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21 Mar, 2024 14:05

‘There are huge untapped benefits’: Here’s what African experts think about relations with Russia

Trade, energy, security and more - Russia and African countries have multiple avenues for cooperation and a long journey ahead
‘There are huge untapped benefits’: Here’s what African experts think about relations with Russia

In June 2023, a delegation of seven African leaders traveled to St. Petersburg on a self-styled “peace mission” where they met President Vladmir Putin in an effort to explore possibilities for mediating in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who was part of the delegation that also met Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, was quoted saying that the conflict was affecting Africa negatively. According to Dr. Mustafa Ali, a Kenyan based lecturer and geopolitical analyst, the visit clearly showed that Africa stands to benefit more from a stable Russia. “Just take a look at how the conflict led to the skyrocketing of fuel and commodity prices, inflation and financial instability and it will show you Russia’s direct influence on Africa’s economy," Dr. Ali told RT.

African nations are keen on embracing partnerships with Russia

As Russia has just gone through its presidential election, Dr. Ali observes that most Africa nations are keen on exploring deeper relations with Russia because “there are huge untapped benefits laying in wait’‘, citing the promise made by President Putin during the inaugural 2019 Russia-Africa summit of doubling Russia-Africa trade to US $40 billion in five years, a promise he says is waiting to be fulfilled.

“Just like they did with China, African nations are keen on embracing partnerships and relationships with Russia which come without attached prescriptions and strict conditionalities as happens with partnerships with Western nations and their controlled Bretton Woods institutions," Ali explains.

He adds, “In Africa, Russia is keen on investing in areas where Western powers have either failed investing in, neglected or been reluctant to invest in and this is an approach African leaders can capitalize on and reap maximum benefits".

Ali cites examples of infrastructure development, transportation, energy and telecommunication as some of the sectors Africa stands to attract investments from Russia. “Infrastructure construction investments and partnerships between African nations and Russia will not only help in fostering economic growth and development across the continent but is also creating jobs for millions of Africans, and thereby helping deal with the scourge of unemployment and high poverty levels on the continent".

‘Russia moves to consolidate its place on the continent’

Moving forward, Erastus Mwencha, a former Kenyan diplomat who served as Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, told RT that Africa stands to benefit from Kremlin’s continued expansion of its economic footprint on the continent.

“African capitals which invest in relationships with the Kremlin will stand a better chance of having a share of Russia’s direct foreign investment in the continent which is likely to rise as Russia moves to consolidate its place on the continent through trade, financial credit facilities and direct investments," Mwencha told RT.

In terms of trade, between 2013 and 2021, trade revenue between Russia and African countries almost doubled and reached more than $20 billion. At least 30 percent of Africa’s grain imports come from Russia. Africa’s imports from Moscow include wheat, coal, refined petroleum, and electronics while Russia imports fruits, sugar, and vegetables from Africa.

During the 2023 Russia-Africa summit, President Putin promised free grain to six African nations significantly impacted by the cancellation of the Black Sea grain deal. Initially brokered by the UN and Türkiye in 2022, the deal aimed to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain to global markets, particularly to impoverished countries in Africa. In return, Moscow was promised that Western sanctions would be lifted from its own agricultural exports. Russia abandoned the deal, arguing that it was still unable to get any of its grain or fertilizer out to world markets, and that the West had failed to fulfil its obligations.

Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the CAR already benefitted from the Putin’s pledge, as the promised 200,000 tons of grain were fully delivered by the end of January to all the six states.

Mwencha cites the oil and gas sector’s investments as some of the critical benefits Africa stands out to gain from its close interaction and partnership with Russia.

“Majority of African states do not have the financial, technical and technological power to initiate and drive huge oil, gas and energy initiatives. Russia on the other hand has all the three and any African leader who works and walks with Putin, will not miss on such investments if at all their country needs them", Mwencha believes.

In 2022, Russia’s nuclear power company, Rosatom received clearance to start building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, following a 2017 agreement signed between President Putin and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with the project expected to become fully completed and operational by 2030. Construction for the 4800 MW plant will cost a total of $60 billion with Rosatom, providing a $25 billion loan for the project. Additionally, Rosatom has signed cooperative agreements with other 17 African governments, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zambia.

Mwencha observes that for President Putin to win over more support from the African continent, he will have to fulfill all the promises made during the first and second Russia-Africa summit.

“Africa stands to benefit from Russia’s strong economy, resources, technology, and expertise in developing and building its energy, mining, and technology sectors, industries and infrastructure and Moscow is keen on creating more partnerships and strengthening her voice on the continent both diplomatically and economically,” he said.

‘When the two sides treat each other as allies’

George Musamali, a Kenyan security analyst says that Africa will continue enjoying the existing strong defense and security ties with Russia, which he says come with favorable terms for the continent. Musamali cites arms sales and joint military training programs between Russia and African nations as initiatives that will directly help Africa states enhance their capacity against continued emerging security threats and challenges.

“Africa states that are prone to conflict and those battling security challenges stand to gain more from Russia’s advanced security and military technology and this can only happen when the two sides treat each other as allies," Musamali told RT.

Between 2018 and 2022, 40% of Africa’s imported weapons came from Russia – compared to 16% from the US, 9.8% from China and 7.6% from France.

Musamali further argues that Africa stands to gain more benefits from its military and security engagements with Russia because Russian-made weapons and security equipment are usually cheaper compared to those from Western countries. According to Musamali, “Russia does not attach stringent conditions to her arms sales unlike other countries”.

Musamali also cites Moscow’s military diplomacy in Africa as one area where the continent stands to reap big through enhancement of the defense capabilities of African nations, something he says will contribute to regional security and stability.

During the 2023 Russia-Africa summit there was an agreement to establish a new permanent Russo-African security mechanism, aimed at combating terrorism and extremism on the continent.

‘Pushing for more trade deals’

Mwencha argues that Africa can bank on its mutually beneficial relationship with Russia to negotiate for and lure more investments for key sectors like agriculture, hydrocarbons, technology, energy, transport, and digitization which he says still need massive investments.

He wants Africa heads of states to push Moscow into increasing and expanding its trade opportunities for the continent, noting that Africa needs to move from the current $20 billion trade value with Russia to the same trade levels as it is with the EU, China, and the United States.

“Trade between Africa and Russia is such a fertile and prime potential that African leaders must exploit. They must focus on negotiating and pushing for more trade deals that will open up the Russian market for more imports from Africa," Mwencha said. Currently, Russian exports to Africa are seven times higher compared to her imports from the continent.

“Russia has an extremely large consumer base which African exporters can tap. Strengthened ties between Russia and Africa will open up more markets for African goods and services and this will provide more opportunities for African nations and exporters to diversify their markets and increase their foreign earnings,” Mwencha explained.

‘Closer ties with Russia can provide African countries with diplomatic support’

In 2006, President Vladimir Putin made a high profile visit to South Africa while former President Dmitry Medvedev made similar visits in 2009 to Egypt, Angola, Nigeria, and Namibia in Moscow’s bid to establish its strong diplomatic presence on the continent. Russia’s longest serving Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, has in the recent years led other high ranking government officials from Moscow in visiting several African nations for signing of multiple bilateral military, economic, and security cooperation agreements.

Alex Awiti, a Kenyan researcher and academic specializing in African geopolitics and international relations observes that the 2018 decision by former US President Donald Trump to scale back U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa despite the growing terror threat in the region gave Moscow a perfect opportunity to fill the void and become Africa’s key security.

“President Putin used the 2019 first ever Russia-Africa summit in Sochi to sell Russia as a reliable and strategic partner for the continent.” The second Russia-Africa summit in July 2023, saw the signing of several agreements between Russia and African nations on prevention of arms race in space, cooperation in information security, as well as combating terrorism. These are benefits that African leaders will not resist," Awiti told RT.

According to Awiti, Russia’s status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council can work in favor of Africa because it gives Moscow more and significant influence in global affairs. “Closer ties with Russia can provide African countries with diplomatic support on international issues and help amplify their voices on the global stage,” Awiti told RT.

Awiti notes that there is no doubt Russia will be seeking to expand its foreign direct investment, trade and investments with Africa to rival that of the European Union, China, and the United States, a competition he says will work in favor of Africa both diplomatically and economically.

A new Foreign Policy Concept published by Russia earlier this year portrayed both Russia and Africa as struggling for the goal of a “more equitable polycentric world and elimination of social and economic inequality”, a clear indication of Moscow’s keen interest of portraying itself as a friend and defender of Africa.

Overall, Awiti concludes that a strong relationship with Russia can bring about economic development, infrastructure improvement, enhanced security, and increased diplomatic leverage for African countries. “However, it’s essential for African nations to ensure that such partnerships are mutually beneficial and aligned with their long-term development goals,” he concludes.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.