Russian Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, in late February interview with local Russian media – the full text posted to the ministry’s website – discussed challenges, threats and opportunities in Russia-African relations. He also touched on he emerging world order in which both Russia and Africa have to play significant roles.
As always, Bogdanov reiterated Russia’s time-tested partnership, pragmatic approach and balance of national interests in the multifacted relationship with Africa. While pledging Moscow’s readiness in fighting neo-colonial tendencies in Africa, he also indicated that Moscow is prepared to cooperate in the military-technical sphere, particularly fighting against growing terrorism and militant attacks in African countries.
“Russia is prepared to cooperate with our African friends that show interest in strengthening their national armed and law enforcement forces, raising their combat readiness, including for effectively fighting the terrorist threat that has been exacerbated over the past decade following the well-known devastating events of the Arab Spring in northern Africa,” said Bogdanov.
During the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union held in Addis Ababa mid-February, African leaders have, indeed, prioritized the most significant questions especially those including peace and security necessary for sustainable economic growth and development, put eyes on halting the frequency of military’s appearance unto the political scene and unifying efforts towards improving intra-African trade and business development.
As Addis Ababa hosted the AU headquarters, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) interestingly used the phrase – “African solutions to African problems” – seven times during his welcome speech delivered on February 18. Besides that, he further offered the suggestion that all existing conflicts and disputes on the continent, it is necessary to mobilize collective efforts to resolve them and “must be confined to this continent and quarantined from the contamination of non-African interference.”
Under the aegis and guidance of the African Union, the continental organization which unites African countries, it is utterly important to continue making its tireless efforts and operate, to keep in mind, the deeply-held wisdom – the principle of “African solutions to African problems” – especially during this current time of geopolitical changes sweeping across the world. It is well-known that a number of external countries are using Africa to achieve geopolitical goals, sowing seeds of confrontation which threatens African unity.
Senegalese President and Outgoing AU Chairperson Macky Sall together with African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also emphasized a lot of questions within the international context marked by worrying uncertainties, fueled by geopolitical conflicts, fragmented economic governance, with unforeseeable consequences for Africa.
Both expressed serious regrets with the resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government, accentuating political instability and the weakening of member states. These have resulted into violent extremism, terrorism, the inherent conflict in electoral processes and inter-community conflicts. Meanwhile, the report of the Peace and Security Council has urged African leaders and Regional Economic blocs to enforce sanctions on military governments in Africa. These members, whose memberships are still suspended, have broken the protocols of the AU. On the other side, Moscow, with the pursuit of its military-technical cooperation and access to exploiting natural resources, has strongly backed military governments across Africa.
Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat has reiterated the necessity of creating regional forces for fighting terrorist groups, but added that the African armies are still under-equipped. “It is important that external partners listen to the cries of Africa and operate within the framework of the organization when it comes to the extension support in dealing with this scourge,” he stressed.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Bankole Adeoye relied the support for a proposal for new financing of security operations from the United States, African Union members and the European Union. As already known, financing has been a perennial challenge for AU. His report was on fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the security situations in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Sudan, all experienced military takeovers in 2021 and 2022.
The African Union insisted on it had a “zero tolerance” policy towards unconstitutional change as it maintained its suspension of four military-ruled countries. The Sahel states of Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali as well as Sudan were sanctioned by the pan-African body after coups in recent years but the AU said it was ready to help them return to democratic rule.
“The assembly reaffirmed zero tolerance against unconstitutional change (of government), it is necessary to re-emphasise that the AU remains intolerant to any undemocratic means to political power,” said the AU’s Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye. “The Commission is ready to support these member states to return to constitutional order, the idea is that democracy must take root and must be promoted and protected,” he told a press conference on the final day of the weekend AU summit in Addis Ababa.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc said it has maintained sanctions on the three Sahel countries. West African leaders met on the sidelines of the AU summit to review the measures and discuss the progress in restoring civilian rule in the three states. “The Authority of Heads of State and Governments decided to maintain the existing sanctions on all three countries,” the bloc said in a statement signed. ECOWAS has also decided to impose travel bans on government officials and senior leaders in those countries, it added.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi was very outspoken, shared valuable experiences about the use of well-constituted regional military force for enforcing peace and security in Mozambique. Creating regional military forces to fight threats of terrorism will absolutely not require bartering the entire gold or diamond mines for the purchase of military equipment from external countries.
Mozambique has relative peace and stability after the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) had finally approved the deployment of joint military force with the primary responsibility of ensuring peace and stability, and for restoring normalcy in the Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique.
It currently involves troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community Military Mission (SAMIM). Rwanda offered 1,000 in July 2021. South Africa has the largest contingent of around 1,500 troops. External countries are, of course, enormously helping to stabilize the situation in Mozambique. The rules, standards and policies, provision of the assistance as well as the legal instruments and practices are based on the protocols of building security stipulated by the African Union. It, therefore, falls within the framework of peace and security requirements of the African Union.
Over the past several years, Russian Foreign Ministry has strengthened the military-technical cooperation a key part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation with Africa. It has oftentimes explained in statements released on its website that Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries is primarily directed at settling regional conflicts and preventing the spread of terrorist threats, and fighting the growing terrorism in the continent.
The South African Institute of International Affairs, a Johannesburg based foreign policy think tank, has released a special report on Russia-Africa relations. According to the report, Russia has signed military-technical agreements with over 20 African countries and has secured lucrative mining and nuclear energy contracts on the continent.
Russia views Africa as an increasingly important vector of its post-Western foreign policy. It’s support for authoritarian regimes in Africa is readily noticeable, and its soft power has drastically eroded. As suspicions arise that Russia’s growing assertiveness in Africa is a driver of instability, its approach to governance encourages pernicious practices, such as kleptocracy and autocracy in Africa.
Over the years, Russia has fallen short on delivering on its pledges and promises, with various bilateral agreements going undelivered. Heading into the July 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg, Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American, and Chinese influence.
What is particularly interesting relates to the well-researched report by Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy analyst at Development Reimagined, a consultancy headquartered in Beijing, China. His report was based on more than 80 media publications dealing with Russia’s military-technical cooperation in Africa. His research focused on the Republic of Mali and the Central African Republic as case studies.
The report, entitled Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact, argues that Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is driven by a quest for global power status. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to countries with which it has security partnerships.
While Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to successfully gain a strategic foothold in partner countries, the lack of transparency in interactions, the limited scope of impact, and the high financial and diplomatic costs expose the limitations of the partnership in addressing the peace and development challenges of African host countries, the report says.
Much of the existing literature on Russia’s foreign policy stresses that Moscow’s desire to regain great power status has been pursued largely by exploiting opportunities in weak and fragile states in Africa.
Ovigwe Eguegu’s report focuses on the use of private military companies to carry out ‘military diplomacy’ in African states, and the main research questions were: What impact is Russia’s private military diplomacy in Africa having on host countries’ peace and development? And: Why Russia has chosen military diplomacy as the preferred means to gain a foothold on the continent?
He interrogates whether fragile African states advance their security, diplomatic, and economic interests through a relationship with Russia. Overcoming the multidimensional problems facing Libya, Sudan, Somali, Mali and Central African Republic will require comprehensive peace and development strategies that include conflict resolution and peacebuilding, state-building, security sector reform, and profound political reforms to improve governance and rule of law – not to mention sound economic planning critical for attracting the foreign direct investment needed to spur economic growth.
In the report, Eguegu further looked at the geopolitical dynamics of Russia’s new interest in Africa. He asserted that during the Cold War, the interests of the Soviet Union and many African states aligned along pragmatic and ideological lines. Many African countries had, after independence, resumed agitation against colonialism, racism, and capitalism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The clash between communism and capitalism provided ample opportunity to the Soviets to provide support to African countries both in ideological solidarity and as practical opposition to Western European and US influence in Africa.
Since Soviet’s collapse in 1991, Russia itself has rekindled relationships with African countries for myriad reasons – but these can largely be attributed more to pragmatism rather than ideology. More specifically, Russia’s interactions with African states have been multi-dimensional ranging from economic and political to security oriented.
He offered the example of Moscow’s relationships with Eritrea and Sudan that ultimately provided Russia with some influence and leeway in the critical Red Sea region, and also to counter the influence of the US and China. But the main feature of Russia’s policy is mostly ‘elite-based’ and tending to lend support to illegitimate or unpopular leaders.
The report also highlighted the myriad socioeconomic and political challenges plaguing a number of African countries. Despite these developments, some have struggled to maintain socioeconomic and political stability. The spread of insecurity has now become more complex across the Sahel region. The crisis is multidimensional, involving the political, socioeconomic, regional and climatic dimensions. Good governance challenges play their own role. Moreover, weak political and judicial institutions have contributed to deep-seated corruption.
Conflict resolution has to be tied to comprehensive improvement of political governance, economic development, and social questions. Some of the fragile and conflict-ridden African countries are keen on economic diversification and broader economic development. However, progress is limited by inadequate access to finance and the delicate security situation.
According to the International Monetary Fund, these fragile states have to diversify their economy and establish connections between the various economic regions and sectors. Poverty caused by years of lackluster economic performance is one of the root causes of insecurity. As such, economic development and growth would form a key part of the solution to regional security problems.
Analysts, however, suggest that Russia utilizes mercenaries and technical cooperation mechanisms to gain and secure access to politically aligned actors and, by extension, economic benefits like natural resources and trade deals.
It is argued that the adherence to a primarily military approach to insecurity challenges is inadequate and not the correct path for attaining peace and development. Furthermore, fragmented, untransparent and unharmonized peace processes will impede considerably on sustainable solutions to the existing conflicts in Africa.
Worse is that Russia’s strengths expressed through military partnerships fall short of what is needed to address the complexities and scale of the problems facing those African countries. Moscow certainly has not shown enough commitment needed for the comprehensive peacebuilding programs, security sector reforms, state-building, and improvement to governance and rule of law.
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. Nevertheless, not everything is perfect. There is some high optimism that efforts might gain grounds. The comprehensive summit declaration, at least, offers the clear strategic roadmap for building relations.
At this point, it is even more improbable that Moscow would commit financial resources to invest in economic sectors, given the stringent sanctions imposed following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact of sanctions and the toll of the war on the Russian economy are likely to see Moscow redirect its practical attention towards ensuring stability within its borders and in its periphery.
Notwithstanding its aim of working in this emerging new multipolar world with Africa, Russia’s influence is still comparatively marginal and its policy tools are extremely limited relative to other international actors, including China and Western countries such as France, European Union members, and the United States.