On May 25th the world celebrated Africa Day, the day to commemorate the founding of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. In the United States, the Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center Rama Yade is celebrating by advising the Biden administration on how Africa is America’s biggest geopolitical opportunity.
At the same moment American interests were wringing their hands figuring out new and creative ways to extract Africa’s wealth, the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia expressed absolute readiness and desire to host the forthcoming second Russia-Africa Summit scheduled for 2022. While US and Europe try to figure out how to recolonize the old continent, Russia’s trade with African countries is already growing rapidly since the Sochi summit. This report details this growth, but also Russia’s different strategies for investment. The US, European nations, and especially China are operating differently in Africa. But, even with more constrained resources, Russian businesses are making real headway in cooperating.
Western mainstream media tends to parrot US State Department worries Russia is primarily in the arms and security business in Africa. Every media outlet from London to New York harps on every arms sale Russia makes, and there’s never mention of deals like the huge 1,300 railcar deal worth over 1 billion euro with Egypt. Western analysts also fail to mention that the primary exports of Russian companies to Africa industries are in agriculture, mechanical engineering, chemical industry, timber industry, and metallurgical. All the rhetoric, the overwhelming narrative is Cold War II bombastic. And if you read these think tank reports, you cannot help but take notice of the Machiavellian tone western analysts take. In the Yade report at Atlantic Council, the author goes so far as to advise the Biden administration to make use of African American citizens as “assets.” You read correctly.
Turning to both Russia and Africa partners, the progressive movement is determined to destroy negative myths espoused by current media on both sides. In a recent forum, stakeholders worked to understand the prospects of information interaction between the media in the coverage of Russia on the African continent and Africa in Russia. The media can, and indeed must, be a decisive factor in building effective ties. The need for Russian media to play a more impactful role is obvious. From CNN to Moscow Times, corporate controlled media parrots Russia weapons sales, and nothing more. This passage from a recent story by Modern Diplomacy, the authors highlights the problem:
“…in practical terms and during the past years, has not been prioritized by authorities. European and Western media brands, such as British Broadcasting Corporation, Cable News Network, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Press, Quartz, Al-Jazeera, Bloomberg, Xinhua News Agency et cetera, are active with their African partners, while the Russian media are largely invisible.”
The recent video conference with the Russian Association for International Cooperation (RAMS), the Russkiy Mir Foundation and the Association for Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS) “Russia – Africa in the Mirror of the Media” dealt in part with overcoming the constant Russia to Africa weapons-security echo reverberating across continents. Then there’s the US and the UN dragging their feet over the potential for Egypt and Ethiopia to have a military conflict over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. While Washington think tanks and the US State Department have been focused on other issues, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already interceded to help the two countries come to an accord of the controversial Nile River project. If the US has fears Putin and Russia are trying to take over the world, losing both Egypt and Ethiopia to Russia influence should cause some Washington nail biting.
Meanwhile, news from Addis Abbaba tells of more than 10,000 people in the Ethiopian city taking part in an anti-US rally in the capital Addis Abbaba, denouncing President Joe Biden’s policy on the conflict in the country’s northern region of Tigray. The Biden administration is sanctioning Ethiopia over alleged human rights issues caused by the armed conflict, but experts say the US is more concerned with Russia gaining influence in the region. Famine in the country and the region is magnifying already strained relations between the western influences and African nations.
For some analysts, America and China fighting a proxy war for influence on the continent seems clear-cut. But Russia gets a lot of the blame for the powder keg some places are becoming. Washington is fighting a typical war of simultaneous sanctions and debt as levers to force outcomes. Russia, on the other hand, is building relationships incrementally, and sturdier. What makes the whole Africa influence game so hilarious is the way western think tanks can come right out and admit America is after geostrategy there, but Russia and China are somehow the bad guys in it all.
This Atlantic Council piece’s title tells you more than I can about what’s at stake and how nations are going after it. “Africa is America’s greatest geopolitical opportunity. Does the US know it?” But the Chinese and Vladimir Putin are out to create empires? The game is, as it has always been, like Monopoly the board game, only for much older children. I wonder if Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov feel at a disadvantage because there are so few Russians of African descent? Funny how the tables turn. The nation that is supposed to uphold diverse ethnicity is to use the race card to further neo colonialism. And, the nation accused of rebuilding an evil empire turns out being the masters of detente. Funny world.
Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, he’s an author of the recent bestseller “Putin’s Praetorians” and other books. He writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”