By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has held substantive and productive diplomatic talks with his counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Sierra Leone, David John Francis, during his first foreign visit in his new post to Moscow, Russia.
According to official reports, David Francis has visited the Russian Federation, and last participated in the first Russia-Africa summit in October 2019. His mid-May visit was to find ways to expand relations forward between Russia and Sierra Leone, the country that marked its 60th independence on April 27.
Historically, the Soviet Union and now Russia has had good relations with Sierra Leone. Diplomatic relations between Russia and Sierra Leone will be 60 years, precisely in January 2022.
While in Moscow, Minister David Francis interacted with Russian businesspeople – those who are already working in Sierra Leone and those who plan to invest in this promising economy. He met with representatives of the academic community and NGOs engaged in relations with Africa.
He had a meeting at the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry and with Sierra Leone students studying at RUDN University. This university established in 1960, the most popular among foreigners, is one of the leading state higher educational institutions. Russia continues to provide assistance in this area of education and training through higher education grants each year.
Russia and Sierra Leone signed an intergovernmental agreement on visa-free travel for diplomatic passport holders. Lavrov and Francis touched upon the possibility of opening a Russian embassy in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone.
Russia and Sierra Leone, both however want to lift trade, economic and investment cooperation to the level of political dialogue. So far, achievements in trade have been modest, or best to describe it as very tiny.
Russia is now eyeing prospects offered by mutually beneficial projects in mining, the fuel and energy complex, infrastructure, and fishing. Sierra Leone has untapped natural resources, especially diamonds. It is among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, is also a major producer of gold, and has one of the world’s largest deposits of rutile.
With this in mind, Minister Lavrov emphasized this point during their joint media conference – “We will continue our discussions to ensure that Russian businesses enjoy a favourable working environment in Sierra Leone. D J Francis reaffirmed that this matter will be on his list of priorities.”
Both Ministers stressed the continuation of the Working Group on Energy, which was created following President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio’s attendance at the Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi in 2019. The group has already held its first meeting. This year, its second meeting is tentatively planned.
On the general situation in Africa, Lavrov and Francis understandably noted a clear position that there should always be an “African solution to African problems” and that “all external actors must create the best conditions for the African countries, their sub-regional organizations and the African Union to draft common solutions on overcoming crises in the most effective way.”
“We share Sierra Leone’s approach to the current situations in the Sahara-Sahel Region and West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Central African Republic. As a permanent UN Security Council member and a friend of Africa, Russia will contribute to the strengthening of regional security and stability by supporting, let me emphasize this again, the efforts of the African countries themselves,” reaffirmed Lavrov.
In addition, Lavrov described the measures taken by the Russian Federation to implement the summit’s agreements and create systematic, permanent mechanisms for cooperation through political dialogue and encouraging economic and investment cooperation.
In the end, the parties thoroughly discuss cooperation between Russia and African countries in light of preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit. With high hope and expectation that President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, who attended the first summit, will also take part in the second Russia-Africa summit planned to take place in 2022.
Corporate Council on Africa And The Preparation of Botswana for 15th US-Africa Business Summit
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), the leading US business association that focuses solely on connecting business interests between the United States and Africa, has indicated its strong commitment towards holding the 15th US-Africa Business Summit (USABS) in July in Gaborone, Botswana.
The 15th USABS theme Enhancing Africa’s Value in Global Value Chains will highlight multi-dimensional issues that were heavily discussed during the business forum held on the second day of the US-Africa leaders’ summit in Washington. The decision was taken during the last US-African leaders gathering held under the chairmanship of President Joe Biden. The primary aim is to strengthen and broaden bilateral business and investment across Africa.
During that mid-December meeting, President Biden announced more than $55 billion in new US government programs to support trade, investment and development in Africa, along with more than $15 billion in new trade and investment deals made by private sector companies that were in attendance.
The Corporate Council on Africa said that the Gaborone business event would bring together a number of African heads of state, senior US and African government officials, and top CEOs and senior business executives from the US and Africa, spanning major business sectors that are critical to the continent’s development. These include infrastructure, ICT/digital, health, energy, mining, agriculture, consumer goods, finance, tourism and creative industries.
In order to set the ball rolling, Corporate Council on Africa President and CEO, Florizelle Liser, had an official working program in Gaborone, the Republic of Botswana. During the early February working visit, Florizelle Liser held talks with Mokgweetsi Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, and other key officials of the relevant ministries in Gaborone, where she was given the highest assurance of mobilizing the ministries and working collaboratively with CCA.
Florizelle Liser, with Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Mmusi Kgafela, agreed that the summit would be held July 11-14 in Gaborone, which will attempt to highlight various opportunities for greater collaboration between the US and African private sector. It will also build on and advance those earlier discussions further on deepening US-Africa economic engagement and business ties.
According to Florizelle Liser, the US-Africa Business Summit is an important platform and opportunity to bring together again US and African government and private sector leaders to grow US-Africa trade, business, and mutually beneficial gains for the people and businesses of both the United States and Africa.
Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Mmusi Kgafela said the business gathering would herald a new era of two-way trade and investment between Africa and the United States.
“We welcome U.S. private sector businesses to drive investment and technology that can enhance Africa’s role in key global value chains, create jobs, and spur economic growth here in Botswana and across the continent,” he underlined in remarks.
Welcoming African entrepreneurs, African-American and African leaders for a reception last December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was guided by the principle of close partnership with Africa. “We can’t solve any of the really big challenges we face if we don’t work together. So, it’s about what we can do with African countries and its people and the United States,” Blinken said.
That, however, the Gaborone high-level business dialogue and interaction will set the scene for reviewing the multi-dimensional opportunities both in public and private sectors, how to strengthen the economic partnership and work on large-scale investments in key sectors for the United States and Africa. The United States investors are prepared to adjust their initiatives and pursue agreements that go beyond African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
In terms of broadening trade and economic cooperation, according to sources, the potential American investors would examine ways for exploring and leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
AfCFTA aims to create a single market with an estimated population of 1.3 billion and ultimately requires all kinds of business services and consumable products. Quite challenging, though there are new legislations that stipulate localizing production and distribution inside Africa.
The United States government and private sector leaders, together with African political and corporate business leaders, have been consistently working over these years to share insights on critical issues and policies influencing the US-Africa economic partnership. The forthcoming summit will drive billions of dollars of investment in Africa, build new markets for American products and create thousands of jobs for African and American workers.
The 14th US-Africa Business Summit from July 19 – 22 under the theme ‘Building Forward Together’ was held in Marrakech (Morocco) in partnership with the Kingdom of Morocco and Africa50 (the pan-African infrastructure investment platform). The three-day summit included plenaries and panel sessions highlighting key economic recovery strategies and focused on a range of sectors and issues, including health and vaccine access, trade, digital transformation, infrastructure, financing, small and medium-scale enterprises, tourism, women’s leadership and investment opportunities in various African countries.
The Corporate Council on Africa was extremely grateful for the excellent partnership of the Kingdom of Morocco as the summit host and partner, Africa50, as well as summit sponsors including Royal Air Maroc (the summit official airline), Axxess, Jean Boulle Group, Pfizer, Visa, USP, Amazon, Gilead, Trimble, IHS Towers, Trade and Development Bank, Acrow Bridge, Trinity Energy, Citi, Flutterwave Inc., P&G, DLA Piper LLP, Attijariwafa Bank, Maroc Telecom, Creative Associates, Google, CrossBoundary and Frontier Bridge.
Corporate Council on Africa uniquely represents a broad cross-section of member companies, from small and medium-sized businesses to multinationals as well as US and African firms.
As a further major step to strengthen relations, it will be working on comprehensive programs, concrete initiatives and various investment projects in Africa. The White House looks to use the existing opportunities to deepen as many partnerships as possible and to build confidence with Africa ultimately.
Congolese Leader Patrice Lumumba Back to Russian University
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
The Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing for the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July 2023. At the Russian Foreign Ministry, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov, has held a special meeting with the heads of diplomatic missions of African states accredited in Moscow.
Bogdanov briefed them on the preparations for the summit, as well as the second International Parliamentary Conference “Russia – Africa” planned for March.
Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Alexander Babakov and Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky made presentations on the concept of the second Russia-Africa International Parliamentary Conference. It was noted that the parliamentary event is regarded as an important stage in preparation for the Russia-Africa summit.
Representatives of the leadership of the Roscongress Foundation, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the Department of State Protocol of the Russian Foreign Ministry took part in the discussion and discussed the entire range of issues related to the organization of the second Russia-Africa summit.
The African diplomatic corps got acquainted with the architecture of the program of upcoming events, as well as with the organizational and protocol aspects of the stay in St. Petersburg of the heads of state and government of African countries and the leaders of leading regional organizations and inter-African associations.
The heads of African diplomatic missions expressed a consolidated position in support of the speedy restoration of the name of Patrice Lumumba in the name of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. In February 1961, the university was named Patrice Lumumba University after the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, who had been killed in a coup that January.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the name of the Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba, was removed, and now authorities are attempting to fix back to influence African leaders to the forthcoming summit.
Established in 1960, it primarily provides higher education to Third World students during the Soviet days. Many students, especially from developing countries, still come to this popular university from Latin America, Asia and Africa. It is Russia’s most multidisciplinary university, which boasts the largest number of foreign students and offers various academic disciplines.
In a related development, on January 30, Ambassador-at-Large, Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov also held talks with Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister for African Integration Ashraf Sweilim as part of his trip to Cairo, Egypt.
Ozerov emphasized the significant contribution of Egypt, which co-chaired the first such summit in 2019, to the development of this format for the coordination of actions and comprehensive cooperation. The progressive build-up of Russia’s economic ties with the African continent, where a significant role in cooperation was played by Egypt, was noted.
A thorough exchange of views took place on the current state of Russian-Egyptian relations and the prospects for strengthening cooperation, including within the framework of joint activities under the auspices of the African Union and the League of Arab States. The second Russia-Africa summit will be held July 26-29 in St. Petersburg, the second-largest city in the Russian Federation.
Russia’s Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward and Limited Impact
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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