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Geopolitical Changes Threaten Africa’s Unity

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In this long-ranging and insightful interview conducted by our media executive Kester Kenn Klomegah with Dr Mohamed Chtatou, a senior professor of Middle Eastern politics at the International University of Rabat (IUR) and Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, focuses largely on accelerating, advancing and sustaining decades-old dream of Africa’s unity. Dr Chtatou discusses, at length, the significant development processes and obstacles, the participation of foreign players and the emerging new world order, as well as the implications for Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

Q: At the United Nations in March, African representatives were sharply divided over resolutions against Russia for invading its neighbouring republic, Ukraine. Some experts say this seemingly threatens Africa’s unity. What are your views, as a political scientist, about Africa’s “unity” today, and secondly especially Russia’s confrontation with United States and Europe in Africa?

A: Strengthening African unity has long been a sought-after goal that has never been achieved. As the need for regional integration and the reasons for past failures become better understood, new efforts are being made to strengthen economic and political ties among the continent’s many countries.

The main challenges to achieving integration are to expand trade among African countries, build more roads and other infrastructure, reform regional institutions, increase transparency and public participation, and coordinate private and public sector initiatives more closely.

Integration has many benefits. Expanding regional markets gives African producers and consumers more opportunities, well beyond the sometimes small markets of their own countries. There are two virtues of regional economic integration:

  • It can reduce the costs of building essential infrastructure, such as transportation, communications, energy, water supply systems, and scientific and technological research, which one country often cannot finance alone; and
  •  At the same time, integration facilitates large-scale investment by making African economies more attractive and reducing risks.

The desire for integration does not come only from the top. At many levels of society, Africans are striving to forge more ties with each other. For some, these relationships already exist. For others, they have yet to be forged.

Regional integration of the continent has been a dream of many African leaders and led to the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Over the years, many other institutions have been created in different parts of Africa. But on the whole they have done little to increase trade or other exchanges between African countries. In many cases, many countries continue to have the most extensive relationships with their former colonial powers.

The record of regional integration in Africa is so far poor, and many regional alliances are characterized by uncoordinated initiatives, political conflicts, and little intra-regional trade. However, analysts note that some of the external and internal factors that have hindered Africa’s integration in the past have abated somewhat in recent years, and there is therefore reason for cautious optimism.

Africans have also learned from the failure of their previous initiatives. Many integration advocates are now taking a less ambitious and more practical approach. In their view, Africa needs to unite not only to strengthen its presence on the world stage but also to address the practical needs of its people.

Faced with the obstacles to regional integration efforts in Africa, proponents of greater unity identified several conditions to be met:

  • More active involvement of civil society associations, professional groups, managers, and other sectors in any integration program;
  • Achieving a balance between public and private sector economic initiatives;
  • Reconciling the sometimes conflicting interests of countries of different sizes, natural resources, and economic performance;
  • Proceeding with integration at a pace that is both ambitious and realistic; and
  • Streamlining Africa’s many regional institutions to reduce duplication of effort and inefficiency.

The economic crises that hit much of Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s further undermined integration efforts. They also provided an opportunity for donor countries and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to call for major economic policy reform. The structural adjustment programs that African countries then adopted under pressure led to the privatization of hundreds of public enterprises, widespread liberalization of domestic and international trade, and a significant contraction of Africa’s public sectors.

As in other regions of the world, regional integration is primarily constrained by the great diversity of African countries, which differ in size, natural resources, level of development, and linkages to global markets.

In 1880, the Berlin Conference authorized and legitimized the ‘’assault on Africa,’’ not to say its rape, known as the Scramble for Africa under the excuse of bringing ‘’the light of civilization to the savages of Africa (sic)’’, which was, in fact, nothing but giving permission to European powers to steal everything and in the process destroying traditional homespun cultures and replace them by the European alien civilization. Today, both the Western world: the USA and Europe, and its Eastern counterpart: China and Russia have an eager eye on Africa under the excuse of helping develop the economy of this part of the world, but, in reality, it is just another manifestation of the Scramble for Africa. These powers are interested in minerals and rare earths that are in Africa.

Yes, Africa is rich in rare earths and minerals that are highly desirable for many industries, including electronics, renewable energy, and defence. As a result, many great powers, including China, the United States and Russia, are interested in securing access to these resources.

However, it is important to note that while the presence of valuable resources can be a source of economic opportunity, it can also lead to exploitation, corruption, and political instability. It is essential that African nations have the ability to manage their resources in a sustainable and equitable way, to ensure that the benefits of these resources are shared by all citizens and that their extraction does not come at the expense of the environment or human rights.

How can Africa develop itself away from the greed of some developed nations? There is no easy answer to this question, as it is a complex issue that involves many different factors. However, there are some steps that Africa can take to promote sustainable development and reduce the influence of developed nations:

Promote good governance: African nations should work to establish transparent and accountable systems of governance that promote the rule of law, protect human rights, and combat corruption.

Invest in education and human capital: Developing the skills and knowledge of the African people is crucial to building a sustainable and prosperous future for the continent. Investing in education, health care, and other social services can help to build a strong and healthy workforce.

Support local industries: African nations can promote economic development by investing in local industries, rather than relying solely on exports of raw materials. This can create jobs, generate income, and promote sustainable growth.

Foster regional integration: African nations can work together to promote regional integration and reduce dependency on external actors. This can involve developing common trade policies, investing in regional infrastructure, and promoting cooperation on issues of mutual interest.

Encourage foreign investment on African terms: African nations should strive to attract foreign investment on their own terms, by negotiating fair and equitable deals that benefit both the investor and the host country. This can help to promote economic development and reduce dependency on aid.

In view of its abundant resources, its ambitious youth, its vibrant society, and its geostrategic potential, Africa needs to achieve unity and full integration, at once, to face the immense greed of the developed world and to defend its interest in the best possible ways.

Q: With the current geopolitical changes and from several perspectives, French-speaking African countries are noticeably against France and a few English-speaking countries are working against neo-colonial tendencies in the continent. To what extent these could affect the future continental unity?

A: For the past twenty years, France has seen its economic importance with Africa shrink sharply; this is particularly true for French-speaking Africa, despite the fact that it is a historical partner of French capitalism.

In twenty years, France has lost nearly half of its market share in Africa compared to its competitors, going from 12% to 7%. “French exports have doubled in a market that has quadrupled, hence a division by two of our market share,” says former minister Hervé Gaymard in a report delivered in 2019.

Today, one is far from the image of the reserved domain, the French decline being even more pronounced in Francophone Africa. Not only is France losing market share to India and especially China, but in 2017 it also lost its status as the leading European supplier to the African continent, overtaken by Germany. France’s market share in Africa represents 7.35% far behind China (27.75%), which is waging a hidden informational war against France. Indeed, one of the causes of this French decline is an irrational factor that continues to present France, the former colonial power, as “plundering” the continent’s wealth (even if the economic facts partly contradict this reality).

From Rabat to Djibouti, via Niamey, Ouagadougou, Dakar, Bamako, N’Djamena, Yamoussoukro, Yaoundé, Libreville, Bangui, Antananarivo, Tripoli, and adding, in spite of all the window-dressing, Algiers and Tunis, Paris is losing its grip on a large part of Africa.

The year 2022 is the culmination of this divorce, now consummated, between several African countries, once friends and partners of France, which has shown great feverishness in the management of its bilateral, and continental relations with Africa. The truth of the matter is that Africa has changed its face, has evolved, and has decided for at least a good decade, now, to take its destiny into its own hands and reject any form of guardianship whatever its origin is. 

A paradigm shift so profound that it has escaped the declining acuity of old-fashioned and receding French diplomacy. This has given substance to ruptures without return, as is the case with Mali, and Burkina Faso which sent the French ambassador home. Everywhere, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic through the western side of the Mediterranean, the multiplication of signs all display a clear and unambiguous message: “France get out! /France degage!’’

At issue, and without ambiguity, the aggressive and unacceptable policy of President Emmanuel Macron, who blows hot and cold, with regard to a part of this Africa that today has other ambitions, and which sees the future of its populations outside the French sights, by concluding partnerships with other powers, notably China, Russia and Morocco, which, for 23 years, has made Africa a political, social, cultural and human national priority.

This translates into a simple rejection of the modus operandi of the French policy with its African “partners”, even to the point of irritating to the utmost loyal and allied as Senegal, which aligns itself with Mali, with Burkina Faso, with the Central African Republic, with Cameroon, with the Ivory Coast, with Niger, with Chad, with Libya and even with a country such as Djibouti, a favourite of Paris, which is also demanding its independence. In the wake of the protest and rejection movements that are spreading from one region to another like a contagious trail, likened to an awakening, that many consider to be late, since France has been unfair in its relations with its former colonies for age, and still intends to dictate their policies.

All of this is mixed with outdated lessons that Africans no longer want to receive from anyone, especially from a France bogged down in endless political and social crises, not to mention the deep and serious economic stagnation that pushes it to want to tap into the African reservoir that has served as an emergency valve and milking cow for over a century and a half.

This rejection on the part of African political leaders today also reflects the opinion of the African populations who categorically refuse the interference of Paris in their internal affairs, serving itself as it pleases, giving lessons at every turn, intervening militarily wherever it decides, and plunging entire countries into chaos. This raises the specter of a Libyan-style bankruptcy over countries such as Mali, Niger, Burkina, Chad, and the Central African Republic, among other states weakened by decades of exploitation by large French companies that are making huge profits while the populations of these countries are becoming poorer every day. 

Overexploited raw materials, coveted rare earths, natural resources plundered for very long years, not to mention the millions of Africans subjected, mistreated, made into slaves by a France that gives lessons on the rights of humans to be equal, brothers, and free! Not to mention the fate reserved for all the deportees, for all those who fought by force to liberate France, and for all the victims of atomic testing in the Sahel desert. A very long list of injustices committed by France and inflicted on Africans who have endured enough and who, today, are saying: “Enough!’’

A whole African youth today says “No” to France. No to visa blackmail, as if it were an entry ticket to paradise! No to arm wrestling on local markets and on the lion’s share reserved for French companies. No to cultural guardianship with this so outdated Francophonie that looks more and more false and misleading. No to the politics of the twisted hand to bend all those who want to decide for themselves their future and their development. No to double game. No to duplicity. No to profits of any kind. No to privileges. No to exploitation. No to discrimination. No to racism and xenophobia, two scourges that are today taking on a very worrying dimension in a French society that is both divided and weakened.

Even more remarkable is the fact that France’s decline can be observed first in French-speaking countries. France’s main African trading partners are now Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, followed by Nigeria and South Africa. The former West African countries now account for only 1% of France’s market share.

It must be said that anti-French sentiment has never been so strong. Starting in Mali, it has spread to the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso, where opinion leaders accuse the former colonial power of wanting to profit from their resources.

Q: 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? Do you think Russia is a virtual investor as some experts describe it… as it has marginal investment and economic footprints in the continent?

A: The use of the term neo-colonialism first became widespread, particularly in reference to Africa, shortly after the decolonization process following the end of World War II, which came after the struggle of several national independence movements in the colonies.

Colonialism is a policy of occupation and economic, political or social exploitation of a territory by a foreign state. Neo-colonialism refers to a situation of dependence of one state on another. This dependence is not official, as is the case between a colony and a metropolis.

The brutal exploitation of the populations as well as the appropriation of the resources of the continent by the countries of the North are at issue. This is what justifies that today, France and other Western countries are implementing actions, notably by helping the development that colonization had slowed down.

Neo-colonialism in Africa refers to the indirect and continued domination of African countries by former colonial powers, or by other external powers, through economic, political, and cultural means. Some aspects of neo-colonialism in Africa include:

Economic exploitation: African countries are often forced to rely on exports of raw materials, while importing manufactured goods at higher prices, leading to a one-sided economic relationship.

Political interference: External powers often interfere in the political affairs of African countries, supporting leaders who are favorable to their interests, and opposing those who are not.

Cultural domination: The cultural influence of former colonial powers can still be felt in Africa, as Western cultural values and norms are often seen as superior to traditional African values.

Debt dependency: Many African countries are burdened by debt, which often originated from loans given by external powers. These debts can lead to dependency and compromise their sovereignty.

Land and resource grabbing: External powers or corporations often acquire large amounts of land or resources in African countries, often displacing local populations and leading to environmental degradation.

The “new” Russian presence in Africa, after a disengagement of nearly 30 years, is evolving rapidly and can confuse several cards as long as it asserts itself as a counterweight to Chinese ambitions and Western neo-colonialism.

Somewhat like a cat out of the bag, the Russia-Africa summit in October 2019, where Putin gathered some 30 African heads of state in Sochi, struck the media opinion, overlooking the Soviet roots of this interest. Despite the absence of an overarching ideological rationale as in the days of the USSR, Putin’s Russia can take advantage of this legacy and bring a pragmatic approach to it.

Q: What are the historical roots and what is the nature of this legacy? What logic drives Russian interests and which African actors are its privileged partners? Finally, what are the consequences for Russia, for its African partners, and for the world order?

A: Russia’s re-engagement in Africa began with President Putin’s visits to South Africa and Morocco in 2006, followed by his interim successor Medvedev’s visits to Egypt, Angola, Namibia, and Nigeria in 2008, in both cases accompanied by delegations of businessmen to finalize private deals. This did not go unnoticed by Western analysts of Russian politics, who quickly detected a desire to score economic and symbolic points. Putin set the tone: “Russia notes without jealousy that other countries have established ties in Africa, but it intends to defend its interests on the continent“. However, at the same time, another strategy was at work at the state level.

In 2006, President Putin canceled the Algerian state’s debt (of about $4.5 billion) in exchange for lucrative arms deals. A similar strategy was implemented in Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya: railway and gas contracts to Gazprom in exchange for the cancellation of Libyan debts. The fall of the dictator thwarted the plans somewhat, but Russia tried to remain influential, especially with Commander Haftar and contracts obtained by the Russian security firm Wagner. In Egypt, the former darling of Soviet cooperation during the Nasser era, there will be arms sales contracts (in excess of 3.5 billion dollars) with President Al-Sissi’s regime, coupled with an agreement between the Russian nuclear energy agency Rosatom and the Egyptian government for the construction of a power plant in the Dabaa region, as well as the opening up of a market for Russian grain in the context of an embargo.

This give-and-take approach seems to have little ideological content but is certainly not without strategic vision in that the links with the Al-Sissi regime help to maintain a presence with Haftar in eastern Libya and to reaffirm Russian interests that were scorned when Gaddafi fell. It should be remembered that the cancellation of African debt was a policy put forward by the G8, of which Russia was a member at the time, but which Putin’s regime applied to specific partners in exchange for concrete benefits.

During the period 2009-2018, Russian exports to Africa totalled nearly $100 billion. However, 80% of this trade was concentrated in 7 countries: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Sudan, and South Africa. As most of these are long-standing partners, two-thirds of this trade was directed to two countries in particular: Algeria ($25.8 billion) and Egypt ($37.5 billion). In 2019, the majority of all products exported by Russia to African countries could be grouped into five categories: arms, grain, oil products, ferrous metals, and shipbuilding.

The preponderance of Soviet interests in North Africa is more than evident. In contrast, with countries on the economic upswing such as Ethiopia, the DRC, and Angola, trade amounts to only tens of millions of dollars annually. Russia is also targeting bauxite mining in Guinea, platinum mining in Zimbabwe, and diamond mining in Angola. The creation of a Russian industrial zone in Egypt could not only ensure the preponderance of Russian firms in the Egyptian market but would also allow them to carve out a place of choice in the Sub-Saharan economic space.

From a comparative perspective, trade between the Russian Federation and African countries remains modest, with Russia being the 6th largest trading partner of Africa, after Turkey, and far behind China. But Moscow is progressing rapidly: 17.2% increase between 2018 and 2017. Also growing rapidly, Russian investments rose to 5 billion in 2018, but represent very little compared to Chinese investments estimated at 130 billion per year.

As a symbol of the new age of Russian capitalism, economic activities in Africa are carried out by a combination of private actors and large state-owned companies. The giant Gazprom signs most of the cooperation contracts in the oil and gas sector and wants, for example, to connect Nigeria’s gas resources to Europe, while Rosneft is mainly active in North Africa and Lukoil in Nigeria and Ghana. The state agency Rosatom has nuclear cooperation projects with Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Zambia.

Although Russia has benefited from some of the ties forged during the Soviet era, the delay created by its disengagement, the aggressiveness of the Chinese offensive, and the context of international sanctions mean that the Eurasian giant has few means to develop its African strategy, and is taking an approach that combines military cooperation and media influence. To its credit, it has no colonial past and relies on anti-French sentiments, for example in Mali or the Central African Republic, in public relations campaigns in which it presents itself as the guarantor of the sovereignty of its African partners, with whom it exchanges services without any political or moral interference with regard to democratic norms.

Moreover, an important aspect of Russian soft power in Africa comes from its experience in Syria. It presents this as proof that it can guarantee the sovereignty and economic independence by freeing itself from the effects of Western sanctions and being less hegemonic than Beijing in its appetite for resources. For African leaders wishing to diversify their economic partners, these assets should not be overlooked.

Thus, the Sochi summit in October 2019 brought together representatives from each of the 54 African countries, including 43 heads of state. China, India, Turkey and Brazil are also already holding their African summits, as are the United States, the EU and Japan. We must therefore see in this exercise not a sign of the hegemonic designs of Putin’s geopolitics, but rather the fact that Russia must do like all the major economic partners of Africa itself. The media impact was somehow more important than the economic and diplomatic impact. Some bilateral and multilateral treaties were signed, but no aid programs. The summit should be held every three years and if Russian forecasts come true, there should be a doubling of Russian-African trade by then, aiming to reach the French level.

Because the list of African countries with security agreements with Russia is rather long, because these cooperation projects are multiplying quite rapidly, especially in recent years, and because the foreign observer has somewhat forgotten that the USSR has had sustained interests and contacts with Africa for several decades, it is easy to be suspicious of Russian ambitions in contemporary Africa. Some of the implications are in line with the logic of the Soviet presence in Africa (North Africa, Portuguese-speaking Africa, South Africa and Ethiopia), others are born of new circumstances (Central African Republic). However, in economic terms, Russia does not carry much weight compared to players such as China, the United States or France.

Q: South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), in its latest reports warned African leaders about Africa being used as pawns by external players for achieving their geopolitical interests. What should be the Africa’s collective position and their approach towards external players? What should be the role of the African Union?

A: The relationship between Africa and the West has always been strained, especially because of colonialism, slavery, the Cold War, and now immigration and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Africa (as a continent) has taken an ambivalent stance on the war.

The “conquest” of Africa, a continent rich in raw materials (oil, gold, cobalt, coltan, diamonds, wood, uranium), is a major issue at the beginning of the 21st century. It is, moreover, at the heart of an increasingly aggressive game of influence, often to the detriment of the African countries themselves.

From the Baltic to Africa via the Mediterranean. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is back in the world. In Africa, it wants to re-establish the situation it had during the time of the Soviet Union, but also to increase its relations, in mutual respect.

After having been largely absent from Africa since the implosion of the USSR, Russia is still only taking timid steps to intervene in what is the new great game of the 21st century between great powers. Even if it is very far from China, India, the United States, and even the former European colonial powers, which are trying to maintain their position. But, to succeed in its comeback, Moscow wants to play its trump card: to put forward its past relations with African countries.

During the Cold War, the USSR appeared in the midst of decolonization as an alternative to Europe and had become one of the main suppliers of arms to African countries. The other strong point of Soviet influence was the university cooperation, which allowed many young Africans to study in Moscow.

At the time, this influence worried Western countries, which even wondered if the Soviet Union was not “taking control of what was called the Third World,” according to specialist journalist Christophe Boisbouvier (“Jeune Afrique,” October 20, 2017).

The Russia of the 21st century is far from playing this role on the continent today. Nevertheless, to give a signal of its re-engagement, the president, Vladimir Putin, decided last year to cancel some 20 billion dollars of debts of African countries contracted during the time of the USSR. In addition, Moscow has proposed to African countries still in debt a system of exchange “shares for debt”, in particular to invest in energy and natural resources. In industry, particularly in Guinea in bauxite, or in railroads in Ghana, Russian companies are now competing with the Chinese and the French.

Sixty years after independence, the continent remains the object of covetousness among the great powers. Africa represents about 8% of the world’s oil reserves, 7% of the world’s gold, 53% of the world’s diamonds, 75% of the world’s platinum and at least 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land. If cultivated, it could feed a large part of the world’s population, which by the end of this century could reach 11 billion people.

What has changed profoundly, however, are the players and the geography. The “Great Game” is no longer between Russia and the United Kingdom in Asia, as it was in the 19th century, but between the new emerging countries, America and Europe in Africa. And the spur of the rivalry is China.

The fact remains that, faced with Russian, Indian, European or American ambitions, China has an advantage. It is ready to largely finance public and private operations in Africa. The difference between China and a country like France is that China provides long-term financing. Even if the risk for African countries is to see their debt explode.

The AU, the new institution, has the ambition to renovate and strengthen the economic and political integration projects that were the basis for the creation of the OAU. It must, among other things, promote cooperation and strengthen social, economic, and political relations between member states to avoid warlike relations. Moreover, it wishes to put in place a stable institutional framework to enable African states to participate effectively in the global market and in international negotiations on trade, finance, and other international issues (AU Constitutive Act, Articles 3 and 4). By replacing the OAU with the AU, the heads of state wanted to modernize the old institution and initiate a new page in the integration of African states following the example of the European Union.

However, several years after its creation, and despite the efforts made, the African Union, the largest regional organization on the African continent, has not produced the expected results. Armed conflicts, including numerous civil wars, prevent the establishment of a climate of peace and security among the member states. At the political level, the continent is marred by numerous coups d’états. The social situation is just as chaotic and the continent is facing repeated health crises. In addition, famine and poverty are part of the daily life of the citizens and the economic situation of the continent is not more glorious. Indeed, the African continent is the one that contributes the least to world trade. It is heavily dependent on imports and continues to trade raw materials for finished goods at the expense of local processing industries.

In other words, the African Union is far from its objectives and, contrary to its reference model, is not prospering. This sad fact raises several questions, both about African integration and about the legitimacy and usefulness of the African Union.

The topic seems all the more relevant as African nations see regional integration as an important opportunity to introduce political stability and increase trade. In this regard, Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and one of the founding fathers of African unity said:

“There can be no real independence and economic independence and true economic, social, political and cultural development of Africa without the unification of the continent”.

But how should this unification take place? Is the African Union, based on the European Union model the only solution for Africa? Is it capable of curing Africa of all its ills? What if regional integration under the European model is not adapted to Africa?

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

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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The transformation of Africa starts with our girls

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“When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” This African proverb resonates with the values passed on to me by my parents and guides my determination to drive change in the region through the education and empowerment of girls and women.

Adolescence is a critical tipping point in the lives of many girls. Decisions made for them at this age can have life-long implications for their health, skills, economic opportunities, voice, and personal agency. Far too often, choices are made that set-in motion a disadvantage for these girls that will persist throughout their entire lives. A multitude of factors throughout a woman’s life cycle often combines to prevent them from realizing their potential: high fertility rates, early marriages and inadequate access to family planning services, low educational attainment, weak job opportunities, and restrictive social norms and laws.

Over the past decade, countries across Western and Central Africa have made considerable progress in accelerating gender equality, promoting girls’ education, championing legal reforms, improving livelihood opportunities, and developing more inclusive financial systems. The recently released Women, Business and the Law report 2023 highlights the significant progress made by the region in the last year, with five economies—Benin, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, and Senegal —enacting positive legal changes. Notably, Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon recently lifted all legal restrictions on women’s employment.

We know, however, that progress in some areas has not fully translated into lifting girls and women in all areas. Some statistics are startling: nearly six out of ten girls in Western and Central Africa are still not in secondary school, two out of ten bear a child as teenagers, and nearly half believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife. A woman in the region earns significantly less than a man, regardless of whether she is a farmer, wage worker, or entrepreneur. Furthermore, the continued consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing effects of climate change and the existing realities of regional conflicts also risk increasing existing inequalities.

We have known for quite some time that women’s economic empowerment fuels economic growth, provides women with income to invest in their family’s health and education, increases household food stability and resilience, and strengthens women’s decision-making power in their homes, communities, and societies. But our efforts have not been enough: we need to work harder, do more, and reach higher.

This is why the World Bank is stepping up its commitment to accelerating gender equality in the region. We have just launched a Regional Gender Action Plan for Western and Central Africa 2023-2027. By putting gender at the nexus of our efforts, we aim to support countries in delivering greater results around four priorities: (1) closing the earnings gap, (2) empowering adolescents and women to reduce fertility rates, (3) reaching gender parity in basic education, and (4) reducing gender-based violence.

For instance, Niger reduced by half the number of girls dropping out of school and getting married before graduation by providing girls with an allowance for food and housing to stay with host families closer to their schools through the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project. The intervention is now implemented in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger and seeks to empower women and adolescent girls by providing access to quality education and reproductive, child and maternal health services.

In Nigeria, the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) project supports the education and the empowerment of 20 million young girls and mothers in 18 states by providing trainings to adolescent girls in secondary schools to strengthen socio-emotional skills and digital literacy and improve learning, sexual and reproductive health, and labor market outcomes. AGILE also works with traditional and religious leaders to change social norms and builds schools closer to the communities where they are needed.

These are a few examples of how countries can advance gender equality and promote inclusive growth in the region. Now is our opportunity to deliver results at scale for an equitable tomorrow. While adolescence is a time of great vulnerability for girls, it is also an ideal point to disrupt the poverty cycle and leverage development efforts. Educated and empowered girls and women recognize their inherent worth and will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. Let us help these girls and women fly with both wings and raise up a continent. 

First published on All Africa via World Bank

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International Conference Strengthens Multifaceted Relations between Russia and Africa

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The International Parliamentary conference ‘Russia-Africa’ held on 19-20 March has, at least, focused on complexities and contradictions of the emerging new global order, the role of Russia-African alliance against growing Western imperialism, and set the limits of Africa’s expectations from Russia. The conference was to build further on previous comprehensive political dialogues between parliaments of Africa and Russia.

President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the international parliamentary conference ‘Russia-Africa in a Multipolar World’ on March 20, reminded that the first Russian-African summit, held in October 2019 in Sochi, was very productive and made it possible to noticeably revive our ties with African states, intensify business interaction, exchanges in the cultural and humanitarian spheres. That the partnership between Russia and African countries has gained additional momentum and is already reaching a qualitatively new level.

He emphatically pointed out that the states of Africa are constantly increasing their weight and role in world affairs, and are asserting themselves more and more confidently in politics and the economy. We are convinced that Africa will become one of the leaders in the emerging new multipolar world order – there are all objective prerequisites for this. And there is about 1.5 billion people live in Africa, a huge resource base is concentrated – almost a third of the world’s mineral reserves. 

African countries are striving to pursue an independent and sovereign foreign and domestic policy, sometimes difficult, problems on their own. Russia and African countries uphold the norms of morality and social principles that are traditional for our peoples and oppose the neo-colonial ideology imposed from outside. By the way, many states of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America adhere to similar positions, and together make up the world majority.

“We are ready to jointly shape the global agenda, work together to strengthen fair and equal interstate relations, and improve mechanisms for mutually beneficial economic cooperation. We are preparing in the most serious way for the second Russian-African summit and, of course, a rich and meaningful agenda for the summit is being developed. It is planned to hold more than a hundred of the most diverse events,” he said about the forthcoming grand summit planned for July.

Africa has made a “huge leap in its development” in recent decades but its potential is yet to be unlocked, noted Valentina Matviyenko, Speaker of the Federation Council. “Africa is a continent with great potential, which is yet to be fully unlocked. A continent with a population approaching 1.5 billion. A continent which has made a huge leap in its development, not only economic, but also social and scientific, in recent decades,” she said at the Russia-Africa international parliamentary delegation.

According to Matviyenko, Africa’s international prestige is also increasing. “I think that this is an absolutely objective and logical trend which the collective West, led by the United States, does not want to acknowledge. They want to preserve their superiority and role as global hegemon, things that are becoming a thing of the past. They are reluctant to change their mentality of neocolonialism and are using well-known means of deterrence, such as sanctions, threats, blackmail, double standards, and blatant hypocrisy,” she noted.

She stressed that Russia has always been committed to the principles of “equality, mutual respect, the inherent right of each state to choose its own path of development, its own future without interference from the outside. Russia’s cooperation, mutually respectful and equal, with African countries has been built on these principles for decades.”

Russia’s friendship and cooperation with African countries is “time-tested.” That countries of the African continent have always been Russia’s reliable partners and true allies. I am convinced that it will continue like this. Our shared goal is to change the world for the better, to ensure the well-being and prosperity of the peoples of Russia and Africa, to spare no effort to ensure that hunger, dangerous diseases, and regional conflicts are extinguished,” Matviyenko added.

Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, speaking at the plenary session, highlighted relations between Russia and Africa. “It is necessary to emphasize: Russia and African countries are equal allies and partners. Our relations have always been built on an unselfish basis, on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in domestic affairs,” Volodin said, stressing that for Russia “the African continent has never been a subject of mercantile interest, use of labor and raw material resources.”

However, according to the speaker, the United States and Europe have a different approach. “Washington and Brussels seek to take control of Russian and African natural resources. In fact, they continue their colonial policy. They go to any measures, including force and terrorist nature, for their own benefit,” the politician pointed out. “It is not for Washington to teach us how to build relationships, be friends and make plans for the future,” Volodin pointed out.

He, however, describes Africa as a continent of freedom-loving people, and that friendship is a two-way street, and that Russia and African countries are at a new stage. Understandably therefore, “Russia and African countries are united by shared goals: We stand together for building a multipolar, just world based on respect for the traditions, culture, and history of the countries with which we are building mutually beneficial cooperation,” Volodin said.

“Today the African continent plays an important role in solving global and regional problems. And it will only grow,” he said, recalled that “despite illegal sanctions from Washington, Russia and African states are developing trade and economic cooperation.” In particular, according to the politician, the trade turnover is growing, which at the end of last year amounted to $17.9 billion.

While Russian and African parliamentarians continue forging solidarity against growing neo-colonial tendencies in Africa, Russia has also expressed readiness to push for Africa’s economic development by offering their legislative support. Legislators were convinced that the parliaments could do a lot for the development of relations on the principles of respect, non-interference in internal affairs of other states and mutually beneficial cooperation.

For comparison, 36 delegations from African countries took part in the first Forum which was held in 2019, this year there were delegations from about 40 countries. Russia, contrary to Western assertions, does not isolate itself from the rest of the world. “The increase in the number of participants confirms the special nature of friendly ties between Russia and Africa. Attempts by Washington and Brussels to isolate Africa and Russia have failed,” earlier during the first day, emphasized Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin. 

That however, undeterred by the pressure from the United States ‘to cancel Russia’ in their relationship, Africa parliamentarians have arrived in Moscow for two-day working gathering to methodically develop Russian-African relations in various fields. In addition, to the political dialogue, they are also focusing on economic, cultural, humanitarian and scientific cooperation.

According to the plan, Russian parliamentarians and African colleagues fixed topical issues of the international parliamentary agenda for discussions: parliamentary support of scientific and educational cooperation, legislative response to economic challenges, indivisible security: capabilities and contributions of parliaments, and neocolonialism of the West: how to prevent the repetition of history.

The objectives of the conference are to strengthen parliamentary cooperation with African countries in the conditions of formation of a multipolar world, to develop relations and develop common approaches to legal regulation in the economy, science and education and security. The following round tables held organized:

— Legislative Response to Economic Challenges: The modern economic challenges are crises caused by Western countries guided by the United States, numerous economic sanctions aimed at destroying the Russian economy, introduced in violation of all international trade rules and foreign economic relations. At the same time, most African countries supported friendly relations with Russia. Russia and Africa’s positions coincided on many issues.

Unlike many Western countries, Russia does not have colonial experience, and the contribution of the Soviet Union to the liberation of African countries from colonial dependence is also well known. Africa stands for an equal partnership: mutual economic interests include investments, cooperation within production chains, cooperation in strategic infrastructure projects, energy, medicine and financial technologies. It is necessary to support the transformation processes of multipolar world.

— Indivisible Security: Capabilities and Contributions of Parliaments. Participants of the round table discussion on the topic “Indivisible Security: Capabilities and Contributions of Parliaments” thoroughly examined importance of sovereignty protection, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, fight against poverty, countering terrorism and military biological threats. Both Russia and Africa have similar challenges, are similar in many ways.

Both Russian and African parliamentarians have join their efforts, contribute to the development of effective proposals, which would help resolve conflicts. “The challenges that our friends from African countries and the challenges that the Russian Federation are facing today, are similar in many ways. The world is developing rapidly, and in this new world we want justice, equal rights and multi-polarity,” said the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Petr Tolstoy, opening the discussion.

The Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula noted the importance of maintaining the values of humanity and tolerance towards each other. She recalled that during the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries preferred to care only about their own safety, and as a result African states did not receive enough vaccines and lost human lives.

“There are still issues of climate change, poverty, human rights violations and become a threat to peace and security, economy and the peaceful existence of people around the world. We should support all humanity. And there still be humanness in us and only, in the case, when we treat others as tolerantly as possible,” stressed Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

The President of the National Council of the Transition of the Republic of Guinea, Dansa Kourouma, noted the problem of imbalance in diplomatic relations in the context of neo-colonialism. “The unilateral approach has become the rule. It is important take into account and respect the sovereignty of states,” he explained and called for a more active fight against poverty, since such situations when people do not have access to a minimum set of services lead to insecurity in such countries.

— Neocolonialism of the West: How to Prevent the Repetition of History. Here Russia and African countries want equal world without imposition of Western paradigm of consciousness. Leonid Slutsky, leader of the LDPR faction, Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, opening the meeting thanked African countries, that despite the difficult times, gathered around Russia as a forward in the movement towards a multipolar world.

The First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, Vyacheslav Nikonov, emphasized that there is an overwhelming majority of people supporting those values of sovereignty, respect for each other, democracy, non-interference in the affairs of others. According to the African parliamentarians who spoke at the roundtable believes that by granting independence to African countries, colonialism still exists on the continent, including transnational companies and non-governmental organizations that have become its main instruments. 

According to most of them, it necessary now to promote economic independence and diversify the economies. It is definitely an important factor in countering sanctions is the consolidation of society, pursue concrete development. But unfortunately, after political liberation many African colonies retained the old economic structures and dependence on imports from the metropolises.

President of the non-profit organization Foundation for the Study of Historical Perspective, Nataliya Narotchnitskaya, tried to answer the basic question: Why Russia is countering neocolonialism? In the process, she explained the colossal fluctuations in economy, faith, standards of living, and climate in Africa. The moment of truth for Africa, she continued, is that there must be a change in the economy, that officials should work to ensure that, at least, infrastructure projects are being implemented in Africa.

Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin held bilateral meetings with several heads of delegations, speakers of parliaments and chambers of parliaments of African countries. On March 19, a bilateral meeting of the Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin and the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe Jacob Mudenda was held at the State Duma.  The State Duma and the National Assembly of Zimbabwe signed agreement in 2022.

“It is very important to do everything to implement this agreement. We propose to create an inter-parliamentary commission which will enable us to work more substantively on issues that are important for both our states,” Jacob Mudenda emphasized at the meeting. 

According to him, relations between countries should be built on the principles of mutual respect, mutually beneficial cooperation and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Russia and Zimbabwe now shared common political interest: both are under sanctions. Frequent interactions, such as conferences, demonstrate the importance of relations at the parliamentary level between Africa and the Russian Federation.

“This will significantly advance understanding and strengthen relations between Russia and the countries of Africa. Such meetings will help share experience between the African states and the Russian Federation and develop solutions. There is also an exchange of views and development of positions on international security. You know, these issues are the most relevant now,” concluded Mudenda.

South Africa’s National Assembly Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula supported his suggestion that great capabilities on parliamentary dimension of Russia and South Africa could be used to enhance our cooperation in various areas in South Africa and in Africa. Mapisa-Nqakula thanked Vyacheslav Volodin for sending the invitation to take part in the Parliamentary Conference, before adding “It is very important for us that Russia gives priority to the African continent. Many countries consider Africa as a great possibility to get African resources. But taking into account the history of our cooperation, we, like many other African countries, believe that Russia has other, more genuine interests in Africa.”

“Our cooperation started decades ago. And we felt your support in the worst times for us, during apartheid. We understand that now it is a difficult time for Russia as a country. But I would like to assure you that South Africa will continue cooperation, discuss areas of cooperation that are important for us. We look forward to its start,” said Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Both also discussed issues of cooperation within the framework of the BRICS, as it is South Africa’s chairmanship. “For us, the cooperation between the parliaments within the BRICS framework is very important, as we can discuss issues of common interest,” emphasized the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa.

From West Africa, there were Burkina Faso and Mali. And then Central African Republic. Historically French-speaking which implies that France has had them as colonies, but the changing political situation these countries are seeking support and consequently  taking directions from Russian officialdom. President of the Transitional Legislative Assembly of the Republic of Burkina Faso Ousmane Bougouma, President of the National Transitional Council of the Republic of Mali Malick Diaw and President of the National Assembly of the Central African Republic Simplice Mathieu Sarandji.

Central African Republic, Burkina Faso and Mali – these have common expectations. They are suffering a lot from terrorism, so Russia’s support, including logistical support and other different support, is extremely important for them. France is longer needed. “Russia helps developing cooperation, especially on the issues of security. We also want to address together other challenges we face in the field of education and healthcare development. Our people have made a completely clear and obvious choice: we want not only to diversify our international partnership, but also to strengthen cooperation with Russia,” said Malick Diaw.

The President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Congo Pierre Ngolo noted that the task is to establish a strong and solid partnership between countries based on friendship and fraternal relations, the cooperation at the level of parliaments “involves people in the process” and that both Russia and Africa are involved in some kind of battle for the well-being of the nations and the whole world. 

Russia and African countries should establish an exchange of legislative experience in order to create conditions for building mutually beneficial partnerships. Within the context of strengthening relations in this emerging new world, it is necessary to address challenges and find new forms of cooperation. It always reiterated that Russia remains an important political player, despite the sanctions and pressure from the West. 

The International Parliamentary event serves as a precursor for the second Russia-Africa summit, with African countries amid the emerging multipolar world. More than 40 parliamentary delegations from African countries arrived the conference, which also attended by members of the State Duma, senators of the Federation Council, representatives of the educational and business community. The conference held just few months before the second Russia-Africa summit, which is planned for July 2023 in Saint Petersburg.

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How Russia’s Sputnik Disappears from Africa’s Radar

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Until recently, Africa has not been high on Russia’s policy agenda. African leaders have to understand that Russia, for the past three decades, Africa was at the bottom of its policy agenda. After the end of Soviet era, Russia has focused broadly on the United States and Europe, dreaming of becoming part of Europe, part of the configuration of Global North. The low economic presence of Russia from 1991 until 2019 was a testament to the fact that Africa was at the bottom of its priority list. Of course the October 2019 summit was symbolic, but after that Russia has left most of bilateral agreements undelivered across Africa.

With its “special military operation” on Ukraine that necessitated imposition of stringent sanctions from the United States, European Union and their allies, the United Nations Security Council mounting pressure on Russia since February 2022, pushes Russia to begin soliciting aggressively for support in Africa. Last July, an article posted to its official website, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote: “The development of a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains among top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow is open to its further build-up multifaceted relations with Africa.”

In his Op-Ed article, Lavrov further argues: “We have been rebuilding our positions for many years now. The Africans are reciprocating. They are interested in having us. It is good to see that our African friends have a similar understanding with Russia.” Lavrov, however, informed about broadening African issues “in the new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and this will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry.

Lavrov consistently displays his passion for historical references. Soviet’s support for struggles for political independence and against colonialism should be laid to rest in the archives. The best way to fight neo-colonialism is to demonstrate by investing in those competitive sectors, make a departure away from hyperbolic rhetoric on endless list of economic sectors. In practical terms, it is important rather to face today’s development challenges and what are in store for the future generation. Africa today does not need anti-Western slogans which have become the key content in Russia’s foreign policy, Africa simply needs external players who would passionately and genuinely invest in the critical economic sectors. The fundamental fact is that Africa is making efforts to transform its economy to create employment, modern agriculture and industrialize the continent, especially with the introduction of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). 

Despite criticisms, China has built an exemplary distinctive economic power in Africa. Besides China, Africa is largely benefiting from the European Union and Western aid flows, economic and trade ties. That compared, Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry, and making little efforts in leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. 

Lavrov’s efforts toward building ‘non-Western’ ties this crucial times is highly commendable especially with Africa. But, the highly respected Minister easily and, most often, forget the fundamental fact that during these three years of global pandemic, the coronavirus that has engulfed the planet, in every corner of the world, Africa was desperate looking for vaccines. Health authorities are still warning that Covid-19 has not completely faced out throughout the world.

Quartz, a global reputable media, reported early this year that “as of the end of 2022, about a quarter of the population of African countries has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the latest figures shared by Africa CDC. The coverage varies drastically depending on the country. In Liberia, for instance, nearly 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, while only 34% is in neighboring Sierra Leone. Congo, Sudan, Senegal, and Madagascar all have vaccination rates below 10%.

Africa CDC acting director Ahmed Ogwell Ouma announced in a video briefing on December 22 that it will modify the way it reports vaccination rates. Rather than reporting coverage of the overall population, it will only report vaccinations of eligible population aged 12 or more. In his briefing, Ouma said the target for Africa remains to vaccinate 70% of the population. That goal, however, was set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the overall population. These numbers are about to change – and not because of an increase in vaccinations. 

Due of delays in international vaccine deliveries, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in Covid vaccination rates, and is the only continent where less than 50% of the population is fully vaccinated. Currently, just more than 800 million doses of vaccines have been administered in Africa, or 80% of the total received. About a third of the vaccinations have been made with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, followed by Pfizer (22%), AstraZeneca (17%), China’s Sinopharm (15%) and Sinovac (7%). 

Several reports monitored by this authored show that Russia has played a minimal role in the entire health sector in Africa. With the Covid-19 vaccination, Russia randomly sprinkled few thousands as humanitarian assistance among its “Soviet friends” including Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Nevertheless, the worse was Russia’s sudden failure to supply the 300 million vaccines through the African Union (AU) especially during the times of health crisis.

In an official media release mid-February 2021 said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – set up by the African Union (AU) to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa could attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was described as a ‘special offer’ from Russia. In the end, Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines as contracted.

In an authoritative policy report presented November 2021 titled ‘Situation Analytical Report’ and prepared by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, noted explicitly the failure to supply Sputnik vaccines to the African Union. The report criticized Russia’s current policy and lukewarm approach towards Africa.

“In several ways, Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers failed to meet contractual obligations on time,” says the report in part. 

The coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Worth noting that Russia claims that it was the first to find cure for coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO), until today has not certified Russia’s vaccines though. Despite the fact that Russia developed Sputnik V becoming the first registered Covid-19 vaccine, the vaccine lacks WHO approval due to lack of transparency of Russian laboratories and getting approvals before mandatory phase III clinical trials. On the other hand, all the vaccines have been registered in Russia – Sputnik V, Sputnik Light, CoviVac and EpiVacCorona – are produced in large quantities by Russian pharmaceutical companies and are currently used for vaccination. 

Director of the Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology Alexander Gintsburg has several times highlighted aspects of the vaccine production and marketing. He noted to raise the attractiveness of the vaccines on foreign markets, including countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. 

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), tasked to engage in marketing the vaccines abroad, got messed up especially in Africa. The 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. Of course, it took steps and speedily registered the vaccines in more than 20 African countries, but terribly failed on delivery deadlines. Worse was the Russian Direct Investment Fund supplied, at exorbitant prices, through middle-men in the Arab Emirates to a number of African countries. 

Sputnik V was registered in several African countries, including Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe. However, Russia has not been able to meet the increasing market demand and did not make prompt delivery on its pledges to African countries consequently, – in experts’ simple assessment Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has arguably failed Africa. Interestingly Russia’s Foreign Ministry has held series of talks with African Foreign Ministers, during this Covid-19 period and in fact this desperate moment, reiterated to assist with direct supplies for vaccinating vulnerable groups and people among the 1.3 billion population. That is Russia, considered as a reliable partner in these difficult and crucial times, whose strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority in it’s foreign policy,

The above thoughts on the part of Covid-19 business offered the reasons why Russia absolutely refused to join and be part of the Covax facility, which acts as a global collective bargaining initiative to secure vaccine doses for countries who signed up, including those which are self-financing their purchases, as well as assistance from donors for poorer developing countries. The first vaccines purchased through Covax were indeed destined to reach the Africa. That was, monitored by this author, some 88.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines distributed to 47 countries including Africa during the first half of 2021. This same year, during the virtual meeting of G7 leaders, the European Union announced it had donated a further 500 million euros to the COVAX program. The World Bank also committed $12 billion as concessional loans to assist African countries access foreign vaccines.

That is not all from several reports monitored. In April 2022, writing under the headline: “How Russia’s Hollow Humanitarian Hurt Its Vaccine Diplomacy in Africa,” – the co-authors, Matthew T. Page and Paul Stronski, both noted in 2020, that Russia touted deliveries of medical and protective supplies to several African countries, while the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine offered hopes that African countries would soon be able to launch large-scale immunization drives. Russian efforts to promote Sputnik V in Africa have floundered for a variety of reasons, including regulatory worries, production and logistical shortfalls, bureaucratic inertia, and even sticker shock. There is, however, another key factor behind Moscow’s failed vaccine diplomacy: its traditionally diminutive post-Soviet development presence on the continent.

Compared to Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and even many foundations, Russia has provided a tiny share of international development assistance to African countries since the end of the Cold War. Unlike India and Cuba, it has provided scanty medical assistance to – or investment in – African countries. 

If Russia wants to be influential on the continent, African political and economic leaders should demand more of Moscow, not simply settle for the symbolic diplomatic engagements or agreements at which the Russian leadership excels. Indeed, Africa has not ranked high on the Russian foreign policy agenda for much of the past three decades, getting barely a mention in the country’s key security documents except as either a partner in an emerging multipolar world or a source of instability.

Indeed the time has come for African leaders to rally together to ensure that no effort is spared in facilitating and supporting the building of large-scale vaccine manufacturing capacity on the continent. The African Vaccine Manufacturing Summit held in April, 2021 was an encouraging start. Currently, no African country is manufacturing the vaccine so far. Therefore, focus needs to be on developing real vaccine R&D capacity which must necessarily lead to health products. This requires substantial investment and a long-term commitment. In a similar vien, under the aegis of the African Union, leaders have to begin looking for inside solutions, rather than base hopes on these geopolitical games, external great powers seeking only support for their peculiar or parochial  interests.

Understandably, while making efforts to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, Russia simply lacks the capability to deliver on its various promises in Africa. Surely, African countries have to begin to re-evaluate their relationship with Russia. African leaders should not expect anything tangible from meetings, conferences and summits. Since the first Russia-Africa summit held in 2019, very little has been achieved. At this point, it is even more improbable that Moscow would commit adequate financial resources to invest in economic sectors, given the stringent sanctions imposed following Putin’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. 

In stark contrast to key global players, for instance the United States, China and the European Union and many others, Russia obviously has limitations. Notwithstanding that, for Russia to regain part of its Soviet-era influence, it has to address its own policy approach, this time try to shift towards new paradigms – that is to implement some of its decade-old pledges and promises, and those signed bilateral agreements; secondly to promote development-oriented policies and how to make these strategic efforts more practical, more consistent, more effective and most admirably result-oriented with African countries. 

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