PARIS (HAN) August 18, 2014 – Strategic partnership News opinion By.Kester Kenn Klomegah. Russia and Africa have entered a new phase of growth in their economic diplomacy mainly due to rising interaction by high ranking government officials from some African countries with their Russian colleagues during the first half of 2014. Undoubtedly, Russia’s intensified move to invite delegations has often been interpreted among academics and policy experts as a result of escalating competition and increasing economic influence by many foreign players in Africa.
“Africa is a prospective region for Russian mining companies and Russia can offer technological products in the military, geological exploration and energy spheres. There are also prospects for sales of our metallurgical and machine-building products in Africa,” Margelov said at the Russia-Africa business forum.
Professor Georgy Toloraya, Chair of the Regional Projects Department, Russkiy Mir Foundation, and Executive Director, BRICS National Research Committee in Russia, explained that ‘in the wake of increasing conflict with the West and European Union, Russia has to turn its attention (especially in economy) elsewhere and Africa is the obvious choice. The time has come to make meaningful efforts to implement agreements on bilateral basis. Furthermore, Russia is a part of the BRICS efforts in Africa, which might be one of the areas of investment activities by the newly created New Development Bank of BRICS.’
As media reports have indicated, Russia will assume the BRICS presidency and prepare the 7th Summit in 2015, President Vladimir Putin may attempt to use the group to strengthen its policy in Africa. Observers also noted Russia considers the grouping an absolute foreign policy priority. Brazil, India and China are very visible on the continent, but can they also have a meaningful unified BRICS foreign policy in Africa? Foreign players have their individual interests and varying investment.
Some experts acknowledge that it is never too late for Russia to enter the business game but what it requires here is to move beyond old stereotypes, prioritize corporate projects and have a new policy strategy for the continent – a market of some 350 million middle-class Africans. Of course, Russia has to risk by investing and recognize the importance of cooperation on key potential investment issues and to work closely with African leaders on the challenges and opportunities on the continent, Andy Kwawukume, an independent policy expert told me from London, noting that Russians were trying to re-stage a come-back over the past few years, which was a commendable step forward.
Kwawukume, a Norwagian trained graduate, pointed out that ‘there is enough room and gaps in Africa for Russians to fill too, in a meaningful way, which can benefit all parties involved. The poor and low level of infrastructural development in Africa constitutes a huge business for Russian construction companies to step in. Energy is another sector Russians can help in developing. Over the past few years summits have become increasingly common and interactive dialogue is also very helpful that Russian officials should consider using its Russian trained African graduates as bridges to stimulate business cooperation. Really, what Russia needs is a multilayered agenda for Africa.’
But, John Mashaka, a Tanzanian financial analyst at Wells Fargo Capital Markets in the U.S., argues that Russia is going to remain relevant in Africa if its leaders can design a policy or mechanism that will enable its people and corporations to secure credits – loans – with favourable terms including payment. It must counter China’s increasing economic influence with much better packages such as concessional and low-interest loans. There are chances to turn the business tide and if Russians can come with a different mix of economic incentives, without doubt, they will be taking off from the track where the former USSR left after the collapse of the Soviet era.
According to a recent research survey conducted between January and June 2014 by Buziness Africa, both Russian and African policy experts suggested that the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) Russia has signed with African countries and together with various economic agreements reached by the joint business councils over the past few years provide solid framework for raising vigorously its economic influence as well as strengthening bilateral relations to an appreciable levels between Russia and Africa.
Russian Declaration on Strategic Partnership with Africa, including Eritrea:
During the first half of 2014 (Picture Eritrean delegation in Moscow), African delegations at various levels visited Moscow from Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, State of Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out that the purpose of the visits was ‘to develop a trustworthy political dialogue and strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in accordance with the declaration on strategic partnership and to forge cooperation in mutually beneficial economic spheres,’ – an official phrase that has run throughout (nearly all) his speeches, summarizing the results of the negotiations with African officials and posted to the ministry’s website.
Lavrov further stressed the situation in different African regions, including to the north of the Sahara, in the region of the Horn of Africa, including the situation in Somalia, in the Republics of Sudan and South Sudan, the Central African Republic, in the Great Lakes Region, which is the key focus of attention in the foreign policy. ‘We would like to contribute to the normalization of all multifaceted ties, as well as the settlement of other problem issues in the African continent,’ said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
In May, while addressing African diplomatic representatives, Lavrov said: ‘We will continue to assist states of the continent in other areas both bilaterally and within multilateral formats. As it is known, Russia has written off over US$20 billion debt of African states. We are undertaking steps to further ease the debt burden of Africans, including through conclusion of agreements based on the scheme debt in exchange for development.’
In an article headlined: ‘Russia and Sub-Saharan Africa: Time-proven Relations’ published in the magazine Russian View in May, Sergey Lavrov gave additional information on gains made in policy implementation in Africa. It says that the economic forum ‘Urals–Africa’ held in Yekaterinburg in July 2013 and attended by delegations from about 40 African States confirmed broad opportunities for enhancing cooperation with Africa.
‘Our country takes significant practical steps to assist sustainable development of African states. Russia provides African countries with extensive preferences in trade and contributes to alleviating their debt burden – the total amount of debt relief exceeds US$20 billion. Debt-for-development agreements for a total amount of US$552 million were concluded with certain States,’ Lavrov wrote in the article.
He added that ‘the training of highly qualified specialists for various sectors of the economy, as well as healthcare, is another aspect of our efforts. Currently, more than 6,500 Africans study in Russian higher educational institutions and nearly half of them at the expense of federal budget funds. More than 960 Russian government grants are provided annually to countries of the region. Russia takes an active part in establishing the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and has joined the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.’
Obviously, Russia continues providing the necessary politico-diplomatic follow-up for the African activities of leading Russian companies such as Alrosa, Gazprom, Lukoil, Rusal, Renova, Gammakhim, Technopromexport and VEB and VTB banks, which are engaged in large-scale investment projects on the continent. Positive dynamics are evident in the development of Russian-African cooperation in the minerals and raw materials, infrastructure, energy and many other spheres.
As an illustration, Russia has shown interest in strengthening close ties with Libya in trade and energy and expanding military and technical cooperation. ‘We are closely examining developing relations with Libya. We support the efforts taken by the Libyan authorities to stabilize the situation in the country and ensure national reconciliation,’ Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated this fact in June during a diplomatic accreditation ceremony for 14 foreign ambassadors to Russia broadcast on Rossiya-24.
Part 2 – Next.
Kester Kenn Klomegah is a keen foreign policy observer and an independent researcher on Russia and Africa. In 2004 and 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for series of analytical articles highlighting Russia’s economic cooperation with African countries.
Photo: The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Russia and Eritrea, Sergei Lavrov and Osman Saleh,
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