By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russia has a long time-tested relationship with Africa. After the first symbolic Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi on October 23-24, 2019 both Russia and Africa adopted a joint declaration, a comprehensive document that outlines the key objectives and necessary tasks that seek to raise assertively the entire relations to a new qualitative level.
In order to realize this, it requires a complete understanding of the tasks and the emerging challenges, identifies necessary support for new initiatives and, as always reiterated, commitment to dynamic work with Africa.
According to official documents, there has been a great interest in the further development of relations, and in deepening and intensifying Russian-Africa cooperation. Priority areas of economic cooperation in which concrete results could be achieved in the coming years were outlined.
The main areas identified were energy, included among others, renewables, infrastructure development and especially railway and housing construction, modern and high-tech extraction and processing of mineral resources, agriculture, digital technologies, oil and gas exploration, medicine, science and education.
Acknowledging that six of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world today are in Africa, and that presents an attractive condition for foreign investment, over 170 Russian companies and organizations submitted a total of 280 proposals to do projects and business in Africa.
Reports further show that 92 agreements, contracts and memoranda of understanding were signed at the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum. Agreements worth a total of RUB 1.004 trillion ($12.5 billion).
Far before the summit, at least, during the past decade (2010-2020), several bilateral agreements were also signed. There have been several meetings of various bilateral intergovernmental commissions both in Moscow and in Africa.
Besides all that, pledges and promises consistently dominated official speeches – an approach primarily aims at signalling and further sustaining hope of leveraging to Africa.
Of great importance is that over the past few years, considerable steps taken in strengthening relations with the majority of African countries.
But now, as Russia prepares for the second African leaders’ summit 2022 in Addis Ababa, many policy experts are questioning agreements that were signed—many of them largely unfulfilled and some already forgotten—at least during the past years with African countries.
Experts, such as Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Arkhangelskaya from the Institute for African Studies in Moscow, have argued that Russia needs to deliver on its previous several pledges made to Africa countries.
“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.
Russia needs to find a strategy that really reflects the practical interests of Russian business,” said Arkhangelskaya, who is a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics and a researcher at the Institute for African Studies.
Currently, the signs for Russian-Africa relations are impressive. Declarations of intentions have been made; several important bilateral agreements have been signed. Now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in an interview with InDepthNews.
The revival of Russian-African relations has 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, adding the last Sochi summit has significantly rollout ways to increase the effectiveness of cooperation between Russia and Africa.
Ahead of the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit, the Coordination Council was established under the aegis of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF), which is overseeing the organizational and practical preparations of future summits, has held its third meeting in the format of a videoconference. During the meeting, participants discussed preparations for the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit, its concept, targets and a list of events.
The Council members deliberated the status of preparatory works and plans for the near future and significant issues necessary for enhancing the entire relations between Russia and Africa. They also discussed mechanisms to improve existing and planned projects as well as developing road maps for cooperation. The meeting approved the draft concept as well as the organizational and financial scheme for the second Russia-Africa summit.
Vsevolod Tkachenko, the Director of the Africa Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, stated that “African partners expect concrete deeds, maximum substantive ideas and useful proposals.” The current task is to demonstrate results and highlight achievements to the African side. Over the past years, African countries have witnessed many bilateral agreements, memoranda of understanding and pledges.
Since the basis of the summit remains the economic interaction between Russia and Africa, “the ideas currently being worked out on new possible instruments to encourage Russian exports to Africa, Russian investments to the continent, such as a fund to support direct investment in Africa, all these deserve special attention,” Tkachenko says.
According to Oleg Ozerov, Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF), African partners emphasize the importance of Russia’s participation in agriculture, major infrastructure development projects, energy development, mining and digitalization.
Early June 2021, a Russia-Africa dialogue aimed at business networking and intensifying policy discussions were also held on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Discussions centred on identifying pathways, the necessary groundworks for addressing Russia’s weak economic presence in Africa.
Participants called for effective steps to support Russian business in Africa. Russian companies are known to be keen on exploring opportunities in Africa, but very slow in implementing agreements and, as a result, has few concrete results.
Alexander Saltanov, former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and now Chairman of the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS) acknowledged that African countries no longer know as much about Russia as they did about its predecessor, Soviet Union.
Notwithstanding the setbacks down these years, Saltanov is currently working on a common information space project between Russia and Africa scheduled for October.
When talking about bilateral ties, the most common complaints are inadequate to support systems – both from the state and financial institutions.
Russian NGOs are also pushing for a diverse set of initiatives aimed at enhancing ties. The Coordination Committee for Economic Cooperation with African countries, a business and policy NGO, established as far back as 2009, proposes that funds be availed to support Russian business and investment in Africa.
Senator Igor Morozov, Member of the Committee for Economy Policy of the Federation Council (Senate) and Chairman of the Coordination Committee on Economic Cooperation with Africa observes that conditions that are opening up for Russian business today are not the same as those for businessmen from France, the European Union, India or China. Senator Morozov has therefore called for improving Russia’s competitive edge and taking advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The search for effective financing of projects and business is still ongoing, according to official reports. “There is a lot of demanding work ahead, and perhaps, there is a need to pay attention to the experience of China, which provides its enterprises with state guarantees and subsidies, thus ensuring the ability of companies to work on a systematic and long-term basis,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a meeting of the Ministry’s Collegium.
In addition, Lavrov further suggested taking a chapter on the approach and methods adopted by China in Africa, and that was back in 2019. Russia could consider the Chinese model of financing various infrastructure and construction projects in Africa.
It was only in July 2021, that the Association of Economic Cooperation with the African States (AECAS) held the first meeting of the working group to discuss ways for adopting a suitable mechanism of financial support for Russian business and projects in Africa.
That meeting was a marketplace of tremendous ideas. Business leaders discussed the lack of credit lines and guarantees as barriers, and the next problem relates to poor knowledge of the business environment as it poses a challenge. On the other hand, Russian businesses are unprepared to invest in R&D a first preliminary step towards economic engagement with Africa.
Nikita Gusakov, Head of the Russian Export Credit and Investment Insurance Agency (EXIAR), reiterated that Africa was a priority for the agency, outlining a number of deals that EXIAR has been involved in on the continent.
“We have the desire and the capacity to finance projects in Africa. In our experience, there are two problems that need to be addressed: the low level of project planning by Russian companies wishing to enter the African market, and the lack of awareness among Russian companies of the opportunities available on the African market,” Gusakov told the special meeting on project finance held in July.
The 2019 Sochi summit was held under the theme ‘Russia and Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation and was co-chaired by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. During the past two decades, a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, the European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have held such gatherings in that format with Africa.
St. Petersburg to Hosts Second African Leaders Summit
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
With high optimism and a desire to strengthen its geopolitical influence, Russian authorities are gearing up to hold the second African leaders summit in St. Petersburg scheduled for early November 2022.
The gathering, as expected, will focus on enhancing further constructive cooperation and advancing integration processes within the framework of the African Union and a number of sub-regional structures.
In their first joint declaration, emerging from the Russia-Africa summit at the initiative of African participants a new dialogue mechanism—the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum—was created.
The declaration stipulated that all top-level meetings take place within its framework once every three years, alternately in Russia and in an African state. It says further that the foreign ministers of Russia and three African countries—the current, future and previous chairpersons of the African Union—will meet for annual consultations.
Understandably, St. Petersburg, the preferred venue, was chosen primarily due to the continuous political instability in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Initially, Moscow bagged hopes on using the Chinese financed and newly constructed African Union headquarters which has modern facilities for large-scale international conferences and the city itself easily accessible with effectively built first-class Ethiopian Airlines network to and from many African countries. An additional advantage is that African government representatives and heads of many international organizations work in this city.
South Africa and Egypt, as possible alternatives, were thoroughly discussed as South Africa and Russia are members of BRICS, and Egypt has excellent post-Soviet relations. Reminding that the first summit held in Sochi was co-chaired by President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who also rotationally during that year headed the African Union.
The large-scale Russia-Africa summit, held in Sochi in October 2019 and described as the first of its kind in the history of Moscow’s relations with Africa, attracted more than 40 African presidents, as well as the heads of major regional associations and organizations.
According to official documents, there were a total of 569 working meetings that resulted in 92 agreements and contracts, and memoranda of understanding signed as part of the summit.
The first summit opened a new page in the history of Russia’s relations with African countries. Sochi witnessed a historic final communiqué and impressive pledges and promises were made in various speeches and discussions.
Last November, a group of 25 leading experts headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, released a report that vividly highlighted some spectacular pitfalls and shortcomings in Russia’s approach towards Africa.
It pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honouring its several agreements and pledges over the years. It decried the increased number of bilateral and high-level meetings that yield little or bring to the fore no definitive results. In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian African lobbying combined with a lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking, says the policy report.
Writing early January on the policy outlook and forecast for 2022, Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), acknowledged the absolute necessity for consolidating Russia’s positions in Africa.
“A second Russia-Africa summit is planned for the fall of 2022. Its first edition, held in Sochi in October 2019, raised many hopes for the prospects of an expanded Russian presence in Africa. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has made some adjustments to these plans, preventing the parties from reaching the expected levels of trade and investment.
“Nevertheless, Africa still retains a considerable interest in interaction with Russia, which could act as an important balancer of the prevailing influence of the West and China in the countries of the continent,” he opined.
Kortunov suggested, therefore, that 2022 could become a “Year of Africa” for Moscow, a year of converting common political agreements into new practical projects in energy, transport, urban infrastructure, communications, education, public health, and regional security.
Some policy experts expect high symbolism at the 2022 Russia-Africa summit. For example, Andrey Maslov, Head of the Centre for African Studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said that preparations for the second summit would shape the Russia-African agenda; visits would become more frequent and Africa would receive greater coverage in Russian media.
Instead of measuring the success of the summit by how many African leaders attended, as happened in 2019, the parties will finally give greater attention to the substance of the agenda, which is already under development. Russia should try to increase its presence in Africa while avoiding direct confrontation with other non-regional and foreign players, he underlined.
According to him, the volume of Russian-African trade increased, for the first time since 2018, diversifying both geographically and in the range of goods traded. Shipments of railway equipment, fertilizers, pipes, high-tech equipment and aluminium are growing and work continues on institutionalizing the interaction between Russia and the African Union.
“A number of conflicts are also causing alarm, primarily those in Ethiopia, Libya, Guinea, Sudan and especially the Republic of Mali where France and the EU are withdrawing their troops. In 2022, Russia will try in various ways to play a stabilizing role for Africa and assist in confronting the main challenges it faces – epidemics, the spread of extremism and conflicts, and hunger,” Maslov told The Moscow Times.
A dialogue would begin on Africa formulating its own climate agenda, he said and added: “Africa is beginning to understand that it does not need a European-style green agenda and will demand compensation from the main polluting countries for the damage the climatic changes have caused to the ecosystems of African countries. Russia is likely to support these demands.”
In an emailed interview, Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), said Russia needs to upgrade or scale up its collaborative engagement with Africa. It has to consider seriously launching more public outreach programmes, especially working with civil society to change public perceptions and the private sector to strengthen its partnership with Africa. In order to achieve this, it has to surmount the challenges, take up the courage and work consistently with both private and public sectors and with an effective Action Plan.
He told IDN: “I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. There is more talk than action, and in most cases, down the years intentions and ideas have been presented as initiatives already in progress. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late 2022.”
Despite the challenges, Moscow plans to boost Russia’s presence in Africa noted Gruzd who also heads the Russia-Africa Research Programme initiated last year at SAIIA, South Africa’s premier research institute on international issues. It is an independent, non-government think tank, with a long and proud history of providing thought leadership in Africa.
Without doubts, Russia and African leaders will draw a comprehensive working map based on the discussions in St. Petersburg. The summit achievements will help to consolidate the aspirations of the African continent and African nations as fully as possible, and chart ways for materializing common priorities of Russia and the African countries within the framework of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Kenya Records $55.1bn Mobile Money Transactions in 11 Months
By Adedapo Adesanya
Kenya has continued to maintain its position as Africa’s most remarkable mobile money market as the use of the service hit a historic high in 2021 after users transacted 6.24 trillion shillings (equivalent to $55.1 billion) on phones between January and November in 2021.
This indicated a 20 per cent increase from the previous year, surpassing the $45.9 billion transacted in the entire 2020, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) said in a new data released on Monday.
The surge in transactions came despite the government removing COVID-19 subsidies at the start of 2021.
The Kenyan government at the onset of the pandemic in the nation in March 2020 made all mobile money transactions worth $8.83 and below free as well as bank and mobile transactions.
This boosted usage and saw eight million subscribers join the service as cashless transactions increased, according to the CBK.
Upon removal of the subsidies, usage of the service was expected to decline or slow down but the opposite has happened, according to the East African country’s top lender.
It was observed that the highest ever mobile money transaction in a month was recorded in November at $5.5 billion as the number of agents hit a high of 299,053 and subscriptions at 67 million, said the CBK.
Kenya is regarded as the frontier of mobile money, starting the service as early as 2007 and this has transformed the everyday lives of most Kenyans, disrupting the traditional banking system and capturing the previously unbanked market and driving financial exclusion.
With ease brought about by the service, it allows for deposits and withdrawals of cash, bank account transfers, the payment of bills from electricity to school fees, loan and savings transactions, and the receipt of salaries.
A large proportion of the population is employed in cities, sending money home to families in rural areas. As a result, mobile money agents in cities mostly receive deposits of cash, whilst agents in rural areas mostly pay out withdrawals.
The reliability of the system rests heavily on active liquidity management; rural agents have an efficient system of replenishing their cash resources once these have been swapped out for mobile money via customer withdrawals.
Kenya Slashes Power Costs of Consumers by 15%
By Adedapo Adesanya
Kenya has announced a 15 per cent reduction in power costs, handing relief to thousands of homes and industries burdened by the high cost of living and production.
The East African country’s Ministry of Energy in a statement released in the capital Nairobi said the reduction takes effect immediately and would cover the entire 2022 period.
“The tariff reduction is a fulfilment of a commitment made by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the nation, that the first tranche of reduction, 15 per cent, will be reflected in the bills covering the end of the year in 2021,” said the ministry.
The government institution observed that the reduction will boost livelihoods and economic growth by reducing the cost of living, putting more money in Kenyans’ pockets and reducing the cost of doing business.
The ministry said it is working to see the second 15 per cent reduction is affected in the first quarter of the year, bringing the total cut to 30 per cent.
The 30 per cent cut will see consumer costs drop from an average of 24 shillings (about 0.21 U.S. dollars) per kilowatt-hour to 16 shillings (about 0.14 US Dollars).
Kenya’s demand for electricity has sustained an upward trend, growing at an average rate of 4.5 per cent year-on-year driven by rising economic activities.
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