By Kester Kenn Klomegah
As Russia prepares to strengthen its overall corporate economic profile during the African leaders' summit, policy experts are questioning bilateral agreements that were signed, as many of them have largely remained unimplemented.
Experts such as Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, Institute for African Studies in Moscow, have argued that Russia needs to be more strategic in aligning its interests, and to be more proactive with instruments and mechanisms in promoting economic cooperation in order to reap the benefits of a fully-fledged partnership.
"The most significant positive sign is that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, and authorities are seriously showing readiness to compete with other foreign players. But, Russia needs to find a strategy that really reflects the practical interests of Russian business and African development needs," said Arkhangelskaya, who is also a senior lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics.
Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements entered into previously will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in the interview.
The revival of Russia-African relations have to be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russian-Africa relations have to be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.
In his opinion, Professor Shubin, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, reiterated: "Russia is not doing enough to communicate to the broad public, particularly in Africa, true information about its domestic and foreign policies as well as the accomplishments of Russian culture, the economy, science and technology in order to form a positive perception of Russia abroad and a friendly attitude towards it as stated by the new Concept of the Foreign Policy.
Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Research Director at the Valdai International Discussion Club and Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertise on Russian foreign policy and global developments – acknowledged that Chinese strategy in Africa is about to get access to resources, vitally important for Chinese development. To achieve this, Beijing uses all leverage, including soft power, technical and economic assistance, political support to leaders of African countries (be it Zimbabwe's Mugabe or Sudan's Bashir).
"Russia has not similar need to gain African resources, so there is no motivation to develop such a comprehensive approach. We can identify many aspects of Chinese experience which would be useful to learn, but looking realistically I don't think Russia will ever do it," Lukyanov wrote in an emailed interview.
The media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well, he suggested and added that "soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era."
London based business consultant and director, Irina Awote, explained in an emailed interview that increasingly, the African continent is witnessing a surge in the number of infrastructure and investment deals requiring a combination of both internal and external financing, increased capital for expansion. And indeed, she says Russia has to demonstrate its preparedness for all these.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia primarily focused on building and strengthening its internal economy, she explained. Awote, however, added "today, the Russian economy and Russian industries have come a long way since the Soviet collapse – the Russian economy is a lot stronger than in the first two decades following the Soviet collapse, at the same time many Russian enterprises have since evolved and developed, many through partnerships with international organizations."
As such, there has been, for a long time, interest from Russia to revive its old economic ties with Africa. Russia and Russian enterprises are in a much stronger position to capitalise on this opportunity than a few decades ago. At the same time, not ignoring the fact that the continued economic sanctions imposed by the West, has made Russia reinforce its strategic partnerships with other regions, and especially Africa where they have had good historical ties from the Soviet era, according Irina Awote.
Late July, Bogdanov held talks with the President of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, and further discussed about military-technical cooperation while meeting with the Minister of National Defence and Veteran Affairs, Moumina Sheriff Sy, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Burkina Faso, Alpha Barry, and Vice-President of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso, K. Traore.
Reports indicated that Moscow and Ouagadougou had agreed to further develop the entire range of relations including deepening the political dialogue, expanding trade and economic cooperation, promoting promising mutually beneficial projects, strengthening partnerships in the areas of developing mineral resources, energy, transport and agriculture.
Working with Sierra Leone has been on the table for years. Quite recently, Bogdanov and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone Solomon Jamiru also held diplomatic talks, rounded up the discussion on fishing ventures, military-technical cooperation and the forthcoming Russia-Africa Summit.
On August 1, while attending the official inauguration of the new leader in Mauritania, Bogdanov used the opportunity to discuss current relations with President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. Both agreed on ways of strengthening aspects of the existing relations. An official report says the common interest of Moscow and Nouakchott is giving additional dynamics to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields, primarily in the field of marine fishing and the development of natural resources, as well as the personnel training in Russia.
Over the past two to three months, Bogdanov has met with nearly all African ambassadors accredited in the Russian Federation. The key issue here is to explore opportunities for expected stronger collaboration and dialogue them on African leaders' and business people's participation in the upcoming Sochi Summit.
According to the official information posted on the ministry's website, Bogdanov during these high-level meetings described 2019 as a momentous year for Russian-African relations, and the culmination of all activities, would see the first full-format Summit and Economic Forum, on the sidelines of which a number of new bilateral and multilateral agreements are expected to be signed.
About 35 leaders of African countries have officially confirmed their participation in the Russia-Africa Summit, according to Bogdanov. "Almost all of them want to come. About 35 leaders have officially confirmed their participation. I believe at least 40 leaders will come. We do feel our partners' commitment and their keen interest."
Since his appointment in 2004, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has distinctively done a lot for Africa. Speaking in an exclusive interview as far back on October 21, 2011, (simultaneously with the Voice of Russia, the Echo of Moscow and the Radio of Russia) Lavrov informed listeners that "the main thing is to develop mutual economic ties, something that is yet to be implemented as far as our relations with African nations are concerned."
Now, the situation is gradually changing. The Russia-Africa summit, slated for 24 October in Sochi, will be the first in a series of activities under the aegis and direction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian Ministry of Energy, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, as well as legislative bodies and public organizations. During the past decades, a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have held such gatherings in that format.
This first Russia-Africa summit is expected to enhance mutual multifaceted ties, reshape diplomatic relationships and significantly rollout ways to increase effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa. The idea to hold a Russia-Africa forum was first initiated by President Vladimir Putin at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Johannesburg in July 2018.