Russia Prioritizing Sustainable Security And Strategic Economic Questions In Sahel-Saharan Region – OpEd


With geopolitical changes intensifying, Russia is steadily broadening influence by making economic investments, creating informal military bases and selling weapons to African countries. Under memorandum of understanding signed, suffice to note that so far a total of 38 African countries with Russia, according to several reports. It aims at restoring peace and democracy in conflict-infested African countries, this reflected in summit declarations adopted in Sochi [2019] and St. Petersburg [2023].

Ensuring security sustainability has become one of the biggest challenges in Africa. Given chronic instability in most parts of Africa and high interest in acquiring military equipment to tackle growing security problems has created a solid market conditions for Russia to diversify its arms export towards Africa. Impoverished African countries and lack of adequate funds have made it necessary for these to engage in barter system, purchase arms in exchange for having access to mineral deposits and other natural resources.

On Jan. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Chadian Transitional President Mahamat Idriss Deby on the latter’s official visit to Moscow. Mahamat Deby’s visit to Russia marks the second trip by a leader of the landlocked central African country since it gained independence from France and the first official visit to Moscow by a Chadian leader in 56 years. 

Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg last July, Chad was represented by Foreign Minister Mahamat Saleh Annadif, while Mahamat Deby’s father and predecessor as president, Idriss Itno Deby, attended the summit in Sochi. His father, Idriss Itno Deby, who served as president of Chad in 1990-2021, attended the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019 in Sochi.

The Kremlin meeting addressed the prospects for further developing Russian-Chadian relations in various fields as well as regional and international issues. Quite concretely, Russia generally plans to boost its interaction and cooperation with African countries. “We are determined to continue expanding our cooperation with African countries. Chad is one of our potential African partners,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the official meeting.

Russian-Chadian Negotiations

According to a transcript published on the Kremlin website, Putin said that the two countries had “great opportunities to develop our bilateral ties”, and that Moscow would double the quota for Chadian students studying at Russian universities. Deby’s visit comes a week after the prime minister of Niger, also appointed by a junta, visited Moscow. Russia has courted Niger since a July 2023 coup ousted a pro-Western government there.

In Niger and Burkina Faso, the coups have brought to power military governments that have broken with France and instead pivoted towards Russia. Chad, however, had been seen as an enduring bastion of French influence in Africa, with Moscow’s clout there far more limited than in its neighbours.

In brief televised comments earlier, Putin said Russia was pleased that Mahamat Deby had stabilized the situation in the country, and was ready to help in any way. “We are trying to provide support to your country at the United Nations, including humanitarian support. We intend to continue to do so, as humanitarian ties are growing,” Putin underlined during the meeting, and concluded that there have great opportunities to expand bilateral ties, including doubling the quota for students from Chad to study with government grants in the Russian Federation.

According the the transcript, a substantial package of documents was prepared, with a view to strengthening and expanding legal framework between Chad and Russia. 

Economic Background

Chad ranks near the bottom in Africa in terms of economic development and, with a PPP-based GDP per capita of just $1,800, as per World Bank data, is ranked 181st among 189 countries globally. However, according to calculations by oil major BP, the country holds 1.5 bln barrels of proven oil reserves. China’s CNPC has replaced oil majors Chevron, Petronas and Exxon, which had been engaged in oil exploration and production in the country’s oil fields before their exit due to Chadian government policies.

Mahamat Deby’s Moscow trip is driven by pragmatic motivations, says Nikolay Shcherbakov, lead researcher at the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University. As Chad is experiencing considerable instability, with clashes taking place between Chadian government troops and militants representing cross-border groups, N’Djamena is seeking to diversify ties with forces that can help it tackle this problem, the expert explains.

According to Andrey Maslov, director of the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University, N’Djamena understands that ensuring stability in the Sahel region without maintaining relations with Russia would be difficult. While France remains the key guarantor of stability in the region, Paris’ opportunities are not limitless, he continued. “Chad has not yet considered expelling the [local] French military [contingent] from the country and is unlikely to do so, but N’Djamena is interested in establishing military cooperation with Moscow,” the expert told Tass News Agency.

Besides above, Chad’s agricultural sector has demand for Russian fertilizers, and the country needs vaccines and food. As well, the country is interested in Russian investments in the fuel and energy complex, Maslov added. By visiting Moscow, Mahamat Deby was seeking to bolster his own authority domestically, the expert maintained, as pro-Russian sentiments are strong in Chadian society. 

“[Mahamat] Deby is showing that he is not a French puppet and that he is developing relationships with alternative partners,” he concluded. For its part, Moscow, Shcherbakov said, is seeking to develop ties in the African direction to make up for its foreign policy losses on other tracks, which is part of a strategy of building a chain of partnerships across the Global South.

With the late January deployment of 100 military advisors and trainers to Burkina Faso, indicated Russia’s ambition for creating military bases in Africa. Central African Republic has had its military support since 2017, and Russia will further boost security in the Republic of Mali.  The Africa Initiative, a pro-Russia group, said in a statement on Telegram that the “military specialists” heavily armed with necessary equipment and weapons would train Burkinabe troops and patrol dangerous areas across the Sahel-Saharan region.

Over the past years, strengthening military-technical cooperation has been part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Russian Foreign Ministry has often explained in statements posted on its website, that Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries is primarily directed at settling regional conflicts and preventing the spread of terrorist threats and fighting growing terrorism in the continent. Worth noting here that Russia, in its strategy on Africa, is reportedly looking into building military bases on the continent.

Usually referred to as the G5 Sahel, it consists of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Besides instability, these countries are engulfed with various socio-economic problems primarily due to the system of governance and poor policies toward sustainable development. There are, in addition, rights abuse and cultural practices that affect development. The Sahel-Saharan region, is an elongated landlocked territory located between North Africa [Maghreb] and West Africa, and also stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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