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By: Joseph Rwagatare
Africa is nobody’s prize to win or lose, President Paul Kagame told the World Peace Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on October 12. His words are a timely reminder to everyone that Africans have their own interests that they must protect.
This is especially so at this time when Africa is the most sought after place on earth.
Africa is and has always been an attractive continent, which is why some tend to see it as a prize to be competed for, where some gain and others lose. However, Africans do not seem to have a say on the prize even though they actually own it.
These words should keep ringing in the ears of African leaders as they gather in Sochi, Russia for the Russia-Africa Summit, yet another meeting with a foreign country whose interest in Africa is growing again.
Gatherings like the one in Sochi that starts on Wednesday, October 23 have become regular in the last two decades or so. The traditional big powers and emerging ones have been in a competition to fete African presidents in order to secure the continent’s natural resources and markets for their products.
The latest in this rivalry for Africa’s favours is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He is following what the Chinese have been doing in the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Japanese in the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD).
The Americans have been doing the same in the US-Africa Summit and the Europeans in the EU-Africa meetings. The Indians, not to be outdone, have their version they call the India-Africa Forum.
So what do the African leaders hope to come with from Russia, and what does President Putin hope to gain from them?
He will offer much of what the other competitors for Africa’s bounty have done: trade deals, promise loans and possibly grants for development projects. There are examples already. He has nuclear energy agreements with several countries, including Rwanda.
Military cooperation, including arms sales, is another area Putin will seek to strengthen. According to a report in The Moscow Times of October 18, 2019, Russia is ahead of its rivals in providing security cooperation.
The paper says, quoting the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, that in the last five years Russia has signed over 23 security cooperation deals with African countries. According to other reports, Russia is the largest arms exporter to Africa.
For Russia, this is all part of a resurgent nation set on reclaiming a prominent role on the world stage. In the case of Africa, the Sochi gathering is one way of getting back into the continent and re-establishing influence it lost with the end of the cold war.
This time however, the presence will be governed less by ideological solidarity, but more by economic and commercial interests.
Russian presence has extended beyond the liberation allies of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to such places as Egypt, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Guinea.
Some of these may appear unlikely candidates for Russian interest, but they demonstrate its interests have gone past the purely political. It is interested in such minerals as diamonds in CAR, bauxite in Guinea and platinum in Zimbabwe, as well as oil and gas.
Tomorrow, it is Sochi. Previously it has been Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Brussels, and New Delhi. This is all part of a history of competition for Africa going back centuries and driven by the same things.
In the past, it was the search for raw materials and markets for new industries in Europe. At the time this search was accompanied by territorial grabs by different European countries, later formalised by the Berlin Conference of 1885.
The naked imperialist and economic ambition was presented in more acceptable humanitarian garb as a mission to bring civilisation to Africa.
Today the reasons for renewed interest in Africa are also its natural resources and markets for industrial products. This time there is no need for physical occupation and control of territory.
There are cheaper means of safeguarding their interests. The excuse they advance for this is that they want to be part of the continent’s growth.
As the presidents of many African countries gather in Sochi, they might do well to keep in mind President Kagame’s words about Africa as a prize. It is actually the valuable prize of Africans for us to hold and cherish and develop, not to give away to others whatever the offer.
They do not go to Sochi as supplicants seeking favours but as leaders with deals to offer and gains for their countries to be made,
They do not go there as leaders of their separate countries only but as those representing a united continent, backed by a strong African Union and a continent-wide trading bloc, the AfCFTA. At least that is our prayer.
By: Landry Signé, Brookings Institution
The first-ever Russia-Africa summit will be held from Oct. 23-24 in Sochi, Russia, marking the culminating point of the return of Russia to Africa, with more than 50 African leaders and 3,000 delegates invited. This convening is only another illustration of the recent increase in economic, security, and political-diplomatic engagements to foster Russia-Africa relations.
Over the last decade there has been a proliferation of Russia-Africa bilateral committees, economic forums, and conferences for economic coordination. In 2011, the Russian Agency on Insurance of Export Credit Investments (EXIAR) was created in order to facilitate Russian companies’ activities and the protection of investments.
More recently, the three-day June 2018 Saint Petersburg Economic Forum reunited Russia and Africa and gave African countries the chance to meet with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. The Russia-SADC business forum that was held in February in Moscow is another example of the strengthening of ties between Russia and Africa in a broad range of economic fields.
The upcoming Russia-Africa Economic Forum, which will be chaired by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, will gather Russian and African officials along with business leaders to discuss and sign trade, economic, and investment agreements.
This renewed relationship is going to be centered around pragmatic economic cooperation, military-technical partnerships, and Russia’s quiet soft-power push. These are all set out in the competitive context with the United States, the European Union, and China, among others, as the backdrop.
Trade between Russia and sub-Saharan Africa started at low levels but increased rapidly to $4.8 billion last year from $1.8 billion in 2010. Russia-Africa trading relations are characterized by Russia’s main role as an exporter. In 2018, Russia’s exports to sub-Saharan Africa totaled $3 billion, while imports from sub-Saharan Africa came in at $1.7 billion. In 2015, Algeria together with Egypt, Morocco, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa accounted for 80% of Africa’s exports to Russia. Cote d’Ivoire saw a strong increase in mutual trade with Russia in 2018, particularly with agricultural products and energy. During last year’s BRICS meeting in Johannesburg, president Putin emphasized Russia’s trade with Africa grew by more than 25% in 2017, and that trade saw particular growth in the food supplies, metals, and machinery and equipment sectors.
Energy has become the main sector for Russian investments and the concept of energy diplomacy has emerged with investments made in gas, oil, and nuclear power. Namely, Russian geologists are active in countries including Ghana, Madagascar, and Libya and large oil companies such as Rosneft and Lukoil are fighting to dominate the market of oil investments through the creation of oil and gas fields in countries including Egypt and Mozambique.
Talks are also underway to establish a nuclear technology center and Russia announced its will to build an African Center of Excellence and nuclear power in Ethiopia.`
Russia is the second largest supplier of arms in the world and a major supplier of arms to African countries. The number of arms supplied by Russia keeps increasing and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that Russia’s sales of weaponry to African countries in 2017 had doubled compared to 2012. China and the US are also crucial weapons suppliers but in Africa they fall behind Russia, which supplied 39% of Africa’s imported arms between 2017 and 2013.
SIPRI’s data on major weapons transfers show that the main arms transferred by Russia in 2016-2017 were principally second-hand equipment such as combat and transport helicopters, aircrafts, and surface to air missile systems.
In addition to weapons, Russia contributes troops to Africa. Private mercenary effort is a very common form of involvement by Russia in African countries, as demonstrated by large-scale mercenary efforts in the Central African Republic (CAR), but military contractors have also been active in other African countries.
UN peacekeeping efforts are another example of Russia’s involvement in Africa through the sending of troops. China and Russia together have sent more contributing troops in UN missions than the rest of the UN Security Council Permanent members.
Moscow is particularly known for its very specific model of arms first, business concessions later in many African countries and for its use of military assistance to get access to strategic economic sectors. In fact, military assistance gives Russia access to the energy and mining sectors of African countries, as demonstrated by the case of Mozambique or Angola.
For example, Russia donated its own weapons to the CAR in 2018 in order to surpass France’s offer and achieve a monopoly on strategic access in the country. Foreign minister Lavrov is planning on establishing logistic centers in Eritrea in order to similar strategic access to resources.
Recently, Russia has been using military assistance to gain influence in local politics. Documents were leaked in June which show Russia had been assisting Sudanese military efforts to defeat former president Omar al-Bashir along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Moscow has been deploying military instructors to train presidential guards and assisted autocrats with election strategies in various countries such as Madagascar and the CAR. The aim of these techniques is to build strong relations with rulers or candidates for election so that when they come to power, they partner with Russia, ensuring Russia’s influence inside African countries.
Soft power diplomacy
Russia offers a non-Western-centric option for diplomacy and support. In 2015, Russia created an alternative credit rating agency to counterbalance the influence that Western agencies had in deciding on the access to finance of the developing world. Russia uses techniques such as visa-free access to South Africans in order to differentiate itself from Western practices.
And in a return to the peak of its Soviet influence days in the 1960s, education is becoming a key influence vehicle for Russia in African countries with everything from research support and scholarships to language schools and academic partnerships.
For example, last November, the Russian Namibian Cultural and Education Centre (RusNam) was launched in Windhoek to promote higher education. That same month, an agreement was signed between Zambia’s Copperbelt University and the People’s Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University), to set up a regional center offering Russian language courses to students in Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola.
Similarly, Russia builds language centers of education called “Ryusskiy cabinets” in African countries and uses them to promote Russian culture and language.
Scholarships are being facilitated by Russia to African students. According to foreign minister Lavrov, in 2017 over 1,800 Africans studied at Russian universities and benefitted from governmental scholarships and a total of 15,000 young Africans are studying in Russia. These students mainly come from Nigeria, Angola, Morocco, Namibia and Tunisia.
Ultimately, Putin’s plan for Africa is to reestablish Russia’s sphere of influence and regain the leverage and presence Russia once had on the continent as a non-colonial power. To do so, Russia uses a blend of hard power and soft power in order to provide a complementary yet competitive strategy for the creation of a new power bloc that would resist global forces’ influence in Africa—in particular, China and the United States.