Time to Clarify What African Leaders Want from Russia
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
From various interpretations, Russia is taking advantage of the past Soviet-era connections, Africa’s growing dissatisfaction and disappointment with the Western world, but its economic influence remains marginal compared to other key foreign players. Despite the fact that Western and European are experiencing falling influence, they are still far ahead of Russia, especially considering its global status. China is the main player in the continent.
Russia has sought to convince African leaders, the elites and the middle class over the past years of the likely dangers of neocolonial tendencies perpetrated by the former colonial masters and the scramble for resources on the continent. Obviously, Russia has taken the most difficult task, reminiscent of the Cold War, particularly in the 1980s when the East-West confrontation reached its heights, leading finally to the collapse of the Soviets in 1991.
Some international and African experts and even political leaders seriously argue that the best way to fight neocolonialism is to invest in order to jostle for economic influence. Russia has highly criticized foreign players, including the United States and European Union members. On the other side, Moscow believes that it is open to cooperation with everyone for mutual benefit, while it seemingly deepens differences there, which threatens African unity.
In practical terms, Russia’s policy largely has numerous setbacks and potholes, but officials have now begun acknowledging them step by step. The most common attitude is too loud noise on its dream, characterized by anti-Western confrontations, of return to Africa. Results from policy initiatives are relatively little, invisible across Africa. Russia’s approach brings only a few concrete results relating to badly needed economic development and its African partners.
Nevertheless, in trying to understand whether Russia is a developing development-oriented policy towards Africa, it is simply necessary to list development projects that it has undertaken and completed since the Soviet collapse. Russia hoped to be part of Europe and develop trade from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which has been the popular post-Soviet dream. It has even been reflected in foreign travels within the spectrum of its population. Moscow today is still not a popular destination for Africa’s 380 million middle class.
The first such summit was held in Sochi in October 2019 under the motto “For Peace, Security and Development,” which attracted a large number of African representatives. As Russia prepares to strengthen its overall corporate economic profile during the next African leaders’ summit in July 2023, many Russian policy experts are questioning bilateral agreements that were signed, many of them largely remained unimplemented, with various African countries.
At the prestigious Moscow-based Institute for African Studies, well-experienced policy researchers such as Professors Vladimir Shubin and Alexandra Arkhangelskaya have argued that Russia needs to be more strategic in aligning its interests and be more proactive with instruments and mechanisms in promoting economic cooperation in order to reap the benefits of a fully-fledged partnership.
“The most significant positive sign is that Russia has moved away from its low-key strategy to vigorous relations, and authorities are seriously showing readiness to compete with other foreign players. But, Russia needs to find a strategy that really reflects the practical interests of Russian business and African development needs,” said Arkhangelskaya, who is also a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics.
Currently, the signs for Russia-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, and a lot of important bilateral agreements have been signed – now, it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements entered into these years will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in an interview.
The revival of Russia-African relations has to be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russia-African relations have to be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.
It plans to hold the next African leaders’ summit in July, despite the fact that it has not implemented already signed 92 bilateral agreements and largely not delivered on its words concerning engagement in various economic sectors in African countries. There have been several development-oriented initiatives over these years without tangible results. Over the years, attempts have been made to understand Russia’s financial capabilities and inconsistent approach to implementing bilateral policy projects in Africa.
As expected, these weaknesses were compiled and incorporated in the Situation Analytical Report by 25 policy researchers headed by Professor Sergey Karaganov, Faculty Dean at Moscow’s High School of Economics. This 150-page report was presented in November 2021, which offers new directions and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa.
Another policy report titled ‘Ways to Increase the Efficiency of Russia’s African Strategy under the Crisis of the Existing World Order’ co-authored by Professors Irina O. Abramova and Leonid L. Fituni, castigated or reprimanded authorities who are squeezed between illusions and realities with policy ambitions in Africa. Against the backdrop of geopolitical changes and great power competition, Russian authorities really need to have an insight understanding into the practical investment and economic possibilities in the continent.
The authors said that “it is time for Russia, which over the past 30 years has unsuccessfully sought to become part of the West, to abandon illusions and reconsider its foreign economic and foreign policy strategy, reorienting itself to states that are turning from outsiders into significant players in the international political and economic space and are willing to interact with our country on a mutually beneficial and equal basis.“
In addition, the report underlined the fact that the Russian elite demonstrates a somewhat arrogant attitude towards Africa. High-ranking officials have often used the phrase ‘We (that is, Russia) are not Africa’ to oppose attempts to change the status quo to change the approach towards Africa. Despite the thoughtless imposition of the idea of Africa as the most backward and problematic region of the world in Russian public opinion, qualified Africanists, including Western experts, call Africa the continent of the 21st century, attributing this to the stable growth rates of the African economy over the past 20 years and the colossal resource and human potential of the African region.
The report acknowledges the fact that African countries consider Russia as a reliable economic partner, and it is necessary to interact with African public and private businesses on a mutually beneficial basis. In this regard, Russian initiatives should support by real steps and not be limited to verbal declarations about the “return of Russia to Africa,” especially after the Sochi gathering, which was described as very symbolic.
The authors, however, warned that due to the failure of the Russian side to show financial commitment, African leaders and the elites from the Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone will still be loyal and inseparably linked by nostalgic post-colonial master relationship. And relates to the furtherance of economic investment and development, education and training – all to be controlled by the former colonial powers, as African leaders choose development partners with funds to invest in the economy.
In the wake of changing conditions and challenges in Africa, foreign partners are constantly reviewing their economic prospects and robustly investing in order to tackle long-term sustainable development goals, while African countries are making their choices based on their development needs. The result is that observers and opinion-makers struggle to understand the nitty-gritty of who is playing at what, where and how.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has severally reminded that the African direction is one of Russia’s priorities and further praised Africa for its contribution to the development of a fairer and more democratic polycentric (multipolar) world order and to the settlement of current problems. “Russia actively contributed to the independence of African countries and the development and strengthening of their states. Today, we maintain friendly relations that are spearheaded into the future,” he noted.
On taking partnership with Africa to a new level, he unreservedly said: “African countries play a prominent role in international affairs and take an active position in solving topical issues of modern world politics and economics. Progress in the economic and social spheres, improving the quality of life on the African continent contributes to this.”
In his view, “this new stage and this new quality of relations should be based on common values, support for values of justice, equality and respect for the rights of nations to independently choose their future. It is within this framework that Russia continues to coordinate positions at international platforms and makes joint efforts in the interests of stability on the African continent.
Unlike Western countries, European Union members and Asian countries, which focus particularly on what they want to achieve with Africa, Russia places anti-colonial fight at the core of its policy. In short, Russia knows what it wants from the continent: access to markets, political support and general influence. Now it is time for African leaders to clarify what it wants from Russia in return in the lead-up to the July 2023 Russia-Africa summit.
Russia-African relations are based on long-standing traditions of friendship and solidarity created when the Soviet Union supported the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism, and apartheid, protected their independence and sovereignty, and helped establish statehood, and built the foundations of the national economy, according to historical archival documents.
Russia not Addressing Sustainable Development Goals in Africa—Nyongesa
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
liThis short but insightful interview conducted by Kestér Kenn Klomegâh with George Nyongesa, a Senior Associate at the Africa Policy Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Tutorial Fellow and PhD candidate at the University of Nairobi, focused concretely on Russia and Africa relations, Russia’s ineffective policy strategies and challenges in implementing its policy goals in African countries. Here are the excerpts.
Historically, Russian influence on African countries has largely pivoted around hypersonic anti-Western rhetoric; but does such still have relevance in post-colonial and independent African countries
Russia has long had cordial relations with many African countries thanks to ties established during the Soviet era, where their shared mistrust of the West and similar economic and ideological goals frequently led to alignments. However, the nostalgia for the former Soviet Union is waning along with the generation of African leaders who benefited from it. This fact continues to undermine Russia’s relevance and perceived usefulness to Africa, especially among the new crop of leaders.
Generally, the younger African generations, who make up a sizable portion of the continent’s population, grew up when Russia had only a semblance of the gravitas of the former Soviet Union. This is noteworthy because the African continent is fast transitioning towards democracy and development. Against this background, the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine has not done much to win Russia the respect of African countries. Besides, numerous new issues arose following the fall of the Soviet Union, and this seems to have overshadowed Russia’s strategic position to work with Africa. Since then, a lot has been lost, and no doubt other powers, especially the Westerners, Europeans and Asians, jumped in to fill the void.
What next for Russia in Africa?
In a nutshell, it is imperative that Russia takes its foreign economic policy initiatives seriously as it seeks an assertive posture on the global stage, even as it juggles its efforts to regain influence in Africa. In the past, anti-western rhetoric worked easy magic in building alignment, but currently, the majority of the continent is largely focused on democratization and economic emancipation.
For this reason, representatives from the United States, the European Union, and even the Gulf States discuss Africa from various angles, but their main focus is on how to establish their economic presence on the continent. For instance, following their previous EU-AU summit, both parties reached a consensus on a number of infrastructure and investment projects. In particular, the EU already has an investment program that they claim would create links, not dependencies, at a cost of €300 billion ($340 billion) to finance new investment initiatives that are similar to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
As competing global powers continue to court Africa, it is interesting to note that Russia rarely discusses the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA could, at the very least, provide a framework for economic diplomacy towards resetting commercial ties between Russia and Africa. As things currently stand, Russia’s geopolitical stake in the continent of Africa is barely noticeable. For instance, Russian direct investment into Africa is significantly less than that of Europe and North America, totalling less than 1%. Also, Russian direct assistance is scarce, largely symbolic and frequently takes the form of in-kind donations to humanitarian crises or forgiveness of debt. In addition, compared to Africa’s large trading partners like Europe and the United States, trade between Russia and Africa in 2020 totalled $14 billion, or about 2% of the continent’s overall trade.
In summary, it seems the strongest aspect of Russia’s relations with Africa should be robust economic cooperation. If Russia’s foreign economic agency paid attention to AfCFTA, which promises to create a single borderless market, they would find numerous potential opportunities for “win-win” cooperation. It is the Chinese strategic style which challenges Western and European powers even as it capitalizes on localization, production and marketing of consumer goods and services across Africa.
Adesina Says Climate Finance Dearth “Choking” Africa
By Adedapo Adesanya
The President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Mr Akinwumi Adesina, has lamented that a lack of adequate financing for tackling climate change in Africa has become dire and is “choking” the continent.
He made this known while addressing journalists at a media lunch organized to kick off the 2023 Annual Meetings of the lender in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.
Mr Adesina called out developed nations for not honouring the $100 billion climate finance pledge they made to developing countries.
“Africa is being short-changed in climate finance. Africa is choking,” he told newsmen.
“Your role as the media is very important to help carry the news – the news of efforts being made, challenges being faced, and the fierce urgency of now in getting much-needed climate finance to Africa,” the bank chief said.
The bank group’s Annual Meetings will allow the bank’s Board of Governors, African leaders and development partners to explore practical ways of “mobilizing private sector financing for climate and green growth in Africa,” in line with the theme of this year’s meetings.
Mr Adesina said the theme was chosen to draw attention to the urgent need for climate finance, hammering that Africa will need $2.7 trillion by 2030 to finance its climate change needs.
“Anywhere you look in Africa today, climate change is causing havoc,” Mr Adesina said. “In the Sahel, hotter temperatures are drying up limited water, causing water stress for crops and livestock and worsening food insecurity.”
The former Nigerian agric minister said that in vast areas of East and Southern Africa, and in the Horn of Africa, a combination of droughts and floods is causing massive losses of people and infrastructure, leading to rising numbers of refugees.
“There is still much to do, as Africa’s private sector climate financing will need to increase by 36 per cent annually,” he said.
Mr Adesina said, “If Africa had that money, the Sahel would have electricity. If Africa had that money, we would recharge the Chad basin, which has provided livelihoods for millions of people in Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Everything will change in all those countries; we will green the Sahel. We will insure every single African country against catastrophic weather events.”
Mr Adesina told the journalists, “Africa’s measured natural capital alone is estimated to be worth $6.2 trillion,” which, if well harnessed, can spur more rapid economic growth and wealth generation.
He spoke about the Bank’s flagship Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) scheme that provides heat-tolerant seed varieties to increase yield in crops such as wheat.
He also gave the example of Ethiopia, which is now self-sufficient in wheat production and plans to export the surplus to neighbouring countries.
AfDB is spearheading climate adaptation efforts across the continent and has devoted 63 per cent of its climate finance, the highest among all multilateral development banks.
It plans to support millions of farmers, enabling them to access climate-resistant seeds. The institution has also launched the Desert to Power initiative to develop 10,000 megawatts of solar power to benefit nearly 250 million people across the Sahel.
The bank and the Global Center for Adaptation have launched the African Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to support Africa’s adaptation to climate change.
It has also established Alliance for Green Infrastructure (AGIA), in partnership with other institutions, to mobilize $10 billion in private investment for green infrastructure in Africa.
Nigerians Worry as UK Changes Student Visa Policy to Cut Net Migration
By Adedapo Adesanya
New government restrictions to student visa routes that will substantially cut net migration by restricting the ability for international students to take family members to the United Kingdom have raised worries among Nigerians.
Under the new proposals made on Tuesday, only students on postgraduate courses designated as research programmes can bring dependants to the UK while they study.
The UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that net migration was over 500,000 from June 2021 to June 2022.
Nigerians have always sought the UK as a prime destination, and many use the switch role, the UK claims to have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of student dependents being brought into the country with visas.
Although partly attributed to the rise in temporary factors, such as the UK’s Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes, last year almost half a million student visas were issued while the number of dependants of overseas students has increased by 750 per cent since 2019, to 136,000 people.
“Last year, 59,053 Nigerian students brought over 60,923 relatives,” the report noted.
The UK government on Tuesday announced the measures that will prevent students from switching “out of the student route into work routes” before their studies have been completed.
There will also be “improved and more enforcement activity” and a clamp down on “unscrupulous agents” using education as a cover for immigration, according to a government statement.
The UK Home Secretary, Ms Suella Braverman, said in a written statement to the UK parliament that overseas students played an important part in supporting the UK economy but added that it should not come at the cost of the government’s “commitment to the public to lower overall migration and ensure that migration to the UK is highly skilled and therefore provides the most benefit”.
Ms Braverman said the proposals struck the “right balance” and would likely see net migration “fall to pre-pandemic levels in the medium term”.
The new reforms will come into effect for students starting in January next year.
The UK government said it would, however, work with the higher education sector to explore alternative options to ensure the brightest and best students can continue to bring dependents when they study at the UK’s world-leading universities.
Following the UK leaving the European Union, the Tory-led government introduced a points-based immigration system, giving the government full control of the country’s borders.
This was designed to flex to the needs of the economy and labour market and ensure the country has the skills and talent needed by UK businesses and the National Health Service (NHS).
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