Widely known fact that African leaders are currently preparing for the next summit July 27-28 in St. Petersburg. At the end of the first symbolic summit in October 2019, Russia and Africa declared to hold such a high-level gathering every three years. Presumably it was postponed from 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to 2023 in St. Petersburg as the venue, due to Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in neighbouring Ukraine. But not all African leaders will turn up.
More than half of Africa’s 55 states voted in favor of United Nations resolutions condemning the invasion of Ukraine, while most of the rest abstained. Many African states have maintained a non-aligned position, but Washington says these African leaders must necessarily define their “true non-alignment” positions.
Even as Russia has invested extremely little in transforming Africa’s economic development since the collapse of the Soviet-era in 1991, African leaders still hope for sustaining relations with Russia. Most possibly their utter refusal to switch away from nostalgic attitudes toward Soviet’s unflinching support during political liberation struggle and the eternal hope for ‘no-cost delivery’ of grains to Africa countries. With the current reconfiguration of the world, Russia and Africa share in common anti-Western views and approaches on external engagement with Africa.
How Started Russia-Africa Summit
The concept for this African leaders’ gathering was conceived and announced during BRICS meeting on 27 July 2018 in Johannesburg. There was the ‘business-as-usual’ speech, a stimulating speech laced with references to Soviet-era humanitarian assistance to Africa, support for political liberation struggle, and further support in attaining statehood plus construction of various industrial facilities, establishing health institution across Africa and training of specialist in educational institutions.
Putin, concluding that speech announced Russia-Africa summit concept: “Russia has always given priority to the development of relations with African countries, based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual assistance. We will continue to build up cooperation in all economic spheres. In conclusion, I would like to inform you that we are studying the idea of holding a Russia-Africa summit with the participation of heads of African states. This could be preceded by relevant meetings of prominent business people, experts, and public figures.” (Putin posed with African leaders in July 2018)
In Johannesburg, South Africa, on 27 July 2018, Putin announced creation of the Russia-Africa summit at that meeting of BRICS leaders with invited African states and chairs of international associations. Those invited included the leaders of African countries, namely, Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The meeting was also attended by the heads of Argentina (that time chair of the G20), Turkey (that time chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and Jamaica (that time chair of the Caribbean Community).
Far earlier March 2013, in Durban, South Africa, at meeting with heads of African states, Putin noted that Russia had written off over $20 billion in debt, far more than any other G8 nation. And that Russian companies were implementing investment projects with all North African nations and 11 sub-Saharan African states.
Putin, however, described Africa as developing very rapidly, faster than other regions in the world. And this is in spite of both external and internal problems. But the domestic African market and consumer demand are expanding. It is enough to say that Africa’s GDP growth rates are about five percent. According to forecasts, the total GDP for African countries will reach $2.6 trillion, that would be an increase of over 35 percent. This trend additionally stimulates cooperation between Russia and African states.
Putin assertively underscore the fact that “Russian companies are working actively in the African market, there is a growing influx of investments into various sectors in Africa’s economies, from traditional mineral extraction and farming to high technologies and banking.”
Putin concluded that speech referring tothe popular saying: “There is a saying in Africa that a friend sticks closer than a brother. I am confident that this meeting will truly facilitate the activation of mutual cooperation in a wide range of areas.”
In our practical assessment, exactly one decade (10 years, from 2013 to 2023) what has actually changed, what are the economic achievements, in terms of infrastructure, investment in agriculture and industrial sectors. What is Africa’s trade levels to Russian, former Soviet republics and Eurasian market. Where are the employment generating sectors. What scale of Russia’s support for the youth and women in Africa’s economy.
Russia-Ukraine Crisis on Africa’s Agenda
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is re-heading back to St. Petersburg, prioritizing with his colleagues to seek permanent solution to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. This step aims at ensuring Africa’s food security. African leaders have taken neutral positions in connection with Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. African leaders are looking for ‘no-cost delivery’ of grains promised by Vladimir Putin. It has, however, been interpreted as Kremlin’s strategic step to win Africa’s sympathy and ultimate endorsement for full-scale invasion into Ukraine. Africa has strong affection for such external humanitarian assistance, which Ramaphosa vehemently denied at the New Global Financing summit in Paris, France.
The negative effects of the conflict are increasingly being felt across the world. As a result of intensifying sanctions which has compelled Kremlin to further review its relations with the United States and Europe, African nations still risk food shortages and unavailability of external funds for various development projects. Russia is simply not investing in Africa’s development, despite its pledges and several unfulfilled bilateral agreements with African countries. It is unlikely Russia will make huge financial commitment during the Russia-Africa summit.
After talks with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on June 28, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said that African countries have not abandoned their peace plan for Ukraine and are ready to continue relevant outreach efforts to both Moscow and Kiev.
On 17 June, a delegation from Africa which included the presidents of the Republic of South Africa, the Comoros Islands, Senegal, Zambia, and the prime minister of Egypt, as well as special representatives of Congo and Uganda went to St. Petersburg. They acted as peacemakers between Russia and Ukraine. Ramaphosa, the chief negotiator, spoke about unblocking and increasing the supply of grains and fertilisers to the continent.
Ramaphosa reiterated that his group of mediators and several dozen African countries would continue their mediation role during the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, as the conflict has adversely affected millions of Africa’s 1.4 billion population. The conflicted has generated social discontent especially among the impoverished population across the continent.
Natalya Piskunova, an Associate Professor at Moscow State University’s Department of World Politics, believes that the July summit in St. Petersburg will become another platform for unofficial discussions of the issues involved in achieving a peaceful settlement in Ukraine in general, and the joint peace initiative put forward by seven African nations in particular. It is important to note that the African group of mediators is confidently and persistently demonstrating its commitment to the settlement process, which indicates the seriousness of Africa’s intentions and its new role in contemporary international relations, she told Vedomosti financial newspaper.
According to Grigory Lukyanov, a Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Asian Studies, it should be factored in that the Russian side, although it received the African initiative positively, considers a number of its points to be ambiguous. Nevertheless, the Russia-Africa summit itself provides a good opportunity for both sides to discuss a peaceful settlement in Ukraine.
What 2nd Russia-Africa Summit Promises
Nevertheless, Russia-Africa summit is here again. It certainly promises another round of high-level authoritative speeches, more than 30 panel sessions, long-term development trajectory of Russian-African ties, business networking, bilateral agreements, joint political declaration and group photographs. Venue: St. Petersburg and Date: July 27-28.
Roscongress Foundation, the main organizer of the summit, noted that the forum’s business program consists of four large thematic blocks encompassing all areas of cooperation between Russia and the African continent: The New Global Economy, Integrated Security and Sovereign Development, Cooperation in Science and Technology and The Humanitarian and Social Sphere: Working Together for a New Quality of Life.
In addition, a media forum is planned, then also a special meeting among university rectors, a roundtable of top Russian and African auditing bodies; events pertaining to the youth program, sessions of a forum on the creative industries, a forum on the ‘Healthy Society’ and an extended session on cooperation between Russian and African state agencies and enterprises in the precious metals industry.
“It is clear that, in the emerging architecture of a multipolar world, African countries will play an increasingly important role. The bolstering of ties between Russia and Africa in the field of security and stable economic and humanitarian development will lay the foundation for establishing powerful, prosperous and safe regions in the new reality,” according to the Russian Presidential Aide Anton Kobyakov. He also serves as Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee for organizing and holding Russia-Africa.
Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov, in an interview with Kommersant daily newspaper, offered an explicit explanation that the summit is “envisioned by the Russian authorities, are intended to boost Moscow’s relations with African countries, contacts with which are currently deemed one of the most important aspects of Russia’s foreign policy.”
According to the diplomat, the summit will focus on general issues “concerning the formation of a multipolar world, a new fair architecture of relations based on the principles of sovereign equality of states, equal interaction based on their interests and international law, as opposed to the so-called ‘rules-based order’ promoted by Washington and its allies.”
And never forget about the chief driver of foreign policy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov re-assured that the summit will present the future path of Russia’s cooperation with the countries of the continent for the next several years. “Most of the countries will be represented at the highest level, a big declaration is being prepared. A document is being prepared that will set out plans for interaction between Russia and African states for the medium term of several years,” he said.
Several sources have indicated that the second Russia-Africa summit and Economic Forum are scheduled to take place in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. The first summit, dubbed “For Peace, Security and Development,” was held in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi in October 2019. It was co-chaired by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. There was a Joint Summit Declaration.
*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.