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Did Russia Extend Trade Preferences to Nigeria

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Ojo Mbila Maduekwe trade preferences to Nigeria

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

More than a decade ago, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a review meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Minister, the late Mr Ojo Mbila Maduekwe, who paid a three-day working visit to Moscow. After the closed-door bilateral talks, both ministers held a brief media conference, and one of the significant questions raised there was Moscow was prepared to offer trade preferences to Nigeria.

Extending trade preferences was interpreted as an integral part of strengthening bilateral economic and trade cooperation between the two parties. During the Soviet days, Nigeria benefitted tremendously from Soviet assistance. And without a doubt, Russia has cordial post-Soviet relations with Nigeria.

Mr Maduekwe headed the delegation for the ‘business-as-usual’ intergovernmental commission on economic and scientific-technical cooperation on March 17. They agreed on a broad range of bilateral economic issues, many of which are still not implemented.

But then, Russia has never honoured its promise of extending trade preferences in practical terms to Nigeria. That media conference was held in March 2009.

Professor Dmitri Bondarenko, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies, told Inter Press Service (IPS) interview that as cooperation between Nigeria and Russia was strengthening, Russia should seriously consider extending preferences to some goods from Nigeria to boost trade between the two oil producers further.

Bondarenko told IPS that the intergovernmental commission could become a tool for the revival of Russian-Nigerian economic cooperation.

This possibility is symbolised, albeit ambivalently, by the Ajeokuta plant, which could become the largest metal-producing plant in Africa. The building of the steel plant started in 1970 during the Soviet era. According to Bondarenko, it was “‘unfortunately stopped in the late 1980s due to problems on both ends.”

This has made the Ajeokuta project “a painful topic in discussions among Nigerian policy experts on Russian-Nigerian relations.”

For trade relations between Russia and Nigeria and other African states to improve appreciably, Bondarenko suggested that ‘”Russia gives some trade preferences to African countries – for example, tax exceptions or reduction among other measures. This can become an effective political step to strengthen relations with African countries.”

However, at least two points should be taken into account: firstly, such measures should only apply to specific goods so as not to discourage non-African partners. For example, if Russia gives preferences to African imports of pineapples and bananas, it would have to do the same with Latin American importers of the same goods for economic and political reasons.

Secondly, such preferences should apply to direct imports by African companies but not to trade mediated by Russian or third countries companies. The value of trade, having practically doubled in 2008 to about 300 million dollars, and the allowance for re-exports – more than one billion dollars – serve as an indicator of current growth.

Today, Nigeria is Russia’s second-largest trade partner among sub-Saharan African countries. Russian business circles show an ever greater interest in entering the promising market of that large country.

Dr Bashir Obasekola, a prominent Nigerian economist and the outgoing president-general of an organization representing the Nigerian community in Russia, told IPS that the trade current trade statistics of about $300 million seems peanuts given the potential of both countries and the size of their economies.

“The volume of trade should be in the billions of dollars, even without military hardware. One of the major hindrances to free trade and a significant increase in trade transactions between Nigeria and Russia is the lack of direct air flights,’” Obasekola said further. “This makes it more inconvenient and expensive for potential investors to travel easily to both countries. Besides, there are no adequate economic and social statistics available to potential Russian and Nigerian investors.”

He explained that Russian industries need raw materials, agricultural produce and other consumer goods that are cheaply available in Africa. Without special incentives, these things cannot easily get to the Russian market.

“Such measures as changing import-export tariff policies could encourage buyers and sellers in both countries to trade. Adequate legal protection should be made available for investors in both countries. The lack of legal mechanisms is sometimes being exploited by criminals in both countries,” he said and added that this led to fraud and the illegal seizure of properties and investments.

Apart from the differences in the level of economic development and climate, Russia and Nigeria are similar in several ways. Both countries have large populations with a variety of mineral resources. Nigeria and Russia are both suppliers of oil, and both play significant roles in regional and world affairs.

Both countries are emerging economies, although Russia is far ahead in economic development, a member of the Group of Eight industrialized countries (G-8), while Nigeria is aspiring to be part of the 20 most-developed economies by the year 2020.

The Russian private and public sectors could also play significant roles in the infrastructural development (energy, housing, roads and railways) of Nigeria, Obasekola said finally.

The two governments hoped that the commission would help them to actualize the existing rich potential that both Russia and Nigeria possess in the trade and economic field and in the sphere of large investment projects.

These would include projects related to the development of infrastructure; the ferrous and non-ferrous metals industry; electric power, including nuclear energy; and the extraction of hydrocarbon and other mineral raw materials.

“We agreed to speed up work on modernizing the legal base of our relations. A whole array of important draft documents are in the stage of elaboration, including an agreement on the encouragement and protection of investment,” Lavrov said after their official meeting.

Russian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, Andrey Nesterenko, said at the start of the diplomatic talks that, “economic and trade ties between Russia and Nigeria have been picking up in recent years, which is consistent with the two leaderships’ policy of taking the partnership to a new qualitative level.”

Nesterenko added that “key aspects of Russian-Nigerian cooperation are to bring all the available suggestions for large projects in the energy sphere, the ferrous and non-ferrous metals industry and other sectors onto a practical footing.”

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Russia’s Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward and Limited Impact

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Military Diplomacy in Africa

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

The South African Institute of International Affairs, a Johannesburg-based foreign policy think tank, has released a special report on Russia-Africa relations. According to the report, Russia has signed military-technical agreements with over 20 African countries and has secured lucrative mining and nuclear energy contracts on the continent.

Russia views Africa as an increasingly important vector of its post-Western foreign policy. Its support for authoritarian regimes in Africa is readily noticeable, and its soft power has drastically eroded. As suspicions arise that Russia’s growing assertiveness in Africa is a driver of instability, its approach to governance encourages pernicious practices, such as kleptocracy and autocracy in Africa.

Over the years, Russia has fallen short of delivering its pledges and promises, with various bilateral agreements undelivered. Heading into the July 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg (unless the proposed date and venue change, again), Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American, and Chinese influence.

What is particularly interesting relates to the well-researched report by Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy analyst at Development Reimagined, a consultancy headquartered in Beijing, China. His report was based on more than 80 media publications dealing with Russia’s military-technical cooperation in Africa. His research focused on the Republic of Mali and the Central African Republic as case studies.

The report, entitled Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact,  argues that a quest for global power status drives Russia’s renewed interest in Africa. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to countries with which it has security partnerships.

While Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to gain a strategic foothold in partner countries successfully, the lack of transparency in interactions, the limited scope of impact, and the high financial and diplomatic costs expose the limitations of the partnership in addressing the peace and development challenges of African host countries, the report says.

Much of the existing literature on Russia’s foreign policy stresses that Moscow’s desire to regain great power has been pursued largely by exploiting opportunities in weak and fragile African states.

Ovigwe Eguegu’s report focuses on the use of private military companies to carry out ‘military diplomacy’ in African states, and the main research questions were: What impact is Russia’s private military diplomacy in Africa having on host countries’ peace and development? And: Why has Russia chosen military diplomacy as the preferred means to gain a foothold on the continent?

He interrogates whether fragile African states advance their security, diplomatic, and economic interests through a relationship with Russia. Overcoming the multidimensional problems facing Libya, Sudan, Somali, Mali, and Central African Republic will require comprehensive peace and development strategies that include conflict resolution and peacebuilding, state-building, security sector reform, and profound political reforms to improve governance and the rule of law – not to mention sound economic planning critical for attracting the foreign direct investment needed to spur economic growth.

In the report, Eguegu further looked at the geopolitical dynamics of Russia’s new interest in Africa. He asserted that during the Cold War, the interests of the Soviet Union and many African states aligned along pragmatic and ideological lines. After independence, many African countries resumed agitation against colonialism, racism, and capitalism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The clash between communism and capitalism provided ample opportunity for the Soviets to provide support to African countries both in ideological solidarity and as practical opposition to Western European and US influence in Africa.

Since the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russia has rekindled relationships with African countries for myriad reasons – but these can largely be attributed to pragmatism rather than ideology. More specifically, Russia’s interactions with African states have been multi-dimensional ranging from economic and political to security-oriented.

He offered the example of Moscow’s relationships with Eritrea and Sudan, which ultimately gave Russia some influence and leeway in the critical Red Sea region and countered the influence of the US and China. But the main feature of Russia’s policy is mostly ‘elite-based’ and tends to lend support to illegitimate or unpopular leaders.

The report also highlighted the myriad socioeconomic and political challenges plaguing a number of African countries. Despite these developments, some have struggled to maintain socioeconomic and political stability. The spread of insecurity has now become more complex across the Sahel region. The crisis is multidimensional, involving political, socioeconomic, regional and climatic dimensions. Good governance challenges play their own role. Moreover, weak political and judicial institutions have contributed to deep-seated corruption.

Conflict resolution has to be tied to the comprehensive improvement of political governance, economic development, and social questions. Some fragile and conflict-ridden African countries are keen on economic diversification and broader economic development. However, progress is limited by inadequate access to finance and the delicate security situation.

According to the International Monetary Fund, these fragile states must diversify their economies and establish connections between the various economic regions and sectors. Poverty caused by years of lacklustre economic performance is one of the root causes of insecurity. As such, economic development and growth would form a key part of the solution to regional security problems.

Analysts, however, suggest that Russia utilizes mercenaries and technical cooperation mechanisms to gain and secure access to politically aligned actors and, by extension, economic benefits like natural resources and trade deals.

Arguably, adherence to a primarily military approach to insecurity challenges is inadequate and not the correct path for attaining peace and development. Furthermore, fragmented, untransparent and unharmonized peace processes will impede considerably sustainable solutions to the existing conflicts in Africa.

Worse is that Russia’s strengths expressed through military partnerships fall short of what is needed to address the complexities and scale of the problems facing those African countries. Moscow certainly has not shown enough commitment to comprehensive peacebuilding programs, security sector reforms, state-building, and improvement to governance and the rule of law.

Surely, African countries have to begin to re-evaluate their relationship with Russia. African leaders should not expect anything tangible from meetings, conferences and summits. Since the first Russia-Africa summit held in 2019, very little has been achieved. Nevertheless, not everything is perfect. There is some high optimism that efforts might gain ground. The comprehensive summit declaration, at least, offers a clear strategic roadmap for building relations.

At this point, it is even more improbable that Moscow would commit financial resources to invest in economic sectors, given the stringent sanctions imposed following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact of sanctions and the toll of the war on the Russian economy is likely to see Moscow redirect its practical attention towards ensuring stability within its borders and periphery.

Notwithstanding its aim of working in this emerging new multipolar world with Africa, Russia’s influence is still comparatively marginal, and its policy tools are extremely limited relative to other international actors, including China and Western countries such as France, European Union members, and the United States. This article was also published at Geopolitical Monitor.com

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Lukashenko Hands Over Agricultural Equipment to Zimbabwe

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Belarus President Lukashenko and Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa agricultural equipment

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

On January 30, Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, paid a working visit to hand over in a special ceremony Belarusian agricultural vehicles, tractors and equipment to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare, Zimbabwe.

“First of all, I want to thank the Americans and the entire Western world for having imposed sanctions against us. Otherwise, American and German tractors would have come instead of Belarusian ones to this huge field,” Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian leader noted that in Zimbabwe, there are the friends of Belarus, with whom Minsk is building cooperation for the sake of achieving the common good.

After years of negotiations, Zimbabwe finally received its $58 million farm mechanization facility from Belarus, while another deal worth $100 million was signed, according to reports from Zimbabwe’s presidency in Harare.

Zimbabwe and Belarus agreed on assembling 3000 tractors. They also agreed to supply Zimbabwe with different kinds of machinery and equipment made in Belarus for the agriculture and timber industry. Both have further agreed to establish a mechanization programme for the farming and timber industries.

It provides for over 800 units of equipment to be delivered in two batches. These include, among others, 60 self-propelled grain harvesters, 210 precision seed drills, 474 tractors of different power capacities, fifth wheel trucks with semi-trailers for transportation of heavy equipment and four dump trucks.

The agreement makes provision for other equipment such as six semi-trailers with hydraulic manipulators for transportation of construction machinery, 10 drop-side trucks, firefighting equipment critical in forest business, cities and other communities and emergency rescue operations. The agricultural equipment also includes 30 motorcycles and a complete set of spare parts for every type of machinery and equipment delivered.

Zimbabwe has been looking for foreign partners from other countries to transfer technology and industrialize its ailing economy. The report said that the government had launched a similar facility from a US company, John Deere, estimated at $50 million, intended to boost agricultural production. Negotiations are also underway with Chinese manufacturers to set up bus assembling plants locally after the government recently procured buses from the Asian country.

Zimbabwe and Belarus officials noted that the unique relationship would help in technical skills transfer and transform the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe.

“The implementation of the project involves an approach that includes not only full responsibility regarding warranty and service support, provision of spare parts, training of local specialists, but also providing advanced technologies, comprehensive decisions and solutions in agriculture for every agricultural period from cultivation, seeding, irrigation, planting to crop harvesting,” according to the report from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture.

In addition to the statement, the Belarus cooperation deal and the commissioned John Deere project for the supply of agriculture mechanization equipment were a culmination of the re-engagement policy of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The principle for re-engagement and engagement is open to all countries worldwide. Zimbabwe is ready to cooperate in business with external countries and for the benefit of the people. President Mnangagwa has reiterated that Zimbabwe is open for business.

Mnangagwa’s working visits to Minsk have helped to break barriers that have impeded progress in its economic diplomacy and to seek increased business cooperation with Belarus, an ex-Soviet republic and a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. The Eurasian Economic Union members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Mineral exports, gold, agriculture, and tourism are the main foreign currency earners of this country. The mining sector remains very lucrative. Its commercial farming sector is traditionally another source of exports and foreign exchange. In the southern African region, it is the biggest trading partner of South Africa. Zimbabwe is one of the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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Interest in Netflix Stocks Jumps 131% After Oscar Nominations

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Interest in Netflix stocks

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

Interest in Netflix stocks went up by 131 per cent, with signing-up to the streaming platform increasing by 166 per cent after sweeping 15 nominations across numerous categories at the Academy Awards nomination announcement.

On January 24, 2023, Oscar nominations were released, and an analysis of Google search data by AskGamblers showed that Netflix sign-up exploded over to double the average search volume in one day, an unprecedented increase in movie fans looking to stream some of the most popular titles.

Netflix’s most nominated film is All Quiet on the Western Front, a German film set during World War I. The film was nominated nine times in categories such as Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Other feature-length titles from Netflix, such as Blonde, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio and The Sea Beast, also gained nominations, as well as two documentary short films.

“The Academy Awards are the pinnacle of the awards season, with many filmmakers and studios hoping for recognition from the Academy in this latest nomination announcement.

“With 15 nominations given to films produced by Netflix, it will be interesting to see if these searches translate into sign-ups to the platform and if Netflix will receive even more new customers if they win big during the ceremony in March,” a spokesperson for AskGamblers commented on the findings.

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