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Russia’s Real Motives in Africa Causing Some to Worry—Gruzd

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Russia's Real Motives Steven Gruzd

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

As preparations are underway for the second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022, African leaders, politicians, academic researchers and experts have been discussing several aspects of the current state of Russia-Africa relations.

They, most often, compare it with a number of foreign countries notably China, the United States, the European Union, India, France, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea that have held such gatherings in that format with Africa.

Some have convincingly argued that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, as shown by the first symbolic Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi in October 2019.

Russia and Africa adopted a joint declaration, a comprehensive document that outlines the key objectives and necessary tasks that seek to raise assertively the entirety of relations to a new level.

Long before the summit, at least, during the past decade, several bilateral agreements between Russia and individual African countries were signed. Besides, memoranda of understanding, declaration of interests, pledges and promises dominated official speeches.

On the other side, Russia is simply invisible in economic sectors in Africa, despite boasting of decades-old solid relations with the continent.

Undoubtedly, Africa is opening up new fields of opportunity. The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides a unique and valuable opportunity for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people with a GDP of over $2.5 trillion. It aspires to connect all the regions of Africa, deepen economic integration and boost intra-African trade and investment.

Despite existing risks, challenges and threats, a number of external countries continue strengthening their economic footholds in Africa and contribute enormously towards the continent’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Russia has 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.

In this exclusive interview, Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), discusses a few questions, highlights existing challenges and passionately offers some progressive suggestions regarding Russia-African relations and the fears over Russia’s real motives in Africa.

Steven Gruzd also heads the Russia-Africa Research Programme initiated this 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. Here are the interview excerpts:

What are your appreciations and fears for Russia returning to Africa?

Africa is becoming crowded, with many old and new actors actively involved on the continent. Apart from EU countries, China and the US, we have players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others.

So, Russia’s renewed interest in Africa does not happen in isolation. It, of course, seeks to build on Soviet-era ties, and several African leaders today studied in the USSR or the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia has tended to focus on niche areas such as weapons sales, nuclear energy and resource extraction, at a much smaller scale than China.

Many leaders are welcoming the attention of Russia, but some remain wary of Russia’s hidden motives and intentions. Russia’s dealings are not transparent and open compared to China. The shadowy world of private military companies such as Russia’s Wagner Group is causing concern in unstable countries like the CAR, Libya and Mali. So, in fact, there is a kind of mixed picture, sentiments and interpretations are also varied here.

How would you argue that Russia engages fairly in “competition for cooperation” in Africa?

Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players operating. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts. Russia welcomes diplomatic support from African countries, and unlike the West, it does not demand good governance or advocate for human rights reforms.

Russia likes to portray itself as not interfering in local politics or judging African countries, even though there is mounting evidence that it has been involved in meddling in elections in Africa through disinformation, fake news and attempting to exploit fault lines in societies through social media.

Do you think, to some extent, Russia is fighting neo-colonial tendencies, as shown in Guinea, Mali, CAR and Sudan? Does it imply that Russia supports military leaders in Africa?

Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests especially in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel.

Russia has invested resources in developing French-language news media, and engages in anti-French media activity, including through social media. I think Russia has its own economic and political interests in countries like Guinea, Mali, CAR and Sudan, even if it uses the language of fighting neo-colonialism. It explicitly appears that Russia supports several undemocratic African leaders and their regimes.

Some experts have argued that Russia’s diplomacy is full of bilateral agreements, largely not implemented, and gamut of pledges and promises. What are your views about these?

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 materialised on the ground. There is more talk than action, and in most cases down the years mere intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late 2022.

From the above discussions so far, what do you think are Russia’s challenges and setbacks in Africa?

Africa is a crowded playing field. Russia does not have the same resources and approaches as China, France, UK or US, so it has limited impact. The language barrier could be used as an excuse, but Russia has the great possibility to leverage into the Soviet- and Russian-trained diaspora. On the other hand, Russia feels it is unfairly portrayed in Western media, so that is another perception it seeks to change. It can change the perception by supporting public outreach programmes.

Working closely with the academic community, such as the South African Institute of International Affairs and similar ones throughout Africa, is one potential instrument to raise its public image. In places like Mozambique and the CAR, the Wagner Group left after incurring human losses – does Russia have staying power?

As it prepares to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, what could be the expectations for Africa? What to do ultimately with the first Joint Declaration from Sochi?

As already mentioned, there needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It is worth reiterating here that African countries will expect more debt relief and solid investment from Russian businesses.

In terms of political support at places like the UN Security Council, there is close interaction between Russia and the African States, but as recent research by SAIIA shows, not as much as assumed. (https://saiia.org.za/research/walking-with-the-bear-russia-and-the-a3-in-the-un-security-council/). The relationship has to however deliver and move from words to deeds.

In conclusion, I would suggest that Russia has to take up both the challenges and unique opportunities and attempt to scale up its influence by working consistently on practical multifaceted sustainable development issues and by maintaining appreciable relations with Africa.

On the other side, African countries likewise have to devise viable strategies for engaging with Russia.

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Africa Gets Just 12% of Climate Change Financing

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Climate Change

By Adedapo Adesanya

A new report from Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) has said that Africa is getting just 12 per cent of the finance it needs to manage the impact of climate change.

It, however, raised pressure on rich nations to do more in the run-up to global climate talks at COP27 in November.

CPI said that around $250 billion is needed annually to help African countries move to greener technologies and adapt to the effects of climate change, yet funding in 2020 was just $29.5 billion.

Wealthy countries have faced growing criticism for failing to meet a pledge made in 2009 to provide $100 billion annually to help poorer countries and the issue is likely to be central to discussions at the COP27 climate talks in Egypt.

According to the International Energy Agency, Africa has about a fifth of the world’s population but produces less than 3 per cent of its carbon dioxide emissions.

“Harnessing climate investment opportunities in Africa will require innovation in financing structures and strategic deployment of public capital to ‘crowd-in’ private investment at levels not yet seen,” the CPI report said.

It cited a lack of skills, infrastructure, data and financial markets depth, governance issues, and currency risks as holding back climate investment to varying degrees in African countries.

The barriers were most numerous in central African countries, where infrastructure and access to credit are lacking and there are high risks of political and regulatory issues hampering investment, the report said.

“While these barriers are real, the perception of risk linked to investments in the African continent is often aggravated by a limited understanding of national contexts by private investors,” it said.

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Australia Begins Process to Introduce Central Bank Digital Currency

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australia central bank digital currency

By Adedapo Adesanya

As more countries gravitate towards a digital currency, Australia joined the cadre as it announced the beginning of a collaborative effort to review the case for a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in the country.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Treasury, and other agencies will oversee the research effort designed to explore the potential economic benefits of introducing such a currency in Australia, the RBA said in a statement Tuesday. The project is expected to run for about a year.

Speaking on this, the RBA’s Deputy Governor Michele Bullock said the work “is an important next step in our research on CBDC. We are looking forward to engaging with a wide range of industry participants to better understand the potential benefits a CBDC could bring to Australia.”

The central bank reiterated the research comes in the context of Australia already having “relatively modern and well-functioning payment and settlement systems.”

The RBA is collaborating with the Digital Finance Cooperative Research Centre in the project, while Treasury is participating as a member of the steering committee. The work will involve the development of a “limited-scale pilot that will operate in a ringfenced environment for a period of time.”

Over the course of the next 12 months, interested industry participants will be invited to develop specific use cases that demonstrate how the digital currency could be used to provide innovative and value-added payment and settlement services to households and businesses, the RBA added.

A report on the findings, including an assessment of the various use cases developed, will be published at the conclusion.

Central banks worldwide are acting swiftly to ensure they don’t fall behind as money edges toward its biggest reinvention in centuries with alternative concepts like cryptocurrencies taking hold.

Nigeria is one of the countries at the forefront of a CBDC with the introduction of the eNaira in 2021 with the Digital Euro still under investigation phase while Jamaica began its own testing phase in May. China’s Digital Yuan has been in testing since 2020.

Blockchain technology, as well as events like the coronavirus pandemic, are among the forces pushing consumers to go cashless.

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Mozambique Risks Economic Stability Over Russian Oil

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Mozambique Risks Economic Stability

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

Mozambique risks destabilizing its economy and further losing western development finance if it goes ahead to purchase sanctioned oil from Russia.

With the return of western development finance institutions such International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the USAID, and currently showing tremendous support for sustainable development projects and programmes, Mozambique would have to stay focused and stay clear of the complexities and contradictions of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Mozambique needs to seriously concentrate on and pursue its plans of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), extracted from the Coral South field, off the coast of Palma district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, possibly starting this October. It marks an economic turning point and opens a new chapter for its revenue sources.

According to our research, Mozambique will become the first country in East Africa to export LNG. It will be produced on a floating platform, belonging to a consortium led by the Italian energy company, Eni. The platform, built in a Korean shipyard, arrived in Mozambican waters in January and is now anchored in Area Four of the Rovuma Basin, some 40 kilometres from the mainland.

This is the first deep-water platform in the world to operate at a water depth of about two thousand meters. The Coral South project is expected to produce 3.4 million tons of LNG per year over its estimated 25-year lifespan.

A second project is planned for Area One of the Rovuma Basin, where the operator is the French company TotalEnergies. The planned LNG plants for this project, are onshore, in the Afungi Peninsula of the Palma district. The jihadists seized Palma town in March 2021, and TotalEnergies withdrew all of its staff from the district. Subsequently, the Mozambican defence and security forces and their Rwandan allies drove the terrorists out of both Palma and the neighbouring district of Mocimboa da Praia.

The current global economic situation is changing, and competition and rivalry for markets are also at their height. During the past months, Russia has cut its export of gas as a reciprocal action against European Union members and has redirected its search for new clients in the Asian region. It has already offered discounted prices to China and India, and now looking beyond Africa.

United States Special Envoy to the United Nations, Thomas-Greenfield, has made one point clear in her speeches with African leaders that “African nations are free to buy grain from Russia but could face consequences if they trade in U.S.-sanctioned commodities such as oil from Russia.”

“Countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizer and wheat,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. But she added that “if a country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions. We caution countries not to break those sanctions because then … they stand the chance of having actions taken against them.”

Russian Ambassador to Mozambique, Alexander Surikov, after a meeting with the Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique (CTA), had proposed that the Mozambican authorities could buy Russian oil in roubles after Moscow presented the option to Maputo. Ambassador Surikov further expressed Russian companies’ continuing interest in investing in Mozambique. Likewise, the possibility was raised of Russia opening a bank in Mozambique focused on supporting bilateral trade and investment.

Russia previously had a VTB bank in Maputo, later involved in opaque deals. It was a financial scandal involving three fraudulent security-linked companies, and two banks – Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia, relating to illicit loan guarantees issued by the government under former President Armando Guebuza. Until today, it is popularly referred to as the “Hidden Debts” scandal involving US$2.7 billion (€2.3 million), the financial scandal that happened in 2013.

In the aftermath, financial institutions exited, projects were abandoned and this southern African country has struggled to rebound economically. Now they are returning with new financial assistance programmes that would promote sustainable and inclusive growth and long-term macroeconomic stability.

In the context of the current cereal crisis, one other issue that the ambassador raised was how Mozambican companies could have direct access to Russian wheat suppliers. In this regard, it was not clear how Russian wheat would enter the market and how it would be paid for because Mozambique uses principally the US dollar in its foreign transactions, and Russia cannot conduct transactions using the US currency due to the sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine.

“The rouble and the medical are worthy currencies that do not need the benevolence of some other countries that control the international system,” the Russian diplomat explained, adding that Moscow wanted to strengthen cooperation with Maputo.

Nonetheless, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy of Mozambique, Carlos Zacarias, admittedly the possibility of buying Russian oil in roubles. “I am sure that we will study and verify the feasibility of this offer from Russia. If it is viable, for sure Russian oil will be acquired in roubles,” Carlos Zacarias said.

Mozambique’s receptivity to the Russian proposal stems from the fact that the world is experiencing a peculiar moment, characterized by great volatility in oil prices on the international market as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Mozambique was among the countries that abstained on two resolutions that were voted on by the General Assembly of the United Nations, one condemning Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine as a consequence of the war and the other suspending Moscow from the Human Rights Council.

The Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo, the ruling party) was an ally of Moscow during the time of the former USSR and received military support during the struggle against Portuguese colonialism and economic aid after independence in 1975.

Mozambique and Russia have admirable political relations. Mozambique has to focus on trade and economic development with external partners. According to data provided by CTA, the annual volume of economic transactions between Mozambique and Russia is estimated to be, at least, US$100 million (€98.5 million at current exchange rates).

Experts aptly point to the fact that there is a tremendous opportunity window for Mozambique. With partners including ExxonMobil Corp., China National Petroleum Corp. and Mozambican state-owned Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos, Mozambique has to move towards its own energy development. These past few years, experts have also reiterated adopting a suitable mechanism, mapping out strategies and utilizing financial support for sustainable development.

Mozambique has considerable gas resources and the right decision is to move toward both an onshore concept and an offshore concept. The ultimate goal has to establish connectivity between its resource exploration and national development. The idea is to foster economic relations based on its domestic development priorities. And consequently, it has to determine influential external investment partners ready to invest funds and, in practical terms, committed to supporting sustainable development in the country.

The Mozambique LNG offshore project, valued at around $20 billion, aims to extract about 13.12 million tonnes of recoverable gas over 25 years and generate profits of US$60.8 billion, half of which will go to the Mozambican state.

The process to achieve this task has started and would generate 14,000 possible jobs in phases – first creating 5,000 jobs for Mozambicans in the construction phase and 1,200 in the operational phase, with a plan to train 2,500 technicians and so forth. These projects also have a great capacity to create indirect jobs, with foreign labour decreasing throughout the project and Mozambican labour increasing. Most of these jobs are expected to be provided by contractors and subcontractors.

Several corporate projects came to a halt due to armed insurgency in 2017 in Cabo Delgado province. The entry of foreign troops to support Mozambican forces in mid-2021 has improved the security situation. Since July 2021, an offensive by government troops was fixed, with the support of Rwandans and later by the Standby Joint Force consisting of forces from members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Cabo Delgado province, located in northern Mozambique, is rich in natural gas. Although the gas from the three projects approved so far has a destination, Mozambique has proven reserves of over 180 trillion cubic feet, according to data from the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy. With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with natural resources. It is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.

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