Russia Getting Serious With Africa? – OpEd
Squeezed between rapidly changing geopolitical situation, the United States and European stringent sanctions and its own ‘special military operation’ in neighbouring Ukraine, Russia is now stepping up serious efforts to elevate its existing relationship with Africa. It plans to hold the next African leaders gathering late July despite the fact that it has not implemented already signed 92 bilateral agreements and largely not delivered on its words concerning engagement in various economic sectors in African countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on its official website that Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov held a special meeting with ambassadors of African countries to present drafts of final documents to be adopted at the second Russia-Africa summit due to be held in St. Petersburg.
“Drafts of the summit’s final documents and the architecture of the Russia-Africa economic and humanitarian forum’s program were presented to the African diplomatic corps. The sides also coordinated their positions on an entire spectrum of issues related to the organization of the summit, including on protocols for the stay of African official delegations in St. Petersburg,” it said.
“It was noted unanimously that the upcoming summit will be a framework event which will give a weighty impetus to the development of comprehensive long-term strategic cooperation between Russia and Africa,” the ministry noted.
Several reports monitored by this author further show that Russian officials are talking these days – mostly focusing on trade, investment and economic cooperation with several African countries. The officials are, as previously, shooting at important areas spanning the financial sector, energy, mining industry, building infrastructure, digital technologies, cybersecurity, healthcare, education, and food security.
The latest additional step taken in propelling partnership efforts are also being taken by a number of Russian enterprises, rattling their hyperbolic plans at various business conferences and webinars. For instance, TenChat, a Russian social network for professionals, is holding talks to potentially launch in a number of new countries, including Iran and India, founder of the network Semyon Tenyaev said at the Russia-Africa IT forum.
“Iran, India, many CIS countries [are in talks] at the final stage, and [negotiations are underway] in Africa. In fact, global negotiations are being held in twelve countries already,” Tenyaev said on the sidelines of the forum. Five to seven countries intend to enter into agreements shortly, he noted. The social network’s founder also announced the launch of an “export and import marketplace” in the near future.
The founder of the social network compared TenChat to the LinkedIn business networking site when talking about what the platform is all about. “It [Linkedin] was launched a long time ago; and in my opinion, it leaves something to be desired in today’s age,” Tenyaev told TASS.
“Imagine combining Linkedin with Tinder’s AI system. This is what we are doing. We now want to bring it not merely to the scale of the B2C audience but also to B2B among countries,” he noted. There will be an option to log into the local version or to the global version, the founder said, answering a question about future domain names of the social network in other countries. Local versions will be controlled by the country of origin, he added.
Local Russian media Interfax reported, quoting Andrei Filippov who is the deputy director for international cooperation at the Digital Economy autonomous non-profit organization, that Russia was willing to share technologies for implementing AI with African countries, in terms of the experience of implementing both experimental legal regimes and best business cases.
“We have rather extensive experience in implementing experimental legal regimes, including in the field of artificial intelligence, in data processing, and working with medical data – what is now considered cutting edge. And we know that a number of countries in Africa are also implementing similar projects, and a lot of attention is paid to them,” Filippov said at the IT forum “Russia – Africa: Digital Technologies as a Driver of State Development and International Cooperation” on April 13.
Along with participating in regulatory strategic sessions and sharing experience, it’s also important to create best practices, to describe the business models themselves, and to share them, he said. “Our organization has gained extensive experience in such cases. Now we are mainly dealing with industry cases – I mean the introduction of artificial intelligence [within] industry. We would happily share the emerging technologies, the results that they produce when implemented, and everything related to this,” Filippov said.
The Digital Economy autonomous non-profit organization acts as a platform between businesses, technology companies, state bodies and the expert community for implementing various digitalization approaches and practices, he said. The organization is implementing the Digital Advancement of the Regions project in Russia, where business representatives and experts visit a region and elaborate plans and strategies for implementing modern digital technologies, including those based on the GosTech platform, jointly with representatives of local organizations.
“Since last year, this format has gone international, and we suggest that all interested countries, including in Africa, carry out international digital advancement, so that project initiatives can be set up jointly for implementation in these countries, in multilateral and bilateral formats,” Filippov said.
Deputy Minister of Digital Development Dmitry Oguryayev said that the export of Russian IT and information services to African countries in January-September last year amounted to $8.1 million, and the value of imports reached $2.7 million. The ministry expects an increase in the trade turnover between Russia and African countries thanks to the expansion of cooperation.
Commenting on the level of digitalization in Russia, Oguryayev said that the share of socially important public services in electronic format already exceeds 99%, with a target of 65%, and the proportion of households provided with broadband Internet access now exceeds 85%. He said that the volume of investment in domestic IT solutions has already exceeded 500 billion rubles.
The Digital Economy autonomous non-profit organization was established by leading domestic high-tech companies to ensure a productive dialogue between businesses and the state in implementing the national program of the same name, alongside the Russian Presidential Executive Office and the government.
In addition to above event, the press service of the Roscongress Foundation, reported that Anton Kobyakov, who is an Advisor in Russian President’s office, presented some details on the upcoming Russia-Africa economic and humanitarian forum planned in St. Petersburg from July 26 to 29.
“Africa and Russia are the new centers of the emerging multipolar world. Helping each other, we are moving along the path of building up strong, flourishing and safe regions. The keynote topic of the forum this year is technology and security for the sake of sovereign development to benefit human beings,” aide to Russian President Anton Kobyakov said.
The forum’s program will consist of four large thematic blocks and include panel sessions and topical events on critical issues of interaction between Russia and African nations, Roscongress said.
International security, fertilizer market stability, issues of food security as well as a discussion about joint efforts to combat epidemics and emergencies will be the key topics of the “Integrated security and sovereign development” block. Prospects for cooperation in the energy sector, the trade and economic sphere, and creation and development of new logistics routes will be discussed within the “Economy of the new world” block.
A large block of the program will be dedicated to cooperation in the technology sphere. Education, tourism, the motion picture industry and development of volunteer movements will be covered in the fourth block – “Humanitarian and social sphere: together toward a new quality of life.”
A media forum, a congress of presidents of universities, and a roundtable of senior audit officials will also take place on the forum’s sidelines. The second Russia-Africa summit and economic forum will be held in St. Petersburg from July 26 through 29. The first such summit was held in October 2019 under the motto “For Peace, Security and Development.”