The growing understanding of the interdependence between and among actors gave impetus to the rise of the notion of partnership, which symbolizes the idea of multilateralism in addressing issues of common concern. In pursuit of its cause or purpose, the UN is bound by the principle of subsidiarity.
As it is stated under chapter 8, article 52(1) of its charter, the UN recognizes the existence of regional arrangements as well as the need for partnering with them as long as their activities are consistent with its purpose. This legalization of partnership in turn suggests the need for different and subordinate partnership schemes to address issues of common concern.
The African Union (AU), being one of such schemes, has been vested to propel development as well as ensure good governance over the continent, unlike its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was vested to decolonize the African States. In the same vein as the UN, in the pursuit of its purpose, the AU is bound by the principle of subsidiarity.
In fact, from its inception, the AU stipulated the need for various forms of partnership through its vision of “Building an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa is driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena. ” In particular, the inherent assumption behind the last component of the vision, i.e. “…. Representing dynamic force in the international arena,” entails the need for partnership with other regional groupings, international organizations, and states to market Africa’s position, acquire support to enable the attainment of Africa’s objectives, increase Africa’s international standing, and obtain the global leverage that would enable the continent to maximize its impact on the world stage.
In order to convert what is envisioned in the vision of the AU into fruition, the framework for Africa’s strategic partnership has presented four distinct forms, namely: continent to continent partnership, continent to country partnership, partnership in demand/upon request of states or regions, and AU partnership with other institutions.
Taking the aforementioned different forms of partnership into account, since the establishment of the AU, the period between 2004 and 2008 has been distinctly marked by the initiation and launch of a series of groundbreaking partnerships as well as the redefining and invigoration of existing partnerships. These growing partnerships are evidence of Africa’s increasing prominence in the international arena. And this has been attracting eyes in Africa. Moreover, the development of Agenda 2063—a strategic framework for Africa’s long-term socio-economic and integrative transformation that aspires to be a strong, united, resilient, and influential global player and partner—has made the dawn for Africa more apparent by keeping the momentum in terms of partnership growth. In this regard, Africa’s partnership with Russia, which started in Sochi in 2019, is an acting showcase.
The revamped Russia-Africa partnership
In fact, the relationship between Russia and Africa predates 2019. Many African governments have long-standing positive ties with Moscow. They include those that came out of liberation movements that the Soviet Union supported during the Cold War. South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe are all examples of this. The Soviet Union was considered to be supporting liberation. The Soviet Union largely withdrew from the continent after its fall in 1991. However, Moscow has been establishing fresh alliances and reviving old ones since the turn of the twenty-first century. The changes that are unfolding in Africa and globally call for a recalibration of the partnership.
The Russian presence in Africa has returned under President Vladimir Putin. Since his first trip to the continent in 2006, there has been a slow, gradual increase in engagement, which culminated in the first-ever RussiaAfrica summit in 2019, which was attended by 43 African heads of state. A total of 10,000 attendees from all 54 African nations were present.
Where do Russia and Africa’s interests intertwine?
The Russia-Africa partnership is a mix of short-term transactional interaction and long-term strategic alignments. Since Africa today is one of the most attractive markets and promising regions for long-term investment, growth in economic transactions are registered between the two partners. Trade between Russia and African countries has doubled since 2015, to about $20 billion a year.
Africa primarily imports cereals from Russia (30% of total imports), particularly wheat, which makes up about 95% of the total imports of cereals. The most populous nations on the continent—Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria, Kenya, and South Africa—consume more than half of Russia’s wheat exports. Africa also buys mineral fuels from Russia, including coal, oil products, and gas, in addition to cereals. In total, these make up 18.3% of imports. Africa, on the other hand, primarily sells its partners edible fruits and vegetables, aquatic products, organic chemicals, and precious metals.
Russia is also hoping to secure access to the natural resources and raw materials found in African nations. Diamonds are mined in Angola and platinum is extracted in Zimbabwe by Russian mining companies. Guinea, home to the largest bauxite reserves in the world, is where aluminum producer Rusal has mines. Russia is starting collaborative projects to gain access to Africa’s reserves of raw materials.
Africa also seeks Russian assistance for the advancement of electricity and energy. The continent has received investments from businesses like Rostec, Lukoil, Gazprom, and Rosatom. For instance, Rosneft agreed to deliver liquefied natural gas to Ghana in 2018 through a contract. Rosneft also has oil and gas projects in Algeria, Egypt, and Mozambique, whereas Lukoil has businesses in Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria. A nuclear power plant is being built in Egypt by the national atomic energy agency, Rosatom. The company has signed contracts to set up two more power plants in Nigeria and has nuclear power deals with a number of other African nations, including Ethiopia, Ghana, and Kenya.
Although trade between Russia and Africa is still expanding, China is the country with which Africa does the most business. Relations between Moscow and Africa are more pronounced in the political-security sphere. The following strategic partnership provides a more comprehensive explanation for the resurgent interaction between Africa and Russia.
An alternative vision for “the rule-based” international order
Along with a number of other foreign powers seeking to expand their engagement on the continent, including the US, China, and Turkey, Russia is vying for its fair share of influence in Africa. Unlike its predecessor, the Soviet Union, Russia no longer has an alternative ideology to spread or an established sphere of influence in Africa or elsewhere. In contrast to the West’s attempt to impose globalist and liberal values, they nevertheless insist on the significance of sovereignty, state equality, and self-rule.
Russia wants to increase its influence on the international stage by forming partnerships with African nations. Russia is making an effort to reclaim its position as a major world power and to demonstrate that it is a significant player in most world regions. African nations make up the largest portion of the UN membership and provide Russia with a network of allies to counter the continued global dominance of the US and other Western superpowers. The voting patterns of the African states demonstrate that this has been somewhat successful.
In return, African leaders request Russia’s (as well as China’s) backing in their long-standing demand for the continent to have greater representation on the United Nations Security Council. Africans believe the current system is unfair and that their content needs to be a part of the architecture for world peace and security.
Russia has consistently supported strengthening Africa’s position in the multipolar architecture of a global order should be based on the UN Charter’s principles and take into account the world’s diversity of cultures and civilizations. Russia supports pertinent UN platform initiatives fervently. Therefore, the first strategic area of mutual interest is the redefinition of the global system, a post-liberal, multipolar order on the part of Russia and more inclusive global governance on the part of Africa.
Strong military positioning through Security Assistance
The second strategic objective focuses on security cooperation. Security remained a serious threat to African states’ territorial integrity, sovereignty, and overall ability to function. In the communique of its 1000th session, the African Union Peace and Security Council expressed grave concern over the continuation and resurgence of conflict and crisis situations in some regions of the Continent, including the growing threat posed by terrorism, violent extremism, and armed groups.
The recent wave of military takeovers, another sign of the continent’s waning political stability, has only exacerbated the deteriorating security situation. Furthermore, security issues increase vulnerability to outside intrusions as well as internal governance disruptions. There is a propensity for supporting insurgent armed groups militarily and diplomatically whenever there is superpower fallout with the central government. A strong, well-equipped, and well-trained national army is now viewed by an increasing number of African states as the best way to move forward. Of course, with other strong institutions as well.
As a result, on the African side, there is an increasing need for modern weapons and security assistance. Russia can maintain its pre-eminent position in arms deals thanks to connections from the Soviet era. With 35% of all arms exports to Africa, Russia has surpassed all other countries as the continent’s top supplier of weapons.
More than twenty new bilateral military cooperation agreements between Russia and African nations have been signed since 2015. With forty different African nations in total, Russia has military agreements. For instance, Russian-made weapons and military gear are largely used by the armed forces of Ethiopia, Algeria, and Angola. African nations are drawn to Russian weapons because they are less expensive than American weapons.
The security interests of Russia extend beyond its desire to dominate the global arms trade, though. Over the years, Russia has sought to establish its maritime security presence in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region, which, according to experts, would represent a long-term distinctive footprint to compete with rivals like China and the United States. At least six African nations are where Russia is continuing to work toward establishing military bases. Russia seeks to establish military positions outside the Black Sea, particularly in Libya (having NATO’s south flank in mind), to significantly boost its capacity for its confrontation with the West.
In conclusion, Africa’s growing geostrategic prominence has made the continent’s foreign policy a priority for Russia, while the less conditionality of Russia as well as its diplomatic support for projects in African countries so far has made it an appealing partner for Africa.
A regular dialogue mechanism, established by the secretariat during the first summit in Sochi, has signaled that the partnership is future-oriented. The second Africa-Russia summit is expected to expand diverse areas of cooperation, particularly in terms of trade and investment. Besides the cancellation of debt and the creation of the system of preferential treatment for traditional export goods of Africa, the inking of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic cooperation further signaled the need to forge the economic partnership during the second Russia-Africa Summit set to be held in October 2022.