable copying a page from China in Africa. Despite criticims, China is constantly commssioning projects in Africa.

Afterall following succesful examples pave way for perfection, Russia has been teaming up with China and India and a few other external countries to establish a new global economic system. China has strategically extended its tentacles across both the Atlantic and the Pacific, conquered Africa, and intensified commercial operations in the Central Asia regions including the former Soviet republics – the backyard of the Russian Federation.

In stark contrast to the global players, Russia has to study its own limitations and standing blocks in Africa. Russia’s external economic footprints are comparatively weak, its foreign policies hardly promote its template of economic models. The geopolitical reordering of the world cannot simply be achieved through highly criticizing the West’s political influence in its various global domains. The economic component is possibly the most significant for Africa.

Russia’s policy full of illuminating rhetoric and sparkling speeches, symbolic bilateral agreements that have not been delivered, while public outreach programmes are largely missing in the foreign policy. Russia’s economic cooperation in Africa remains questionable, from perspectives of growing challenges facing Africa’s development and especially in the context of the emerging new world order. 

Moreso, within the context of geopolitical influence, rivalry and competition being discussed by academic researchers, policy experts and analysts, Russia pays little attention to those prerequisites necessary for building relations put forward by the experts. This article also seeks to re-explore and re-highlight expert opinions on some aspects of the current Russia-African relations: 

According to our research findings, in stark contrast to key global players for instance the United States, China and the European Union and many others, Russia’s policy has little impact on development paradigms in Africa. It has, most admirably, made broken promises and achieved signing several bilateral agreements. Steps aren’t directed toward development-oriented policies and worse, strategic efforts are highly inconsistent and ineffective with many African countries. This phenomenon is also partly due to poor comprehension of Africa’s roadmap as incorporated in the African Union Agenda 2063.

Of course, Africa’s sustainable development questions have been raised over the past several years, but Russia’s policy seems to ignore them. Public utterances regarding development remain as mere policy slogans. Here some few discussions with top African envoys who served in the Russian Federation. Former Ambassadors who served in the Russian Federation have impressed upon African leaders and entrepreneurs to prioritize their critical sustainable development needs for which they sought Russian investors in economic sectors of interest to them.

Comparative analysis here could help Russians understand the changing realities in Africa. In separate interviews, they have been abundantly it clear how to stimulate African governments to explore best investment opportunities in Russia and lure Russian investors into developing Africa’s SDGs within a framework of bilateral cooperation.

Former South African Ambassador, Mandisi Mpahlwa, said that Sub-Saharan Africa has understandably been low on post-Soviet Russia’s list of priorities, given that Russia is not as dependent on Africa’s natural resources as most other major economies. The reason: Soviet and African relations, anchored as they were on the fight to push back the frontiers of colonialism, did not necessarily translate into trade, investment and economic ties, which would have continued seamlessly with post-Soviet Russia.

“Of course, Russia’s objective of taking the bilateral relationship with Africa to the next level cannot be realized without close partnership with the private sector. Africa and Russia are close politically, but they are geographically distant, and the people-to-people ties are still rather under-developed. This translates into a low level of knowledge on both sides of what the other has to offer. There is perhaps also a measure of fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar in both countries,” according to Mpahlawa.

According to former Ethiopian Ambassador, Professor Dr. Teketel Forssido, one of the biggest problems has been the keen competition from the United States, Europe, China and India, countries with more advanced technological and development oriented solutions. They have become, over the past decades, “investment patrons” in African countries. In fact, this is what Africa needs: policy directed towards the development needs of Africa.

Former Nigerian Ambassador, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, told this correspondent that Africa’s drive for sustainable democratic governance, backed by an enhanced economically viable environment, is of paramount importance. Many African leaders are realising the need to eradicate poverty and give people a sustainable environment.

“It is Africa’s hope that foreign authorities will back us in this direction. It is important to remind foreign investors that investment opportunities for developing large and medium-scale enterprises are abound in Africa. The importance of the informal sector in generating employment and promoting self-reliance through higher productivity. We implore Russian investors to take advantage of these new potentials,” Air Commodore Dan Suleiman stressed in discussions.

Undoubtedly, the Russian government’s stance on supporting an African policy that deploys plausible solutions to resolve the continent’s infinite problems should be extolled, wrote former Tanzanian Ambassador, Dr. Jaka Mgwabi Mwambi. He said: “Tanzania is currently on the verge of a bitter wrangle with iniquitous restraints,” as the country “is proactively moving steadfastly toward a middle-income economy.”

Former Kenyan Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Dr. Paul Kibiwott Kurgat explained in an interview that any platform created for African leaders has to address thoroughly development-oriented questions. Kenya’s diplomacy has mostly focused on strengthening economic cooperation with foreign countries.

“Looking at the global development, Kenya would always like to build on this long history of strong and comprehensive engagement, first and foremost, through developing closer ties with Russia in trade, investment and economic cooperation. So, my advice to African leaders is to think objectively, first about effective ways how to improve the economy,” he said.

The Government of Kenya’s priority sectors range from infrastructure and energy development, industrialization and agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, among others. Development opens a myriad of investment opportunities to all potential foreign investors across the globe including Russia, Paul Kurgat added in his emailed comments from Nairobi, Kenya.

Former Mozambican Ambassador to Russia, Dr. Bernardo Marcelino Cherinda, emphasized that the changes in Russia have provided a greater impetus for forging new diversified relations, especially in the economic sectors, in Africa.

By this measure, African leaders have to work relentlessly for a more effective cooperation and use political dialogue to remove obstacles that might hinder smooth progress and development. Whether they like it or not, African leaders have to make rational decisions to align their efforts and policies with the key goal of developing or building their economies, the Mozambican diplomat said.

He urged both Russia and Africa to facilitate participation in the private sectors, and also get involved in medium-sized economic partnership, joint ventures, agro-processing industries, and health and education. African leaders do not have to, in the least, doubt the enormous potentials that exist, the former envoy added.

“And, I think it’s equally important that Russia and Africa focus seriously on cultural aspects in their activities in order to bridge the widening information gap between the two. Russia has made the mark and it’s respected for its indelible historical achievements, literature and for human values. The use of soft power as an instrument for new image-making initiatives has to be intensified,” Cherinda advised.

Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), during the Russia-SADC business forum held in February 2019 in Moscow, stressed in discussions with Russian authorities that strengthening ties in a broad range of economic fields would show that SADC truly remains as one of Russia’s key partners in Africa. SADC is an inter-governmental organization with its primary goal of deepening socio-economic cooperation and integration in the southern region.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the 54-nation African Union Commission (AUC), have also discussed the ways and means of encouraging Russian corporations’ participation in major infrastructure projects on the continent. The current AUC Chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, has also held discussions on Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution and has been at pains to enlist Russia’s effective support for the bloc’s Agenda 2063.

On his part, Foreign Minister Lavrov for the past one and half decades, since his appointment in 2004, has also been holding in-depth discussions on the situation in Africa, repeatedly pointing to the possibility of continuing to promote effective bilateral cooperation in many spheres and working together towards exploiting the existing potentials. Our monitoring and research interviews show that at this new historical point necessary for strengthening friendship, solidarity and cooperation by honouring some of the issues raised during the first African leaders’ summit in October 2019.

Lavrov has, several times, asserted that cooperation is very multidimensional and further reiterated the assurance that Moscow firmly supports the principle of “African solutions to African problems” within a framework of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as developed by individual African countries, sub-regional organizations and the African Union. In conclusion, Russians have to strongly keep in mind that Africa’s roadmap is the African Union Agenda 2063.

For more information, look for the forthcoming Geopolitical Handbook titled “Putin’s African Dream and The New Dawn: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities” (Part 2) devoted to the second Russia-Africa Summit 2023.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
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.