Russia to Build Closer Ties With Africa During the Second Russia-Africa Summit as It Pivots Away from the West
Ahead of the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit, scheduled for October-November 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Coordination Council established under the aegis of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF), has held its third meeting in the format of a videoconference. Following the instruction of the Russian President on the preparation of the second Russia–Africa Summit in 2022, a working meeting between the Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and the Association of Economic Cooperation with the African States (AECAS), the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum and the Roscongress Foundation was held in Moscow.
Among the participants of the meeting was Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation Anton Kobyakov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia–Africa Partnership Forum Alexander Stuglev and Head of AECAS Alexander Saltanov.
They discussed the prospects for further development of relationships with African countries in accordance with the decisions of first Russia–Africa Summit that was held in Sochi in October 2019, as well as the key aspects of preparation for the next top-level Russian-African meeting in 2022, including the need to establish efficient information cooperation with African countries. Adviser to the President was presented with the interim results of the work done by the Secretariat that was created in 2020 for coordination and preparation of events within the Russia–Africa format, as well as advances made by AECAS, the establishment of which is an important achievement on the way to efficient and fruitful preparation for subsequent events of the Russian-African track.
The day before Russian President Vladimir Putin informed the participants of the International Inter-Party Conference Russia-Africa: Reviving Traditions about the preparation for second Russia–Africa Summit in a telegram and noted that the first Summit “gave a strong momentum to the development of friendly relationships between our country and countries of the African continent.”
During the meeting, the participants discussed preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit and its concept as well as targets and a list of events for the 2022 summit. The Coordination Council members deliberated the status of preparatory works and plans for the near future, and the most significant emerging issues necessary for enhancing the entire relations between Russia and Africa.
Ultimately, they supported most of the suggestions put forward during the meeting. Among other topics of the meeting were improving mechanisms for existing and planned projects with African partners that would use domestic and international experience, as well as developing road maps for cooperation. Based on the results of the discussion, it was decided to approve in general the draft concept, organizational and financial scheme for the second Russia-Africa summit, as well as to finalize and approve its target indicators as soon as possible.
Vsevolod Tkachenko, Director of the Africa Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, reminded the meeting that “African partners now expect concrete deeds, maximum substantive ideas, and useful proposals” and show significant initiatives beyond rhetoric, so the current task is to demonstrate substantially to the African side. Over the past years, so many agreements and memoranda of understanding have been signed, and so many pledges and promises have been made to African countries. Since the basis of the summit remains the economic interaction between Russia and Africa, Tkachenko said:
“The ideas currently being worked out on new possible instruments to encourage Russian exports to Africa, Russian investments to the continent, such as a fund to support direct investment in Africa, all these deserve special attention.”
Russia was already heavily invested in Africa as part of President Vladimir Putin’s policy of fostering ties with the non-aligned nations of the developing world ever since relations with the West soured following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. But the need to develop deep trade and investment ties in Africa has been given a new urgency since the West has broken off almost all business ties with Russia this year.
Better relations with Africa are commercially important as Russia starts searching for new customers to buy its energy, grain, and other commodities. But there is also an important political dimension as well as Putin seeks to undermine US hegemony and to gain international recognition for his regime. With a cornucopia of commodities and technology in some sectors such as nuclear power on offer, many African countries are willing partners.
Oleg Ozerov, Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF), noted that African partners emphasize the importance of Russia’s participation in agricultural and industrial sectors, major infrastructure development projects (including Russia’s participation in the continental ten-year program of the African Union), energy development, agriculture, mining complex, and digitalization.
With increasing interest in Africa, there is an unprecedented number of meetings, urging stakeholders, representatives of Russian ministries and departments, and leading Russian companies and business organizations for support and participation. Russian companies are keen to explore opportunities but slow in implementing whatever agreements are signed with Africa. In early June, the Russia-Africa dialogue, another gathering aimed at business networking to fill some gaps, intensifying policy discussions and consultations, was held on the sideline of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum as suggested by the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.
During that meeting, the discussions centered on identifying pathways, and the necessary groundworks for scaling up the weak economic presence in Africa. Existing opportunities in sectors such as energy, high technology, agriculture, industry, and tourism questions were again talk-shopped. As a matter of routine interactions, participants spoke extensively calling for practical steps in creating fundamental mechanisms to support Russian business in Africa. Nevertheless, there is a re-awakening to the practical reality of how to build a broader economic influence in Africa.
The details of the summit will be decided in talks between the African Union, and Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said at a meeting with the Speaker of Mozambique’s Assembly (parliament), Esperanca Bias, during an official visit to Maputo on May 30 to June 1.
The Russia-Africa Summit has been an important platform for promoting Russian interests on the continent and leaders from 48 of Africa’s 54 countries attended the first summit held in the Russian resort city of Sochi in October 2019. The event was supposed to be held annually but was delayed following the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020. It is now back on for this autumn.
This year’s summit will be even more important as Russia looks for new markets and expands existing ones after the West imposed extreme sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine at the end of February. For its part, Africa is keen to keep relations civil, as many countries on the continent depend on Russian grain imports. The AU head, Senegalese President Macky Sall, met Putin in Sochi on June 3 in a bid to offset an impending food crisis due to the war in Ukraine and secure grain imports for his members.
African nations have been among Russia’s most loyal supporters since the conflict in Ukraine started. In a UN vote to condemn Russia’s invasion about half the African countries chose to abstain from condemning Russia, as they sought to maintain good relations with the West, but signal to Moscow they still see Russia as an important partner. As bne IntelliNewsreported, the voting patterns in the UN votes concerning the war in Ukraine paint a very clear picture of which African countries support Russia.
A coordination council has been established under the aegis of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF). Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, who took part in the Inter-Party Conference, said that the Summit is already being prepared and filled with meaningful content, and roadmaps of Russian-African economic, scientific and humanitarian cooperation are to be drafted in the near future. According to Sergei Lavrov, Moscow is poised to build relations of a strategic partnership with pan-African organizations and regional integration associations, Lavrov said:
“Concrete proposals for consolidating Russian-African cooperation are being worked out by three councils (co-ordinating, public and scientific ones) reporting to the Partnership Forum Secretariat. They represent ministries, agencies, business and public organizations engaged in the development of relations with the African continent.
“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.”
The Eurasian Economic Commission is the executive body of the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU), Russia’s answer to the European Union. It is a trade club that unites five former Soviet states, with several more in the region granted observer status. Russia hopes to extend the reach of the EEU down into Africa by coordinating with the AU more closely. At the upcoming summit a roadmap for this cooperation will be finalized in cooperation with the Southern African Development Community (SADS), Lavrov said.
Progress on building up a North-South free trade area between the EEU and AU has already taken its first concrete step forward after the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) came into effect on January 1 this year. AfCFTA reduces to zero 95% of all previous intra-Africa tariffs that were imposed on cross-border trade. Only Eritrea has not yet signed up for the deal. With that previous tariff expense eliminated, sourcing for African products can now take place on a continental basis, thus expanding the potential for African supply chain development exponentially.
The free trade regime in Africa will also allow Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to import machinery and parts to make African products such as machinery. These either be sold on the regional market (when import duties on the parts become due) or re-exported to markets like Russia (duty-free).
With almost all high-tech machinery exports to Russia now banned, using Africa as a production base, which is free to import machinery from Europe, may become a way for Russia to avoid sanctions and buy badly needed equipment it can no longer source from Europe. For example, the Russian automotive sector has almost entirely collapsed in the first months of the war, as it remains heavily dependent on imports of parts that it cannot make itself. Russia has already begun developing such SEZs in Africa, most notably in Egypt’s Port Said but also in Mozambique and Namibia.
The importance of the upcoming summit has been bolstered by the booming trade between Russia and Africa, which has soared this year. Afreximbank president Benedict Oramah said in a recent interview with Tass that trade between African countries and Russia has seen considerable progress.
“Just six years ago there were exports of some $8bn from Russia and imports to Russia from Africa of $2bn or less. Today we have Russian exports to Africa worth $14bn a year and imports of African products of about $5bn. That means bilateral trade is about $20bn. This represents a doubling in Russian-African trade since 2015, or an average annual growth rate of 15%.”
Russia is in the process of establishing a $5bn e-commerce trade portal with African countries, has been targeting Nigeria as a growth market, and has a naval base at Port Sudan. Russia is heavily involved in the African oil and gas industry but has also been investing in infrastructure, with Russia providing railway equipment to some African countries and developing manufacturing facilities on a continental basis.