Russia-Africa: Great Expectations, Shattered Promises

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has indicated that a comprehensive declaration would be signed at the two-day African leaders’ summit at Expoforum, July 27 -28, in St. Petersburg. More than half of the 55 African leaders have confirmed their participation, as always to listen to hyperbolic speeches full of anti-Western rhetorics, resonating Soviet-era debts write-offs and assistance, new additional bilateral agreements and finally pose for memorable group photographs.

For years, Africans have heard of ‘neo-colonialism’ and ‘Soviet-era assistance’ through lectures, speeches and official statements from Russia’s officialdom. Without doubts, there will be a replay, Russian-African relations are based on long-standing traditions of friendship and solidarity, created when the Soviet Union supported the struggle of African peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid, protected their independence and sovereignty, and helped establish statehood and build the foundations of national economies.

Final preparations are underway for the second Russia-Africa summit. More than half of the participating countries will be represented at the highest level. A major declaration is being prepared on plans for cooperation between Russia and African nations for the next several years, according to the summarized report of Lavrov’s interview by TASS News Agency on June 30.

“Indeed, the United States and its allies are doing all they can to isolate Russia internationally. For example, they are trying to torpedo the second Russia-Africa Summit scheduled to take place in St Petersburg in late July. They are trying to dissuade our African friends from taking part in it,” the Russian top diplomat said.

At the heat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, Lavrov made a snapshot trips, more suitably referred to as “working visits” to a number of African countries, promising Russia’s investment support and commitment in transforming their economy. Relating to the late July gathering, “a serious package of documents that will contain almost all significant agreements” are being prepared, he asserted.

The first symbolic first summit at the Black Sea city of Sochi, indeed, fêted heads of state from 43 African countries and only showcased Moscow’s great power ambitions. At the tail-end of it, both Russia and Africa adopted a joint declaration, a comprehensive document that outlines the key objectives and necessary tasks to raise assertively the entire relations to a new qualitative level. 

* Official documents show there has been a great interest in the further development of relations between Africa and Russia.

* Priority areas of economic cooperation in which concrete results could be achieved in the coming years were outlined.

* 92 agreements, contracts and memoranda of understanding were signed at the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum. The contracts worth a total of $12.5 billion, already four years, were still undelivered.

According to official documents, there has been a great interest in the further development of relations, and in deepening and intensifying Russian-African cooperation. Priority areas of economic cooperation in which concrete results could be achieved in the coming years were outlined.

The final declaration includes:

–. respect for international law and the UN Charter,

–. the movement towards peace and security through the creation of more equal and fair international relations

–. a world order based on the principles of multilateralism, respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries

–. the peaceful settlement of crises, as well as the protection of national identity and civilisation, and cultural pluralism.

Aware of the common responsibility, the Russian and African sides will continue coordinating their efforts to monitor the implementation of the documents adopted at the summit, because this meets the desires and aspirations of African nations and “the friendly” Russian Federation. 

“Our declaration has reaffirmed the goals of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have approved a ministerial mechanism for promoting dialogue and partnership. We appreciate all these moves and believe that they have created a solid foundation for the further development of Russian-African relations,” said and co-chair of the first Russia-Africa summit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Professors Irina O. Abramova and Leonid L. Fituni, both from the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, in a report last year reminded the authorities, who are squeezed between illusions and realities, about their policy ambitions in Africa. And that high-ranking Russian officials need to change the approach towards Africa. 

The fact that African countries consider Russia as a reliable economic partner and it is necessary to interact with African public and private businesses on a mutually beneficial basis. In this regard, Russian initiatives should be supported by real steps and not be limited to verbal declarations about the “return of Russia to Africa,” especially after the Sochi gathering, which was described as very symbolic, they wrote in their report.

Understandably, the invasion of Crimea (2014) and Ukraine (2022) has not done much to win Russia the respect of African countries. Many foreign states have called for diplomacy as a mechanism for peaceful settlement of the conflict. But Sergey Lavrov said late June that “Russia can’t give up goals of special military operation in Ukraine.”  

“It’s impossible to give them up – the goals that have been set,” Lavrov said on Channel One, and added that Russia cannot change its approaches to the conduct of the special operation as long as the West is purposefully creating threats to Russia’s security.

South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa headed a peace brokering mission to St. Petersburg. Among the 10-points including peaceful solution through diplomacy and ordering Russian President Vladimir Putin to take steps in bringing the war to an immediate end, the African delegation also negotiated for access to grains and wheat, a strategic step to ensure their own food security in the continent.

In Paris at the Global Financing Pact summit, Cyril Ramaphosa, in his presentation told the audience that “Africa should not be considered as beggars” but that of equals in the global system. Long before that in early March, during the interparliamentary conference Russia-Africa, the African parliamentarians gave long ear-deafening applause when Vladimir Putin told them that Russia was ready to make “no-cost deliveries” of grains and wheat to African countries.

Quite recently George Nyongesa, a Senior Associate at the Africa Policy Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Tutorial Fellow and PhD candidate at University of Nairobi, observed that Russia’s ineffective policy strategies and challenges in implementing its policy goals are noticeable in many African countries.

In the past, anti-western rhetoric worked easy magic in building alignment, but currently majority of the continent is largely focused on democratization and economic emancipation. As things currently stand, Russia’s geopolitical stake in the continent of Africa is barely noticeable. In addition, compared to Africa’s large trading partners like Europe and the United States, trade between Russia and Africa totaled $14 billion, or about 2% of the continent’s overall trade.

At this stage of Africa’s development, it is rather necessary to examine thoroughly how the geopolitical changes are influencing Africa’s unity and development, how it is impacting on African countries. Following anti-Western slogans will definitely not guarantee or facilitate the expected development. On the other side, African leaders have to act with wisdom, partner with genuine external players in developing the continent for its over 1.3 billion population. 

Despite the tidal wave of new Africa-Russia relations, there are still obstacles, as well as new economic and geopolitical realities. Acceptance of these new realities is critical in order to properly manage Africa’s expectations from Russia, at least in the short term. And never forget that African leaders have to implement their election campaign pledges, and Africa’s roadmap is the African Union Agenda 2063.

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.