Russia looks more like a virtual great power than a true development partner for Africa

In its quest to strengthen post-Soviet relations and especially in the context of the emerging new world order, Russia has to focus on its agenda and strategies to promptly implement the expected commitments for Africa.

Long before the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Russian officials had stepped up their criticism and confrontation in public statements. Right now, Russia has to frankly admit its political weaknesses and the extremely low level of economic presence in Africa.

Criticism came from the Kremlin administration to the Federation Council and the State Duma through the Foreign Ministry to Russian educational establishments and policy think tanks. Local Russian media regularly publish such criticisms more than Russia’s visible achievements and unique success stories in Africa.

Instead of the “neo-colonialism” related slogans and loud noises dominating the scene, the Russians should address existing Western colonial trends by investing in competitive sectors and economic spheres in Africa. Building public perceptions through social and cultural activities with Africa. The reality is that African leaders expect practical investment proposals from potential Russian investors.

While one school of thought has expressed little optimism that Russia can actually recover and have much of a recognizable economic impact compared to the Soviet era, the other school thinks that Russia can only progress if the authorities make conscious efforts to at least meet their commitments. promises. and on those previous bilateral agreements promptly.

The new fight for Africa is gaining momentum. While making beneficial and useful decisions, African leaders today are concerned with promoting sustainable development, building the necessary infrastructure and improving the well-being of the impoverished population. Understandably, the infrastructure deficit is presented as a good deal for external actors. Therefore, African leaders are looking for partners with funds to invest and contribute to the transformation of the economy.

“The US comments at a summit with Africa show the inability to engage in an equitable dialogue,” says a headline in a local Russian media. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the statements against Russia and China made at the US-Africa summit show that Washington is incapable of fair dialogue and competition.

“We have taken note of the numerous anti-Russian and anti-Chinese statements by US officials during the US-Africa summit. Once again, Washington has shown that it is incapable of equal dialogue and decent competition, while its guarantees that African countries have freedom of choice testify to double standards,” the diplomat said.

Zakharova also mentioned important issues related to basic political and economic freedoms, unfair competition, sanctions against Russia, and the Western agenda in the context of a multipolar world.

“Russia stands together with its African friends who, despite enormous pressure from the West, including threats to withdraw financial support, take an independent position, first of all, in the context of the situation around Ukraine,” he said. .

Zakharova stressed the fact that Russia defends the right of states to choose their political and economic partners, to follow their values ​​and the civilizational path of development. Russia offers honest, mutually beneficial and fair cooperation. And that Russia favors non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

The Russian Council for International Affairs, a non-governmental organization and policy think tank, also published an opinion piece written by Kirill Babaev, Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor of the Financial University. He did an excellent analysis of relations between Russia and Africa.

The article highlighted future prospects based on existing successes in building political dialogues over the past years. On the other hand, it exposes some existing obstacles and weaknesses for serious consideration by the authorities.

He wrote that Russia’s return to Africa had been discussed in the media and at various levels of power for two decades. However, the impetus given to Russian expansion on the African continent by the first Russia-Africa Summit in October 2019 made it the decisive event that allowed to find an entry point for Russian companies and Russia’s economic strategy in the continent, which today leads in terms of economic development.

That African elites, especially those who studied in Soviet colleges and universities, still have memories of Africa’s freedom struggle. During Soviet times, at the height of the fight against Western colonialism, there were Soviet-era economic deals.

However, all these letters are a thing of the past, while at present it has been difficult for Russia to offer Africa anything of value that can compete with large-scale Western investment or Chinese infrastructure projects (until recently), he wrote. in your article

Today the situation has changed radically, according to his expert assessment. “The main challenges for Russia in this regard are, firstly, the need to develop new, non-traditional sectors of economic cooperation, and secondly, an immense lack of personnel to work successfully on the African continent and the promotion of this cooperation”. explained Professor Kirill Babaev.

In another publication entitled “Russian Business in Africa: Missed Opportunities and Prospects” appeared in the foreign policy magazine Russia in Global Affairs, where Professor Alexei Vasilyev, former Special Representative of the Russian Federation to African Countries and Director of the Institute for African Studies Africans, he wrote in that article that Russian companies pursue their various interests in Africa.

The main reason is that Africa remains a huge and large market for technology and the manufacturing of consumer goods due to the increase in population and the growth of the middle class. Until recently, the Russians have been watching the mining industry, and economic cooperation is constantly expanding. But Africa still accounts for only 1.5% of Russia’s investment, which is a drop in the ocean. It must be admitted that Russia’s economic policy is manifestly lacking in dynamism in Africa.

“African countries have been waiting for us for too long; we lost our positions in post-apartheid Africa and to a large extent we have lost new opportunities. Currently, Russia lags behind the leading foreign countries in most economic parameters in this region, ”he noted in the article.

Consider another Russian media headline: “West seeks to dissuade African states from participating in Russia-Africa summit” that took place in December. Federation Council Vice President Konstantin Kosachev said that Russia’s Western opponents are trying to prevent African states from participating in the second Russia-Africa summit, scheduled for July 2023 in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg.

“The second summit will be drastically different from the first in terms of the atmosphere around it. Our geopolitical rivals, mainly from the West, will do everything in their power to prevent African partners from participating in this meeting and pit it against the Africa-US summit. Senator said at a round table on Russia’s strategic interests in Africa.

In the opinion of Senator Kosachev, the first Russia-Africa summit held three years ago was a success, “but, in many respects, its results fell within the dimension of politics” and did not translate into additional projects of commercial, economic cooperation , scientific or humanitarian. .

“I am sure that it will be a very serious miscalculation on our part if next year’s summit is not prepared in a radically different way, providing each of its participants with a concise roadmap of our bilateral relations, with clear incentives. to participate and conclude practical agreements,” said the deputy chairman of the Russian Upper House.

“The turnover speaks for itself. Approximately, the European Union’s trade with Africa amounts to about 300 billion dollars, that of China about 150 billion dollars and that of the United States about 50-60 billion dollars. Despite the growth trend, our current turnover is around $20 billion,” Senator Kosachev added, citing business figures to illustrate his point.

In this sense, it can be expected that the second Russia-Africa summit, scheduled for July 2023 in Saint Petersburg, will open the doors to many large investment projects on the continent.

That, however, Russia needs to be ready for them, and this requires people. There are still very few Africanists with knowledge of the continent’s languages, specificities and business customs in the country, and in the midst of current conditions, the State must pay special attention to this problem. The most important thing is to make more practical, more consistent and more effective efforts with African countries.

But so far, Russia has not pledged funds to implement its business projects and other political goals in Africa. While the Russian government is very cautious about making financial commitments, Russian financial institutions are hardly interested in stepping up their activities and are not closely involved in foreign policy initiatives in Africa.

However, with the current geopolitical changes, Russian officials are expected to focus rather on seriously addressing all weaknesses and obstacles to enhance practical cooperation and have noticeable impact in Africa, as suggested by Kirill Babaev, Director of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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