29.10.2019 Author: Dmitry Bokarev

Russia and Africa: A Promising Partnership


Africa is a vast continent, rich in natural and labor resources. For many centuries, it was divided into spheres of influence between powerful European nations. After World War II, the process of decolonization and the emergence of independent African states took place, which the USSR supported while the West stood in opposition. After Cold War ended, both sides temporarily weakened their influence on the continent, which China took advantage of by launching a large-scale economic expansion in Africa.

The PRC began to cooperate with almost all African states and international organizations; the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was convened to this end. The 2015 Forum Summit was chaired personally by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who then informed the attending leaders of African countries that China intended to invest $60 billion into Africa. 3,200 foreign guests attended the 2018 FOCAC Summit in Beijing, including the UN Secretary-General and 40 African presidents, as well as 10 prime ministers. China promised to invest another $60 billion into the African economy, to defeat famine there by 2030 and to help build a “society of tomorrow” on African soil.

Over the past decade, the Celestial Empire has become practically the most influential economic force in Africa, sparing no means for the development of trade, loans and investments. Now China is the leading trading partner of African countries and reaps benefits from the use of African resources. China is actively creating enterprises in Africa, at the same time working on the development of the continental transport infrastructure intended to make Africa an important part of the One Belt, One Road Initiative, which China plans to extend to the whole world. The successes are so great that certain malcontents, primarily in the West, began to speak of a new, Chinese colonization of Africa.

However, Africa is too large to manage alone, even for China, and offers an extensive scope for other major powers to contribute. In recent years, Russia has steadily increased its presence in Africa as well.

While China invests a lot of funds into the development of basic and crucial areas, such as, for example, agriculture and transport, Russia chooses to focus on high tech. For a long time now, African militaries have been armed mainly with Soviet or Russian weapons and equipment, and over the last few years, Russia has been developing cooperation with several African states in the field of nuclear energy. However, the prospects for Russian-African economic cooperation are much greater, and the Russian government intends to expand it in every possible direction. This will be eased by the long-standing friendly relations Russia has with many African states since the times of their battle for independence. As mentioned above, the USSR provided them with all kinds of help, including military assistance.

Following the successful example of the FOCAC, Russia and its African partners decided to establish the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The supreme body of the Forum is the Russia-Africa Summit.

The first Russia-Africa Summit took place in Sochi, Russia, on October 23-24 this year. The event brought together the heads of the African countries recognized by the UN (it should be noted that some territories in Africa are controlled by unrecognized governments and illegal armed groups), as well as the representatives of international African organizations.

The Final Declaration of the event states that the Russian Federation and African countries intend to continue to develop cooperation in political, humanitarian and legal spheres, as well as in trade, economics, information sharing, science and technological development, security and environmental protection.

Regarding the political sphere, the parties agreed to adhere to the principles of equality and a multilateral world order, intending to strictly observe international law and the principles laid out in the UN Charter. Cooperation within the framework of the UN and other organizations in order to advance common interests was emphasized. Russia also intends to promote relations between Africa and BRICS.

Concerning security, Russia and Africa have agreed to act together to combat international terrorism, extremism, transnational crime, drug trafficking and slave trade, to support the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. For these purposes, the parties decided to coordinate the work of Russian and African special services. Just like the Soviet Union, Russia is ready to conduct training for the African military in its specialized educational institutions. In order to combat terrorism and extremism, the parties decided to jointly urge UN Member States to work on legislation governing social media activities and the use of information technology. Russia also intends to provide all possible assistance to the African Union in implementing its initiative to end hostilities in Africa by 2020.

Moreover, Russia and African countries intend to cooperate in the peaceful exploration of outer space, to counteract the deployment of weapons by certain states in outer space and to maintain the peaceful status of space objects.

In order to strengthen trade and economy, Russia and its African partners decided to join forces to facilitate trade and investment. The states will speak out against unilateral actions in the international economy, discrimination and violations of WTO rules, as well as against attempts by some nations to use trade and economic leverage to exert political pressure on sovereign governments. Russia is planning to increase trade with Africa in all possible areas. Particular attention will be paid to the trade of agricultural products and hydrocarbon resources. Russia also intends to promote trade between African countries and the EAEU.

Regarding legal matters, the Declaration primarily reflects the commitments of Russia and its African partners to the UN Charter, their adherence to the principles of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.

Scientific and technical cooperation will manifest itself in the development of national health systems and state control over them.

It was announced that the Russia-Africa Summit will be held every three years (just like the FOCAC Summit), along with annual meetings between the foreign ministers of Russia and African countries.

The prospering of Russian-African partnership is yet to come. However, the Russia-Africa Summit 2019 can be viewed as a public demonstration of the seriousness of their intentions. Moreover, the fact that the work of the Russia-Africa Forum is so similar to the China-Africa Forum suggests that Russia’s ambitions to develop relations with the African continent are comparable to those of China.

Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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