Russian and African Legislators Meet, What Next?
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
The Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Duma (the lower Chamber of Parliamentarians) have agreed to hold the next International Parliamentary Conference, “Russia – Africa”, in March. In several official reports, this International Parliamentary Conference was considered an important stage and integral part of the preparation for the Russia-Africa summit planned for late July.
Under the chairmanship of Boris Vyacheslavovich Gryzlov, the first Russia-Africa Inter-Parliamentary Conference and a special business forum with the theme “Russia – Africa: Horizons of Cooperation” was held on June 15 -17, 2010. The Federation Council and the State Duma still remember the final joint declaration made at the end of the gathering. Absolutely nothing was pursued, and nothing was achieved after that conference in 2010.
Significant change only appeared when Vyacheslav Volodin became the Chairman of the State Duma. The urgent revival of the idea to bring together African parliamentarians appeared on the political scene – a prelude to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019.
The State Duma then, with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, held a preparatory meeting to brainstorm for views and opinions for consolidating the future of Russia-Africa relations. The meeting was also aimed at preparing for the proposed Inter-Parliamentary Conference Russia-Africa planned in 2019.
Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma, stressed the importance of regular meetings to shape the future relations between Russia and Africa. “We have great expectations for the inter-parliamentary conference Russia-Africa which we are planning to hold in 2019. In our opinion, it will serve as a stimulus and initiate some processes aimed at the development of relations between our parliaments,” said the Chairman of the State Duma, opening that meeting in April 2019.
“We are going to provide support through the parliamentary dimension for the development of inter-parliamentary contacts in terms of the preparation of the Russia-Africa conference. It was initiated by President Vladimir Vladimirovich during the 10th Anniversary BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in July,” the Chairman of the State Duma emphasized.
During that time, it was believed that such a format would allow for productively discussing the agenda on intensifying relations, bringing together approaches on a number of issues and contributing to the preparation of the conference in the framework of agreements reached the level of heads of state. Still, various agreements are undelivered, as noted in the authoritative report titled ‘Situation Analytical Report’ complied by 25 policy experts headed by Professor Sergei Karaganov. That report was presented publicly in November 2021.
Leonid Slutskiy, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, expressed the hope that two-sided parliamentarians’ meetings would become regular and would be constantly held in Moscow. With the primary aim of creating the basis of long-term cooperation and the intention of supporting the steadily growing interest of Africans in geopolitical developments, Russia now plans to invite heads of African parliaments in March 2023 to Moscow.
The parliamentary platform could be used to exchange views on common problems and common issues for the African continent and the Russian Federation. In addition, as it is always noted and a standard approach, the line-up of speeches and presentations is full of anti-Western and anti-Europe confrontation instead of concentrating on development-oriented and business initiatives with African countries.
The State Duma, through constructive discussions with African parliamentarians, could possibly increase the efficiency of interaction on issues requiring joint decisions, including sustainable development, international security, environmental protection, fighting poverty and inequality and countering terrorism.
The State Duma has to outline Russia’s priorities for mutual cooperation and further offer useful comprehensive programmes, and proposals for cooperation with African countries, with the regional economic blocs and with the pan-African Union. The majority of African countries are currently looking to improve their economies and are consequently ready to welcome potential external investors with adequate investment funds, regards of political underpinnings. Understandably, geopolitical neutrality is a pragmatic approach for not dispelling potential genuine external players.
As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted in his speech delivered in July 2019 at a parliamentary forum held in the World Trade Center (WTC) overlooking the Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya in Moscow, the State Duma has to bring parliamentarians together for a common purpose of deliberating on the widest range of topical issues, such as global security, sustainable development, the fight against poverty and environmental problems.
Parliamentary diplomacy has to make significant and in-depth contributions to supporting trust and mutual understanding between countries in their search for compromises and balanced solutions to acute international problems, according to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
Interesting to note along these lines of our discussion that since that gathering in 2010, Russian and African parliamentarians have been interacting, mostly chatting over global and regional questions. Reports we have monitored show that many African legislators have visited Moscow. And in terms of reciprocity, Russian legislators have paid a number of working visits to Africa. That is highly commendable, but what African regions, what African countries and what were the results? What have been the achievements aside from raising collective voices against “neo-colonialism” and “hegemony” and further making numerous pledges and promises?
Concretely aiming at strengthening further mutual bilateral parliamentary relations, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko headed a group of Russian senators on a reciprocal visit from May 30 – June 01, 2022, to Maputo, Mozambique. The Chairperson of the Federation Council delivered speeches to the deputies of the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique and had a separate meeting with the Russia-Mozambique Parliamentary Friendship League.
She expressed satisfaction with the dynamic development of inter-parliamentary relations, the legal basis of which was the protocol on the development of inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Federation Council and the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique.
“Today, we will take a new important step towards strengthening the legal framework and sign a full-fledged agreement on inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Federation Council and the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique that meets modern realities. This will allow us to bring our inter-parliamentary contacts to a higher level and open up broad prospects for the exchange of experience in legislative activity,” Matviyenko emphasized.
In this context of bilateral economic cooperation, the Mozambican Head of State, however, expressed satisfaction with the openness that Russia has been showing high interest in expanding bilateral cooperation with Mozambique, especially in the economic and social sectors. Reports monitored from local Mozambican media as well as from both Russian and Mozambican government websites, indicated that Russia has still been looking for feasible and viable economic sectors to strengthen and broaden cooperation with Mozambique.
Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, during discussions with the Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi, referred to the need to increase trade between Russia and Mozambique, which amounted to approximately $109 million, and described trade figure as well below its potential. Senator Matvienko then invited the Mozambican government to identify more priority areas in which cooperation could be expanded if Mozambique so agrees on this significant assignment or policy task.
After the Soviet collapse and throughout these three decades (30 years) of Russia-Mozambique relations, Russia and Mozambique have been appropriately described as “reliable and time-tested” partners in Africa. Reviewing the evolutionary processes of bilateral relations, it is about time to highlight development projects undertaken or currently in progress. But for the Highly Respected Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, requesting the Mozambican government to identify priority areas for expansion of cooperation, especially at this time in their bilateral history, seems completely out of place. Completely out, especially during the meeting with the President of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi.
Long before the Russian delegation’s visit to Maputo, Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi was in Kremlin in August 2019, held business talks with President Vladimir Putin and then went on to deliver and answered several questions during a special business meeting with Russian entrepreneurs at the World Trade Center. According to several reports, there again bilateral agreements were signed between Moscow and Maputo.
Earlier during the month of February 2020, the Chairperson of the Federation Council (the Upper House or the Senate), Valentina Matviyenko, headed a delegation of legislators on a three-day working visit aimed at strengthening parliamentary diplomacy with Namibia and Zambia. This visit showed Russia’s overwhelming commitment to pursuing its strategic interests and supporting its African allies.
According to an official release from the Federation Council, the visit was within the broad framework mechanism of parliamentary consultations between Russia and African countries. The key focus was on political dialogue, economic partnership and humanitarian spheres with Namibia and Zambia. In Zambia, there was an in-depth discussion construction of a nuclear plant.
The Zambian Government hopes that upon commissioning of this project, excess power generated from this plant could be made available for export to neighbouring countries under the Southern African Development Community Power Pool framework arrangement.
Under the agreement that was concluded in December 2016 on the construction of the nuclear plant was estimated at $10 billion. The processes of design, feasibility study and approvals regarding the project concluded. Russia was unprepared to make financial commitments, and Zambia lacks adequate funds to finance the project.
Russia and Zambia would find options for financing nuclear science and technology in the African country, Chairperson of Federation Council Matvienko said at a meeting with Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu. “Now the start of the construction of a centre for nuclear science and technology has been suspended due to financial issues. I would like to say that the request submitted to the Russian president is being carefully considered by the ministries and departments. I’m confident that we will jointly find options to promote funding to roll out the construction of a centre for nuclear science and technology,” she reassured.
While the significance cannot be underestimated, it is also not worrisome that the trip, full of symbolism and promises, concluded without any new major policy announcement. On the other hand, it signals another bid by Moscow to boost relations with the southern African region. Without a doubt, both Namibia and Zambia still have full-fledged commitments to scaling up traditional diplomatic ties with the Russian Federation.
Despite its highly praised global status, Russia has still lagged far and far behind, in practical terms, in economic engagement in Africa. Moscow should begin to count its achievements in Africa rather than so loud on confrontation. This confrontation approach negatively impacts Africa’s dream of continental unity. Reports show that Africa is noticeably divided, and its “unity” largely seems unrealizable. Chinese have also emphasized that Africa is a field for “cooperation” and not for “confrontation” – this position has been reported in media over the world. Waging war on “neo-colonialism” should rather be actively demonstrating investment capabilities, especially in economic sectors in Africa.
For these few years, in strengthening and expanding relations with African parliaments et cetera, African representatives have, oftentimes, reminded that the relations between Russia and Africa have a long time-tested history, all that concerning Soviet-era assistance to Africa and lined up on the principles of equality and mutual respect and that Moscow supports the principle formulated by the African countries – “African solutions to African problems” – and yet Russia’s policy objectives seem far from the African Union Agenda 2063.
Cote d’Ivoire Launches Startup Act to Support Ecosystem
By Adedapo Adesanya
Nigeria’s West African neighbour, Cote d’Ivoire, may be the latest country in the African continent to get a Startup Act as the Ivorian government unveiled the framework designed to support the country’s most talented start-ups.
The journey began in 2018, and after much deliberations, in August 2021, startup ecosystem players gathered in the capital Yamoussoukro to develop a local law fostering startups in the West African country.
Two years later, the bill was approved by the Ivorian Council of Ministers, the country’s top executive decision-making body.
The bill, among other things, establishes the terms of financing and support for digital startups under Ivorian law. Its special goal is to support the development and sustainability of these vulnerable enterprises’ creative activity until they reach maturity in order to maximise their contribution to the transformation of the national economy and the quality of life of the people.
To give more weight and visibility to young innovative companies, Côte d’Ivoire announced a new legal framework. The Ivorian Startup Act, which is awaiting parliamentary approval, should soon bring a wind of change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Speaking on this recently following a meeting with stakeholders from Tunisia, the first African country to pass a Startup Act, Florence Tahiri Fadika, who is a technical advisor in charge of innovation and change at the country’s Ministry of Communication and the Digital Economy, said, “A meeting with our Tunisian counterparts during a benchmarking study at the end of 2022 accelerated the process. Tunisia is one of the first countries in Africa to have implemented a Startup Act. Their model is inspiring because it is very operational. The benchmarking mission, organized by the NTF V project, enabled us to benefit from Tunisia’s experience and to identify good practices.”
Following Tunisia’s model, the Ivorian Startup Act is driven by a strong political will and intends to bring concrete results.
“While waiting for the law to be officially voted by our assemblies, we are already working to make the Startup Act a tangible reality. The idea is not to copy the Tunisian legislation but to adapt it to the reality of our economy. A mapping study is underway and should enable us to precisely target the needs of our ecosystem,” Fadika said.
“At the same time, we are developing construction projects for new technology parks and start-up campuses,” she said. “Under the Startup Act, eligible start-ups will be able to benefit from state-of-the-art infrastructure and numerous amenities in order to succeed both regionally and internationally.”
The beneficiary start-ups will be able to access new opportunities in terms of training, financing, promotion, and access to public contracts and international markets.
When it becomes a law, the country will join Tunisia (April 2018), Senegal (December 2019), and Nigeria (October 2022) as African countries with startups backing the legislation.
Africa is Against Economic Colonization—Mudenda
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Parliamentarians from Russia and Africa discussed issues of development of economic cooperation during the first day of their conference March 19 to 20, in Moscow.
The objectives of the conference are to strengthen parliamentary cooperation with African countries in the conditions of formation of a multipolar world, to develop relations and develop common approaches to legal regulation in the economy, science and education and security.
Round table discussions on the topic “Legislative Response to Economic Challenges” was held as part of the International Parliamentary Conference Russia-Africa events.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Alexander Zhukov, stressed that Africa “is a rapidly developing region with great prospects and that Russia is currently actively working to enhance cooperation with the countries of the African continent.”
“Unlike many Western countries, Russia does not have colonial experience, and the contribution of the Soviet Union to the liberation of African countries from colonial dependence is also well known to everyone,” he explained.
“An important part of the cooperation should be the exchange of legislative experience with African countries in key areas,” he said.
“Our mutual economic interests include investments, cooperation within production chains, cooperation in strategic infrastructure projects, energy, medicine, financial technologies, and that, of course, along with the traditional supply of grain and fertilizers,” said the First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma.
Africa stands for an equal partnership
Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe, stressed that there should be a “specific approach” to provide a legislative response to economic challenges.
“Africa has resources, including those that cannot be found in other countries, even in developed ones. That is why Africa is the best investment option,” he said.
“Africa is against economic colonization; Africa stands for equal partnership,” said Jacob Mudenda.
Speaking about legislative issues, he said that the continent needed infrastructure and its development, such as road improvements, rail and air transport.
“If there is no infrastructure, it will be impossible to trade even with developed countries such as Russia and with Africa,” said the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
He also noted the necessity to develop the energy sector for industry and sufficient water for agriculture.
The Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy, Pavel Zavalny, said that signing intergovernmental agreements was an important tool of political support for enhancing energy cooperation between Russia and African countries.
He emphasized that energy was one of the most promising areas of economic cooperation between Russia and African states. Economic growth and energy demand are shifting to Asia and Africa in global economic and geopolitical transformation conditions.
“One of the tools for intensifying economic cooperation is political support. Currently, there have been established economic cooperation with 14 countries of the continent at the state level, there were created high-level bilateral commissions, and signed intergovernmental agreements,” stressed Zavalny.
“The development and harmonization of energy legislation can play an important role in enhancing mutually beneficial energy cooperation between Russia and African countries. And that is the work that we should do in the interests of our nations,” concluded the Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy.
Multipolar world instead of hegemony
Jean-François Buzonni, a deputy spokesman assistant for the Union of the Congolese Nation (Congo) political party, said he was very pleased that Russia had turned its attention to the African continent, “which for many years has been under the yoke of Western countries.”
“The world no longer lives under the hegemony of one country. We see the transformation processes of a multipolar world,” he stressed.
“I am glad that Russia is seeking to develop equal partnership relations with the countries of the region for the common benefit,” added Jean-François Buzonni.
Transition to national systems of settlement
According to Maxim Topilin, the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy, the sanctions and pressure that Russia is experiencing just prove that “any situation in which a country maintains its independent position can lead to the destruction of all economic ties.”
“That should be a lesson to us,” he added.
Topilin said that in relations between Russia and Africa, it is necessary to focus on national systems of settlement. “It is very important not to be based on those standard principles, use those currencies that we used in the framework of joint projects,” he said.
Topilin is convinced that for further cooperation between Russia and Africa, it is necessary to create new international organizations. “We should think about new supranational institutions for recognition, certification, and admission to the markets of certain goods. There is a lot of work that should be done,” said the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy.
Topilin also recalled that a draft law on Islamic banking was being prepared for the second reading, and members of the State Duma plan to adopt it during the spring session. “From the point of view of cooperation with Islamic countries, that definitely will be a very serious breakthrough in the financial strategy,” he added.
More than 40 parliamentary delegations from African countries arrived at the conference, which was also attended by members of the State Duma, senators of the Federation Council, and representatives of the educational and business community. The conference was held just a few months before the second Russia-Africa summit, which is planned to be held in July 2023 in Saint Petersburg.
Russian, African Parliamentarians Stand Against United States in Africa
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Russia and African parliamentarians continue forging solidarity against growing neo-colonial tendencies in Africa. The parliamentarians, far ahead of their symbolic gathering, have intensified political dialogue and support for Russia’s war on neighbouring Ukraine and further expressed readiness to support Africa’s economic development.
Russia has come under stringent economic sanctions from the United States and Europe due to the ‘special military operation’ that it began in February 2022, more than a year that has adversely affected Africa. It has also divided Africa’s voting at the United Nations, with some experts arguing that such sharp divisions, in terms of voting either for or against, abstaining or keeping neutral, could influence Africa’s unity in the continent.
Some policy experts still expect high symbolism at the 2023 Russia-Africa summit as official working visits have become more frequent and Africa receives greater coverage in Russian media. The experts say instead of measuring the success of the summit by African leaders’ attendance, as happened in 2019, the parties give greater attention to the substance of the agenda, which is under development. Russia should try to increase its presence in Africa while avoiding direct confrontation with other non-regional and foreign players.
According to the experts, Russia’s efforts, for now, are not practically showing tangible results. Russia has to open its doors more to African visitors and tourists; these could bring together anyone interested in expanding all-inclusive dialogue and anyone who is ready to help promote initiatives possibly for increasing socio-economic development between Russia and the African states and raising the well-being of their citizens.
That however, undeterred by the pressure from the United States ‘to cancel Russia’ in their relationship, African parliamentarians have arrived in Moscow for a two-day working gathering to methodically develop Russian-African relations in various fields. In addition, to the political dialogue, they are also focusing on economic, cultural, humanitarian and scientific cooperation.
According to the plan, Russian parliamentarians and African colleagues fixed topical issues of the international parliamentary agenda for discussions: parliamentary support of scientific and educational cooperation, a legislative response to economic challenges, indivisible security: capabilities and contributions of parliaments, and neocolonialism of the West: how to prevent the repetition of history.
On March 20, the main conference entitled “Russia-Africa in the multipolar world” at the State Duma (the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions). More than 40 official parliamentary delegations from almost all African countries have already arrived for the conference. Representatives of the scientific, educational and expert communities from Russia and African countries, members of the State Duma, federal executive authorities, senators of the Federation Council, and chairmen of the legislative bodies of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation.
There was a bilateral meeting of the Chairman of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin and the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, at the State Duma. The Speaker stressed that the Republic highly appreciated the dialogue with Russia.
Speaker Volodin noted that attempts by Washington and Brussels to isolate Africa and Russia have failed. He is convinced that the parliaments could do a lot for further development of relations on the principles of respect, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and mutually beneficial cooperation.
He stressed that relations between Russia and the Republic of South Africa were developing with the help of cooperation between the presidents of the two states. “We have great capabilities, and we should use the parliamentary dimension to do everything to enhance our cooperation in various areas,” added Volodin. He suggested preparing and signing a relevant agreement between the State Duma and the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa, as well as creating a high-level commission. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula supported his suggestion.
Mapisa-Nqakula thanked Vyacheslav Volodin for sending the invitation to take part in the Parliamentary Conference before adding “It is very important for us that Russia gives priority to the African continent. Many countries consider Africa as a great possibility to get African resources. But taking into account the history of our cooperation, we, like many other African countries, believe that Russia has other, more genuine interests in Africa.”
“Our cooperation started decades ago. And we felt your support in the worst times for us, during apartheid. We understand that now it is a difficult time for Russia as a country. But I would like to assure you that South Africa will continue cooperation and discuss areas of cooperation that are important for us. We look forward to its start,” said Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
The speakers also discussed issues of cooperation within the framework of the BRICS, as it is South Africa’s chairmanship. “For us, the cooperation between the parliaments within the BRICS framework is very important, as we can discuss issues of common interest,” emphasized the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Parliament of South Africa.
“Our Conference will be an important stage in the process of preparing for the second Russia-Africa summit, which is planned to be held in Saint Petersburg this summer with the participation of the heads of state,” concluded the Chairman of the State Duma.
According to reports monitored by this author, there are 17 specialized working groups that focus on various areas of cooperation between Russia and Africa. The expectation is that these working would come up with useful initiatives to be incorporated into an action plan for 2023-2026 and further cement the entire complex of relations between Russia and the African countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak at the Russia-Africa parliamentary conference on Monday, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters. “On March 20, when the president receives the Chinese leader, he will address the 2nd parliamentary conference Russia-Africa,” Ushakov, who heads the organizing committee of the summit, said, adding that the event would pave the way for the 2nd Russia-Africa summit, scheduled to take place from July 27-28 in St. Petersburg, second largest city of Russia.
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