By Kester Kenn Klomegah
An expert group has completed its studies of Russia’s policy implementation processes, impact and setbacks, and the development prospects in Africa, and has presented its final report with some recommendations intended to improve and scale up the existing Russia’s influence in Africa.
The report was prepared as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Situation Analytical Report, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE University).
Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.
The 150-page report, released in November, offers new directions, some development prospects and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa. The report identifies two key factors necessary for determining the long-term importance of the continent: (i) human capital and (ii) natural resources.
These make for the increased interest for investment in extractive industries and infrastructure as well as booming consumer markets that are rising at rates much higher than the rest of the world. Africa’s 1.3 billion people are a potential market for all kinds of consumable goods and services. The coming decades will see an accelerated competition over Africa’s resources and economic influence.
Despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters. Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991.
The first historic summit created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.
Some situation analysis participants who contributed to the latest policy report spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa. They even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.
While the number of top-most and high-level meetings have increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda often remains small or scanty. There are little definitive results from such meetings. There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel and lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.
In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying combined with lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking were listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Russia thus needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.
In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time. Right now, there are many agreements signed, before and during the first Russia-Africa summit, and Russia simply fails to deliver, as promised with African countries.
“The situation analysis participants agreed that the lack of project due diligence and proper verification of contracting partners is one of the key challenges for Russian business in Africa.
Many projects announced at the top and high political levels have not been implemented. The reason is usually that the projects were not properly prepared before official approval. As a result, budget funding is often spent on raw and unprepared initiatives,” according to the report.
The adoption by Russia of an open doctrinal document on cooperation with Africa will emphasize the seriousness of its intentions and create an atmosphere of trust, in which individual steps will attain greater weight and higher-level justification. In African conditions, this will mean accelerated coordination of essential decisions. It is important to note that such public strategies for the entire continent are a necessary instrument of the other countries that are active in Africa.
Unlike most competitors, Russia can afford to promote a more honest, open, direct and understandable agenda for Africa: sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected. All situation analysis participants agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more African than those of its competitors.
It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan — a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.
One of the most important tasks critical for the effectiveness of Russian actions in Africa is the centralization and strengthening of the role and capacity of Russian state institutions on the African track, especially in the information sphere.
The report proposes that dialogues should be enhanced between civil societies, including expert and academic organizations. In a situation where a rapid expansion of trade and economic relations is difficult (for example, due to economic stagnation or a crisis in the respective country), the humanitarian track can become one of the ways to deepen relations further.
On foreign players in Africa, the report points to China as number one active player. India’s influence continues to grow, as does the involvement of Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar, which are relatively new players in Africa. The influence and involvement of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil in the coming years, are likely to remain at the level of the past decade and will decline compared to China’s influence. China, the EU, Germany, Turkey, Spain, and others have developed, announced and are implementing progressively their African strategies.
In general, of all the G7 countries, only Germany still has some potential to increase its influence and presence in Africa. Canada, Italy, and the UK, according to the authors, can at best maintain their influence at the same level, but it, too, will decrease compared that of the new centers of power.
Africa will retain its importance for Europe in the long term and may even increase being an important source of a wide range of resources. Europe needs mineral resources (cobalt, gas, bauxite, rare earth metals) in order to carry out the energy transition, and human ones in order to make up for the natural decrease of population. The European banking system and financial institutions traditionally rely on Africa as a source of funding (while African capital often seeks refuge, and instability only accelerates its flight).
The influence of other non-European emerging powers, who often compete with each other, is also growing in Africa. UAE and Turkey may be mentioned among others. Their rivalry is visible in North Africa, West Africa and, especially, the Red Sea, and includes competition for control over both port infrastructure and points of possible military presence. A vivid example of this rivalry is Somalia, where Turkey is interacting and strengthening its position in Mogadishu, while the UAE, which recently lost control of the port in Djibouti, is taking a foothold in Berbera (in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland).
Kester Kenn Klomegah is a Public Affairs Analyst.