International

Moscow once again appears on the African continent with the first Russia-Africa summit

The first ever two-day Russia-Africa economic summit ended Thursday in the resort city Sochi, Russia resulting over 500 commercial agreements worth $12 billion.

About four dozen African leaders and high-level government officials attended the summit and economic forum, from Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari to African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat. Over 40 African nations were represented by heads of state or government at the summit, while 11 others sent their vice presidents, foreign ministers or ambassadors.

The two-day event was the first of its kind hosted by Russia, which is seeking a new engagement on the African continent in competition with China, the United States, and even countries like India and Turkey, which have increased their diplomatic efforts in recent years.

According to Financial Times, Russia offered nuclear power plants, fighter jets and missile defense systems to African countries in a charm offensive designed to win back influence on the continent, at the summit.

Russia has defense orders worth $14bn from African countries, its state-run arms export agency said at the summit. Sales to the continent account for about a third of Moscow’s military exports. Mr Putin said Russia had agreed “military technical co-operation agreements” with more than 30 African states, to supply weapons. “Some of these deliveries are free of charge,” he added. Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, described Russia’s offerings as “no strings attached”.

While the Soviet Union was a close partner with many African states during the cold war, Russia’s current bilateral trade of $20bn is just a tenth of China’s, and relies heavily on exports of arms and grain to a handful of richer states.

Mr Putin promised to double trade within the next “four to five years”, and used a marathon schedule of back-to-back bilateral meetings with visiting delegations on both days of the summit to offer deals on everything from diamond mining to pork exports — though few have yet materialized.

The Kremlin’s aim is to use military and trade ties to reinsert itself as a geopolitical powerbroker on the continent, the Financial Times said.

Agreements signed

Some of the agreements signed at the Russia-Africa Forum as reported by Sputnik:

Trade financing: The Russian Export Center, VEB.RF state development corporation, Sberbank and GemCorpCapital LLP investment company have signed a $5 billion worth framework agreement for creating a mechanism of Russian-African trade financing.

Nuclear energy: Russia and Ethiopia have signed an intergovernmental agreement in Sochi for cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Russian oil company Lukoil signed a memorandum for drilling rights in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, while state-run atomic energy group Rosatom inked a preliminary agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Ethiopia. It also agreed to begin construction on an Egyptian reactor next year. 

Defence ties: Russia plans to deliver $4 billion worth of weapons to Africa in 2019, Rosoboronexport Director General Alexander Mikheev told Sputnik.

Russia and Nigeria have signed a contract for deliveries of 12 Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters, Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Deputy Director Anatoly Punchuk told Sputnik on Wednesday at the Russia-Africa forum.

Although Russia has signed military agreements with some two dozen countries, its actual presence on the ground is still relatively marginal in comparison to the French or the US. The US military has outposts in 34 African countries and had at least 33 active missions in 2017, according to journalist Nick Turse. This includes special forces fighting covert wars in Libya, Somalia, Tunisia, and Niger, with little to no accountability to the US Congress or the broader American public.

Late to the Party: Russia’s Return to Africa

“Late to the Party: Russia’s Return to Africa,” is the title of the article of Paul Stroski about the Russia-Africa summit published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Paul Stroski, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, said:

“After a decades-long absence, Russia is once again appearing on the African continent. The Kremlin’s return to Africa, which has generated considerable media, governmental, and civil society attention, draws on a variety of tools and capabilities. Worrying patterns of stepped-up Russian activity are stirring concerns that a new wave of great-power competition in Africa is now upon us.

“U.S. policymakers frequently stress the need to counter Russian malign influence on the continent. On a visit to Angola in early 2019, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that “Russia often utilizes coercive, corrupt, and covert means to attempt to influence sovereign states, including their security and economic partnerships.” 

“Advocates for a more forceful Western policy response point to high-visibility Russian military and security cooperation in the Central African Republic and the wide-ranging travels of Russian political consultants and disinformation specialists as confirmation that Russia, like China, represents a major challenge in Africa.”

Resurgence of a global power on the continent

Joe Penney of Quartz Africa says Russia’s Africa summit is the latest step in its resurgence as a global power on the continent. Since 2015, Russia has signed military agreements with 21 African countries, and in the past decade, it has grown its trade with the continent to $20.4 billion in 2018 from $5.7 billion in 2009.

“Forced to find new diplomatic partners as well as markets for arms and goods after United States and European Union’s sanctions for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the rapid growth of this partnership has set off alarm bells in Washington, D.C. and Paris,” Joe Penney said adding:

“Russia’s interest, like those of other major world powers in Africa, “involves arms exports, imports of natural resources, and the projection of power,”  writes Jakob Hedenskog, researcher at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. It has accelerated its diplomatic, military and economic push by building upon its former Soviet ties, when it armed anti-Apartheid and anti-colonial movements like those in Angola, Mozambique, and Algeria. While Russia is Africa’s top arms supplier, nearly 80% of the weapons it sells the continent are directed to its longtime ally Algeria, who have relied on Russian equipment since their independence war against France in the late 1950s. Its economic plans for Africa include lucrative oil and gas, mining and nuclear energy deals across the continent.”

Penney quoted journalist Nick Turse as saying: Although Russia has signed military agreements with some two dozen countries, its actual presence on the ground is still relatively marginal in comparison to the French or the US. The US military has outposts in 34 African countries and had at least 33 active missions in 2017, according to journalist Nick Turse. This includes special forces fighting covert wars in Libya, Somalia, Tunisia, and Niger, with little to no accountability to the US Congress or the broader American public.

China-Africa summit

Russia-Africa summit and economic forum follows a similar approach by the Chinese. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has become so influential as a source of economic support for African countries, twice as many African leaders attended the Beijing event in September 2018.

The 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was defined by Beijing as its most important home diplomatic event of the year, with  53 out of 54 African countries represented, leaving out only Swaziland, which still maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Established 18 years ago, FOCAC has achieved fruitful results and has become a significant mark of China-Africa cooperation. China-Africa trade volume amounted to $170 billion in 2017, up from just over $10 billion in 2000, according to data from China's Ministry of Commerce.

the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation-Ministerial Conference (FOCAC) was held in Beijing from 10 to 12 October 2000. This was the first gathering of its kind in the history of China-Africa relations.

The second FOCAC adopted the Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021).

The vigorous development of China-Africa cooperation has not only promoted the progress of Africa, but also inspired international partners to pay closer attention to Africa and increase their input into and cooperation with the continent, Chinese President Xi Jinping said.

African leaders expressed support and appreciation for the Belt and Road Initiative, believing that the joint building of the Belt and Road by Africa and China will speed up African regional integration.

The year 2018 marked the fifth anniversary of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, with more African countries expressing their interest in joining the grand project.

So far, nearly 10 African countries have signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with China, and a few more are in negotiations..

Proposed in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.

China is willing to work with Africa to dovetail its Belt and Road Initiative with the Agenda 2063 of the African Union, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, as well as the development strategies of individual African countries to explore new opportunities and inject new impetus for Africa's development, said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com

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