Russia gears up to gather African leaders, regional economic blocs, business community and civil society for the next symbolic summit in Addis Ababa, and that will witness another round of sparkling speeches reiterating Soviet-era assistance to Africa, outlining broad roadmap and indicating sectors for investment in Africa. As traditionally done, the summit will also be characterized by issuing a joint communiqué and finally sign fresh bilateral agreements with African countries.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, in a message to African representatives who were at the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in June, explained that despite the unprecedented sanctions and information warfare launched by the United States and its satellites, Russia manages to maintain the entire bilateral cooperation in working order, and in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy.
Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation and expand mutually beneficial trade and investment ties under these new changing conditions, he emphasized, and further offered the highly-official assurance that “the signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.”
With the rapid geopolitical changes leading to creating a new global economic order which is at its exploratory stage, Russia has aready shown its limitation of financial capabilities in investing in Africa. It has, in practical terms, not engaged in infrastructure development, agriculture and industry. It is still remote from the African civil society with its public outreach policy, and yet to leverage unto the newly created African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
But a careful study and analysis monitored by this author vividly shows that Russia has some limitations. Its external economic footprints are comparatively weak, policies hardly promote its template of any new economic models. The economic component is the most significant though, Russia needs a more comprehensive geo-economic roadmap strategically wielded into the broad spectrum of Africa. What it has can be described as a narrow ministry to ministry-centered relations.
Beyond that trend, Russia has to be prominently seen in the economic sectors in Africa. It has to project an irreplaceable role with its economic diplomacy as a balancing force and as a practical key player, in pursuit of its desire to become leader of the new global order. The geopolitical reordering of the world cannot simply be achieved through consistent criticisms of Europe’s and the West’s political influence in their various global domains.
As Abayomi Azikiwe, Director of the Pan-African News Wire, explained in his analytical article headlined “Biden Foreign Policy has Alienated Africa: Russia-Africa Summit to Reconvene in Ethiopia” in June, Moscow is seeking to strengthen relations with states and geopolitical regions which have not condemned their operations in Ukraine that began late February aims at “demilitarizing” and “de-nazifying” that former Soviet republic.
Many African states abstained from the United Nations resolutions attacking the Russian Federation while on a grassroots level, there have been expressions of solidarity for the position of Moscow. Senegalese President Macky Sall and AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat held talks in Sochi on June 3 with President Putin. African states are facing monumental crises related to economic development, climate change and food deficits. The sanctions imposed by Washington and the EU have had a disastrous impact on the importation of agricultural products, Azikiwe wrote in his article.
Arguably the number of agreements signed is not the criteria for measuring success of influence in Africa. But, Lavrov said that the two most important goals of the summit will be to sign off on a “memorandum of understanding between the government of the Russian Federation and the African Union on basic principles of relations and co-operation” and a “memorandum of understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic co-operation.” (https://www.intellinews.com/russia-preparing-for-second-africa-summit-to-build-closer-ties-as-it-pivots-away-from-the-west-247188/)
According to Abayomi Azikiwe, the holding of such a meeting between Russia and the AU during this period of heightened international tensions represents a repudiation of the U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe as well as on the African continent. There is much discontent over the failure of the U.S. to build relationships with the AU states based upon mutual interests.
The Pan-African News Wire says the Congress Passes Anti-Russia Bill Reinforcing Neo-colonialism in Africa. The Congressional bill approved by a wide margin would target and punish African states that maintain political and economic relations with the Russian Federation.
Labeled as the “Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act” (H.R. 7311) was passed on April 27 by the House of Representatives in a bipartisan 419-9 majority. This legislative measure is broadly worded enabling the State Department to monitor the foreign policy of the Russian Federation in Africa including military affairs and any effort which Washington deems as malign influence. (www.congress.gov)
Abayomi Azikiwe, Director of the Pan-African News Wire, concluded that the central focus of the Biden administration’s foreign policy has been aimed at alienating AU states from Moscow and Beijing. The fact that these international gatherings of a substantive nature are occurring portends much for the future of Washington’s waning influence internationally.
Professor Ahmadu Aly Mbaye, an Economist at the Faculty of Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, argued the importance of infrastructure development in Africa. That many African countries have limited access to international financing to build quality infrastructure, and Russia as a member of BRICS can present new alternatives to financing African economies and facilitate better integration of Africa into the world economy, as African countries felt excluded from the international system.
In November 2021, as titled the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ was prepared by 25 policy experts, as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. It was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy.
The report noted that the first historic summit in 2019 created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and so far remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.
That report was very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa needs to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.
While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such meetings. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. Many bilateral agreements, at the top and high political levels, have not been implemented.
The report lists insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.
The report, however, suggested that the basis for cooperation at this level can be provided by the conceptual documents and ideas recognized and supported by all African countries: the approach of “African Solutions to African Problems” be strictly followed, working within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Development Goals 2030.