FM Conference must separate blusters from concrete facts to achieve policy progress in Africa

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FM Conference must separate blusters from concrete facts to achieve policy progress in Africa
FM Conference must separate blusters from concrete facts to achieve policy progress in Africa

BY
KESTER KENN KLOMEGAH

Africa-Press – Mauritius. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the forthcoming conference of African Foreign Ministers as the newest platform to systematize further the process of establishing strategic relations between Russia and African countries. The initiative is poised to enhance important future prospects of Russia-African partnership and to stimulate implementing several bilateral agreements reached during the first and the second summits held respectively in Sochi (October 2019) and St. Petersburg (July 2023).

Putin has, several times, reiterated how with consistency the Soviet Union and then Russia supported Africa. And that Africa is now building up capacity and aspires to emerging as an effective powerhouse in a multipolar world with its unique identity by making confident strides in nurturing a genuine sense of political and economic sovereignty.

On May 9, Putin had a meeting in the Kremlin with President of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau Umaro Sissoco Embalo who went there as his special guest for the Victory Day, which has special significance for Russia as a whole and for the entire former Soviet Union, considering the immense contribution by the peoples of the former Soviet Union and the sacrifices they made to achieve Victory.

Ultimately, Putin always has something new for Africans. According to him, a new dialogue format – the Ministerial Conference of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, at the level of foreign ministers is scheduled for the Black Sea city of Sochi in November 2024. The Russia-Africa Ministerial Conference has the main task to review and design suitable mechanisms for implementing all agreements signed with African countries.

Held last year in St Petersburg, the Russia-Africa summit resulted in the adoption of a solid package of joint documents, including a detailed declaration and a specific plan of action until 2026. “We will make every effort to ensure that these agreements become reality. We have been paying special attention to our relations with African countries and seeking to alleviating (ease) their debt burden,” Putin underlined during his speech with Guinea-Bissau Umaro Sissoco Embalo.

In practical terms, Russia has done its greatest humanitarian service to Africa by writing off Soviet-era $23 billion debts. And African leaders together with all Ministers have expressed their gratitude for this written-off debts accumulated not by the entire African continent but by a few African states supplied with military equipment and weaponry during their struggle against colonialism and for their fighting political independence. Writing off these debts portrayed Africa’s financial insolvency and lack of creditworthiness.

Unlike China, Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States who made publicly financial budget for investments in Africa, Russia differs in financial approach towards Africa. It has not made public any budget for Africa during the Sochi and St. Petersburg summits. Further to that, Russia’s financial institutions are glaringly less interested in investing in development and infrastructure projects, and in business across Africa.

The French-speaking West African countries, face multiple challenges, are ready to barter natural resources and their mines in exchange for military bases and private security after Russia successfully uprooted France from the continent. But unlike the USSR, Russia didn’t and, most likely will not dispose of the financial and logistic resources needed to massively invest in the key sectors signed in bilateral agreements in first and second summits. In short, African leaders together with their ministers and the political elites should understand that Russia is simply not running a charity, therefore must necessarily come to such conferences and summits with transparent business.

In an interview with the New Eastern Outlook magazine, Russian Deputy Foreign and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Africa already views Russia as the continent’s main guarantor of stability and security in the context of geopolitical competition and changes. “Russia, never shy away from a fair competition. Judging from the response from African partners, especially in the Sahara-Sahel region, and across the continent, there is a growing demand for the assistance being provided by our country,” according to Bogdanov.

The senior Russian diplomat described Africa as “the continent of the future,” a place of “truly inexhaustible natural and human resources” with “an increasingly large and high-margin market.” Africa, therefore, has increasingly involved representatives of the ‘Global East and South,’ namely China, India, Turkey, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, and Latin America,” he explained, saying that this long list may grow.

In building its cooperation with African countries, Russia hews to the position that the African continent is a new, versatile, and unique global pole of power that is evolving rather than an arena for confrontation between large global players, Bogdanov maintained. “Russia is ready to actively assist in strengthening the existing potential of African countries without putting forward any political terms or giving unwanted advice,” he said as he described this as Russia’s competitive advantage.

In asserting its significance Russia’s relations within the context of geopolitical narratives, its hyperbolic voice on creating a multipolar order consisting of the developing countries in the Global South, the world is rather experience more of bi-polarity. Still more interpretation, political analysts indicate it is either “for or against” the Global North, “for or against” the Global South. Confrontation divides the world.

Most often Russian officials’ rhetoric reflects the complexity of its historical connection during the Soviet times, and for contemporary political ends capitalizing on that to manipulate Africans’ perception. While Russia has shown significant gaps and flaws for economic transformation alternative in the continent, it successfully captured Africans ceaselessly expressing their sympathy for the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia’s economic outlook, especially the needed infrastructure and manufacturing, is relatively bleak in Africa.

Over these years, there have been several development-oriented initiatives without tangible results. The policy weaknesses were compiled and incorporated in the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ by 25 policy researchers headed Professor Sergey Karaganov, Faculty Dean at the Moscow’s High School of Economics. This 150-page report was presented in November 2021, which offers new directions and excellent recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa.

That report further highlighted several issues of regional and international significance, and explored ways in which Russia can collaborate to drive effective development in the continent, examined carefully the challenges and opportunities in transitioning from political independence to economic stability, and this requires taking sustainable development-oriented policies toward transforming those huge untapped resources in the continent.

The next was the Valdai Club report, “Russia and Africa: An Audit of Relations” prepared for the second summit. The report analyses relations in various fields since the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019. An important part of it is devoted to comparing Russian policy with similar agendas that China, India, the United States, and Turkey have regarding Africa. The report authors highlight Russia’s pros and cons in comparison with other countries and offer recommendations on how to most effectively use strengths and overcome weaknesses.

There was another 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 for policy ambitions in Africa. Squeezed between illusions and realities, Russian authorities need to make efforts to have insights into 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 western Europe, to abandon its illusions and seriously reconsider its economic policy strategy for Africa. Professors Irina O. Abramova and Leonid L. Fituni noted in their joint report that the hopes of Africans to intensify cooperation with the Russian Federation should be supported by real steps in the economic and political spheres and not be limited to verbal declarations about the “return of Russia to Africa” especially after Sochi gathering which was described very symbolic.

“Today, we find ourselves in the same boat with Africans, and not only in terms of Western pressure on our political and economic agency and the desire to free ourselves from old and new forms of colonialism. We have common goals and objectives. We are mutually interested in the formation of a just multipolar world, where every country and people can find a worthy place,” according to Abramova and Fituni.

Both Abramova and Fituni, however, maintain that officials need to critically analyze the strategies of old and new players on the African continent, and vis-avis with the current areas of Russian-African cooperation in the short, medium, and long term, and adopt practical mechanisms and tools necessary to intensify interaction, including informational and financial-economic levers.

Nevertheless, African leaders are consistently asked to support Russia against Ukraine. Undeniably, Moscow is wooing African elites to serve its interests, African states are trying to play off Moscow, Washington, Brussels and Beijing for maximum advantage. While many complexities and nuances still remain in the entire relationships, it necessary not to over-generalize the unique features in the bilateral ties. With high optimism and a high desire to strengthen its geopolitical influence, Russians have engaged in trading slogans, and many of its signed bilateral agreements have not been implemented, including all those from the first Russia-Africa summit. The first summit fact-files show that 92 agreements and contracts worth a total of $12.5 billion were signed, and before that several pledges and promises were still undelivered.

Several bilateral agreements signed during the second Russia-Africa summit in July 2023 are still lying on office-desks and electronic archives untouched, so the forthcoming Foreign Ministerial Conference will hopefully not be a platform for displaying colourful, well-decorated speeches but rather an ideal opportunity to reflect on progress since 2019 summit held in the southern city Sochi, already five years ago.

The forthcoming Africa’s Foreign Ministerial Conference in November must necessarily, at least, make the conscious attempt to separate the blusters from concrete facts on the ground. In the context of a multipolar geopolitical order, Moscow’s strategic incompetence and dominating opaque relations are adversely affecting sustainable developments in Africa. It therefore makes Russia look more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American and Chinese influence.

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