By Kester Kenn Klomegah
As the United States and the European Union (EU) tighten their sanctions on Russia due to special military operation, demilitarization and denazification in Ukraine, Russians are now looking to diversify both exports and imports in Africa’s direction.
After the first summit held in 2019 in Sochi where so many pledges were incorporated in a joint declaration, but have not been given serious attention as expected.
Russia and Ukraine share a common border, both are former Soviet republics struggling to move onto the global stage. Russia was angered because of Ukraine’s ambition to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU.
With the conflict that began February 24, and amid Western and European sanctions, Russia plans to expand its network of trade missions in Africa, according to Vladimir Padalko, Vice President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
State support and business facilitation have been on the agenda these several years and was exhaustively discussed during the panel session in Sochi. However, in early March, a special meeting was held to discuss and re-examine possible support for Russian enterprises and organizations in entering the African market.
“During the meeting, the participants voiced a proposal to expand the network of trade missions in Africa in the countries, which are a priority for trade. It was agreed that the Industry and Trade Ministry would work on this issue together with the Foreign Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry,” Padalko said.
According to official reports, the popular Russian perception is that Africa is a promising market for Russia and information data obtained from the Industry and Trade Ministry, Russia has only four trade missions in Africa – in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. In addition, several interviews and research indicated that the Russian expert community advocates for strengthening business relations with Africa, and for example see fruits, tea, coffee from the EU countries can be replaced with products from African countries.
Deputy Director of the Department of Asia, Africa and Latin America of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, Alexander Dianov, spoke about the non-financial support measures for Russian companies operating within the department.
On the other hand, he said: “There are trade missions only in four African countries, and if you take sub-Saharan African countries, the trade mission operates effectively only in South Africa. It is obvious that there is something to work on in terms of developing the infrastructure to support Russian businesses. If there is a serious request from the business community, we are ready to expand the geography of our presence.”
Senator Igor Morozov, Head of the Coordinating Committee on Developing Economic Cooperation with Africa (AfroCom), a business lobbying group established back in 2009, expressed his views posted to the website: “It is impossible to grow the national economy without developing new markets. Only more than 20 companies are working on raw materials projects in different parts of the continent, there are traditional deliveries through the military-technical cooperation, export of grain, mineral fertilizers, oil products with a total turnover of $17 billion (2020)!”
Morozov argued that “it is necessary to involve large-scale involvement of small and medium-sized businesses from the Russian regions in the African direction. It is necessary to reconsider the entire range of the export potential of the regional economy: the transport industry, agricultural machinery and units, mechanical engineering and navigation equipment, the mining sector, water treatment, and information technology.”
Africa is one of the most promising and fastest-growing regions of the world, with leading powers, actively competing with one another, the Senator frankly acknowledged, and added that there is nothing surprising in the fact that the European Union is increasing its trade turnover with African countries, and it amounts to more than US$300 billion a year. For instance, the United States, implementing the Prosper Africa Programme, continues to push American investments and high-tech products to priority African markets.
In this regard, in order to promote Russian goods, it is necessary to create conditions that would be competitive for exporters. It is obvious that the Russian Export Center (REC) does not have a direct investment fund in the system of financing African projects. Successful practice in Africa clearly demonstrates the widespread use of such funds by China, India, France and many other players.
Russian Export Center says the market is potentially the largest, Africa – is the continent of the future, but currently, the demand is generally limited. Speaking about Africa, we need to distinguish the countries of the continent into two groups: the northern and southern parts.
“We note an increase in the number of requests to find a Russian supplier from sub-Saharan Africa. Companies from such countries as South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Benin are most interested in increasing imports. We frequently receive requests to search for suppliers in such industries as mineral fertilizers, food products and the rest,” explains an official from the Russian Export Center.
The Maghreb region is an important gateway to Europe and to sub-Saharan Africa. In the past few years, Russian companies have taken active steps to increase both imports and exports of agricultural products. Morocco has been delivering fruit in the Russian market.
In such a Russia-Ukraine paradigm, Russian enterprises and importers still need to understand a set of priority problems and barriers, especially now when showing searching for alternatives for European suppliers, and interested in establishing stable long-term with African partners.
Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), has questioned whether Russia has a long-term strategy in there. “Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa. Now at this critical time, Russians have to decide what they can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market in exchange for needed importable consumables,” she underscored.
In an interview discussion for this article, Dr Chtatou Mohamed, a senior professor of Middle Eastern politics at the International University of Rabat, emphasized that, on the geo-economic level, the five Arab countries present themselves as an unavoidable interface to enter the African continent, these are rich in raw materials and present as the great consumer market.
“While the context between Russia and Western countries is highly troubling, and characterized in particular by a regime of sanctions and counter-sanctions, it is to better serve the interests of their peoples and find solutions by exploiting the opportunities. Moscow has more room for turn round export-import business with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa,” he pointed out.
Currently, the geopolitical relations of most Mediterranean Arab countries with Russia are good, even for those who were allies of the United States during the period of world bipolarity along the years of the Cold War (the case of Egypt and Morocco).
Members of African diplomatic missions informed the greatly unrealized potential of cooperation between Russia and African countries, and interest in attracting investments in agro-industry infrastructure, education and many other sectors, and unreservedly called for a wider interaction between African business circles and Russian businesses.
During the early March discussion, the participants mentioned high import duties, complicated certification procedures, high cost of products, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and information vacuum as some of the barriers to Russian-African trade and economic cooperation. As always, the participants agreed on the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for Russia to work with Africa.
Indeed, Russia is already one of the ten largest food suppliers to Africa. Removing barriers could help export-import collaboration reach an entirely new level. Russian and African business communities lack awareness regarding the current state of markets, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. These issues swiftly have to be solved through establishing an effective system of communication to guarantee their reliability and integrity between public business associations in Russia and Africa.
In the meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered to restrict or prohibit import and export of certain products and raw materials from Russia in 2022, according to the decree on special foreign economic measures aimed to ensure Russia’s security.
“Ensure implementation of the following special economic measures until December 31, 2022: export and import ban of products and/or raw materials in accordance with lists to be defined by the government of the Russian Federation,” the document says, adding that a separate list will define goods, whose export and import will be restricted. The decree becomes necessary in order to ensure Russia’s security and uninterrupted operation of agriculture and industry.
According to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the preparations for the Russia-Africa summit are in the active stage. The dates of the summit have not been determined yet. The first Russia-Africa summit took place in October 2019, and it was co-chaired by Russian and Egyptian Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The next summit is scheduled for autumn 2022.
100 million People Displaced in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Others—UNHCR
By Adedapo Adesanya
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has disclosed that the Ukraine war and other conflicts have forced about 100 million people to flee to safety.
According to UNHCROpens in a new window report, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide rose to 90 million by the end of 2021, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
So far in 2022, the war in Ukraine has displaced 8 million within the country this year and forced around 6 million to leave the nation.
Speaking on this, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi said, “One hundred million is a stark figure — sobering and alarming in equal measure. It’s a record that should never have been set.
“This must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution, and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.”
By calculation, the 100 million people forcibly displaced worldwide represents one per cent of the global population and is equivalent to the 14th most populous country in the world.
The number includes refugees and asylum seekers as well as the 53.2 million people displaced inside their borders by conflict.
Speaking further, Mr Grandi added, “The international response to people fleeing war in Ukraine has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Compassion is alive, and we need a similar mobilization for all crises around the world. But ultimately, humanitarian aid is a palliative, not a cure.”
He then called for peace and stability to ensure that the number doesn’t grow any further in the coming years.
“To reverse this trend, the only answer is peace and stability so that innocent people are not forced to gamble between acute danger at home or precarious flight and exile.”
Last week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) informed that a record 59.1 million people were displaced within their homelands last year, four million more than in 2020.
Conflict and violence triggered 14.4 million internal displacements in 2021, a nearly 50 per cent increase over the previous year.
Meanwhile, weather-related events such as floods, storms and cyclones resulted in some 23.7 million internal displacements in 2021, mainly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Russia Reaffirms Readiness to Support Mali
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
After withdrawing from the Joint Military Force of the G5-Sahel group which the United Nations described as “unfortunate” and “regrettable” middle of May, Malian Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, made a snapshot visit, for the second time under the new military administration to Moscow, intended to review various aspects of strategic partnership deals with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“We paid special attention to the practical aspects of organizing deliveries from Russia of wheat, mineral fertilizers and petroleum products that are so much needed by the people of Mali today in conditions of illegitimate Western sanctions,” Lavrov said at a press conference after talks with Diop in Moscow.
The sound pace of military and military-technical contacts between the two countries was noted during the talks, according to Lavrov, and thanked his Malian counterpart for support for Russia’s resolutions at the latest session of the UN General Assembly. Lavrov made to explicit reference to the meeting of the UN Security Council the Western countries that consistently tried to “put their blame at Russia’s door” and to shirk responsibility for the food crisis.
“It goes without saying that we discussed the situation in Ukraine and around it, including the meeting of the UN Security Council devoted to world food security issues, where the Western countries tried to put their own blame at somebody else’s door. They argued that the crisis, which by and large is a result of their own efforts, allegedly stems from the crisis in Ukraine. Of course, they blamed it entirely on Russia,” Lavrov said.
Russia reaffirms its readiness to render Mali support in raising the fighting efficiency of its armed forces. “We reaffirmed Russia’s readiness as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to further contribute to normalizing the situation in Mali, render Bamako comprehensive support on a bilateral basis, in particular, in the sphere of raising the combat efficiency of the Malian armed forces, training troops and law-enforcement personnel,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
France’s decision together with Western allies to end the anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane and the European special forces mission Takuba does not contribute to restoring security in Mali and the entire Sahel region. Reports say France has approximately 5,100 troops in the region under Operation Barkhane, which spans five countries in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
With the final exit and the vacuum created by France, Russia now sees Mali as an excellent conduit to penetrate into the Sahel by pushing the much-criticized Wagner Group that organizes private military for countries in conflict. It is aggressively targeting the Sahel region, an elongated landlocked territory located between north Africa (Maghreb) and West Africa region, and also stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.
“There is an obvious danger of the emergence of enclaves of power vacuum where militants of various outlawed armed gangs will feel free at hand and they have already prepared for such acts. This threatens the country’s territorial integrity and we repeatedly told our French counterparts about that,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
On March 2 at the United Nations General Assembly, African representatives and their votes were considered very interesting, and have geopolitical implications for study and analysis. Some 17 African countries abstained from the vote at the UN General Assembly to deplore the Russian invasion of Ukraine while some other 28 countries in the continent voted in favour. Mali was among those that abstained from vote. Eritrea was the only African country that voted against the resolution. It opposes all forms of unilateral sanction as illegal and counterproductive.
“All our initiatives were supported by Mali. We agreed to enhance coordination on the UN platform and in other international organizations. We are determined to work for this in earnest, including in the recently created Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations,” Lavrov assured.
During his first official visit in November 2021 to Moscow, Abdoulaye Diop and Sergei Lavrov, in fact, focused on increasing bilateral cooperation in economic sectors. But particularly significant was Russia’s military assistance to strengthen the position of the new military government and to fight rising terrorism in the Sahel region.
As developments explicitly show, Mali already stands in isolation there as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the United Nations, and the bilateral and multilateral partners endorse and support the implementation of sanctions and other strict measures to ensure a peaceful return to constitutional and democratic government in Mali.
Mali, a landlocked West African state with an impoverished population, faces increasing isolation from the international community over the political power grab. Even as the African Union (AU), the continental organization, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc, both suspended the membership of Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, the ruling military officials are still holding onto political power by delaying the proposed elections in February 2022.
The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and foreign organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) have requested a quick transition to a civilian government. They further urged that efforts are taken to resolve outstanding issues relating to sustainable development and observing strictly principles of democracy in the Republic of Mali in West Africa.
Moscow is still planning to hold the second Russia-African summit. The “special military operation” approved by both the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) to “demilitarize and denazify” the former Soviet republic of Ukraine has pushed the United States and Canada, European Union members and many other external countries to impose sanctions against Russia.
AfDB Board Okays $1.5bn to Avert Food Crisis in Africa
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Board of Directors of the African Development Bank Groups (AfDB) on Friday approved a $1.5 billion facility to help African countries avert a looming food crisis.
With the disruption of food supplies arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa now faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans imported from both countries.
The Abidjan-based bank, among other institutions, has disclosed that African farmers urgently need high-quality seeds and inputs before the planting season begins in May to immediately boost food supplies.
The Abidjan based bank’s $1.5 billion African Emergency Food Production Facility is an unprecedented comprehensive initiative to support smallholder farmers in filling the food shortfall. It will provide 20 million African smallholder farmers with certified seeds.
Also, it will increase access to agricultural fertilizers and enable them to rapidly produce 38 million tons of food, which is about a $12 billion increase in food production in just two years.
The President of AfDB Group, Mr Akinwumi Adesina, said: “Food aid cannot feed Africa. Africa does not need bowls in hand. Africa needs seeds in the ground, and mechanical harvesters to harvest bountiful food produced locally. Africa will feed itself with pride for there is no dignity in begging for food.”
Also, the Vice President of AfDB for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Ms Beth Dunford, said, “The Africa Emergency Food Production Facility builds on lessons learned from the African Development Bank’s Feed Africa Response to COVID-19 programme. That programme has provided a strategic roadmap to support Africa’s agriculture sector and safeguard food security against the pandemic’s impact.”
The facility has benefited from stakeholder consultations, including those with fertilizer producers and separately with African Union agriculture and finance ministers earlier this month.
The ministers agreed to implement reforms to address the systemic hurdles that prevent modern input markets from performing effectively.
The bank’s $1.5 billion strategies will lead to the production of 11 million tons of wheat; 18 million tons of maize; 6 million tons of rice; and 2.5 million tons of soybeans.
The plan is to provide 20 million farmers with certified seeds, fertilizer, and extension services. It will also support market growth and post-harvest management.
Also, the bank will provide fertilizer to smallholder farmers across Africa over the next four farming seasons, using its convening influence with major fertilizer manufacturers, loan guarantees, and other financial instruments.
The facility will also create a platform to advocate for critical policy reforms to solve the structural issues that impede farmers from receiving modern inputs. This includes strengthening national institutions overseeing input markets.
It has a structure for working with multilateral development partners. This will ensure rapid alignment and implementation, enhanced reach, and effective impact and will increase technical preparedness and responsiveness.
In addition, it includes short, medium, and long-term measures to address both the urgent food crisis and the long-term sustainability and resilience of Africa’s food systems.
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