Russia Educates Future African Leaders

future African leaders

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in an official statement at the reception on the occasion of Africa Day celebrated on May 25, a continental holiday which epitomises the unwavering will of the African peoples and their struggle in pursuit of freedom and human dignity, reiterated Russia’s preparedness to educate and train future African leaders.

There are various partnerships between Russia and African countries, providing scholarships for African students to study in Russian universities. “We support the efforts to strengthen the human resources capacity building by increasing the number of scholarships. Currently, nearly 35,000 African students are studying in Russia, with about 7,000 among them funded from the Russian budget,” Lavrov said at the diplomats’ gathering in Moscow.

During the first and second Russia-Africa summits, Moscow reiterated its heightened desire to train African youth. There have been repetitive statements about raising scholarships for African students. Some African countries, especially the Francophone have expressed readiness to have their citizens trained in higher educational institutions in exchange for Russia to gain complete access to natural resources.

Then, Russia has also noticeably intensified its diplomatic relationship with Africa and signed several bilateral agreements to undertake development projects in various sectors including high technologies, mining, agriculture, building infrastructure, industry and manufacturing, health and energy. Further, Russian officials gave full-fledged assurances to offer protection against growing neocolonialism which African countries welcomed and have formed an integral part over the years.

Amidst the geopolitical dynamics, Russia has engaged in disparaging the United States and Europe while itself has visibly achieved little across Africa. Its economic footprints are still weak despite resonating pledges and promises, and several bilateral agreements signed with African countries. In an assessment, Africa has been at the bottom of its priority agenda, although it claims broadening influence in the continent. In terms of education and training, scholarships for potential African students are arguably low compared to Asia and Latin America.

According to the Russian Education and Science Ministry, more than 355,000 foreigners are currently studying in Russian universities. Acting Minister Valery Falkov earlier said Russia has the world’s sixth-largest number of foreign students, and Africa is undeniably at the bottom position.

According to calculations by TASS News Agency, the number of foreign students in Russian universities has increased by more than 20% over the past five years. Most often foreign applicants accepted by Russian universities come from China, Vietnam, former Soviet republics, and countries in Asia and the Middle East.

The above TASS report has seriously overlooked Africa. This precedence of positioning Africa at the bottom of the policy agenda could be found in many official reports. And sometimes, ignored completely. Africa has been and still is at the bottom of Russia’s policy agenda and this has been reflected in its economic projects undertaken and completed in Africa. Political dialogues are excellent and official visits forth and back increasingly proliferated. Conferences and meetings abound, and reports are frequently issued.

The number of African students who receive education in Russia is approaching 35,000 people, according to RIA Novosti. According to Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education, Konstantin Mogilevsky, speaking at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July 2023, informed that since the last academic year the Russian scholarship has increased to about 4,000 people.

“The present and the future of Russia-Africa relations is not about charity, it’s about co-development,” stated Evgeny Primakov, Head of the Russian Federal Agency for International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) and also a member of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at the International Parliamentary Conference Russia – Africa in a Multipolar World, held in Moscow under the auspices of the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly. Concerning education and training, Putin indicated that cooperation between Russia and African countries in education is at a traditionally high level. At the same time, the annual quota for state-funded scholarships at Russian universities would be more than doubled, he said.

But the point is that Russia can target African students to boost its image and public perceptions in Africa, especially in this emerging new world. The significance here is to inculcate diversified cultural tolerance, and take advantage of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism – aspects of modern life – which are necessary prerequisites for the emerging multi-polar world. Nevertheless, Russia largely lags far behind with a well-structured public outreach diplomacy, using education and training young Africans in the developing world.

In various ways, Russian educational institutions could open their doors to the growing number of African elites, estimated at 380 million, almost the same size as the United States and double the population size of Russia. As part of the renewed interest in Africa, Russia can work on opportunities and diverse ways to increase the number of students, especially tuition paying agreements, most possibly on subsidized forms, for children of the growing elite families and middle-class from African countries in Russian universities.

The system of higher education has always been and remains a powerful intellectual resource, generating new ideas and – this is what it was designed for, of course – to offer systematic training of labour for all areas of life in society. This serves as an investment into the achievement of the main target – training professionals who are in demand in the labour market.

With the youth’s education, experts are very critical. Gordey Yastrebov, a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne (Germany), argues in an email discussion with this article’s author that “education can be a tool for geopolitical influence in general, and for changing perceptions specifically, and Russia (just like any other country) could use it for that same purpose. However, Russia isn’t doing anything substantial on this front, at least there are only crawling efforts with obvious little outcomes. There are no large-scale investment programmes in education focusing on this.”

A series of credible reports from World University News explicitly show that Asian countries have become the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad with China being number one followed by the likes of India, Japan, Korea, and Israel, among others. For instance, India has also taken steps aimed at building a more practical partnership in many spheres of the continent. New Delhi has a new set of opportunities in human resources development, information technology and education.

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