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13 August, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Putin hints Russia could organise Africa summit

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Putin hints Russia could organise Africa summit

After several years of high-level consultations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally hinted that Russia would organize its first Russia-Africa Summit of African leaders and Ministers to roll out a comprehensive strategic road map outlining concrete economic sectors for investment, issues relating to trade and culture for Africa.

Addressing a group of invited African leaders at 2018 BRICS Summit on July 27 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Putin told the gathering “I would like to inform you that we are studying the idea of holding a Russia-Africa summit with the participation of Heads of African states. This could be preceded by meetings of prominent businessmen, policy experts and public figures. And I intend to discuss this with representatives of African countries.”

He did not provide specific dates or any further details about the proposed summit, but strongly acknowledged that Russia has always given priority to the development of relations with African countries, based on long-standing traditions of friendship and mutual assistance, and Africa has now emerged as the world’s most rapidly developing regions.

The leaders of African countries who attended his special meeting came from Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. By ‘resetting’ some strategies, Russia and Africa have entered a new phase of growth in their economic diplomacy mainly due to rising interaction by high ranking government officials from some African countries with their Russian colleagues during the first half of 2014. Undoubtedly, Russia's intensified move to invite delegations has often been interpreted among academics and policy experts as a result of escalating competition and increasing economic influence by many foreign players in Africa.

Professor Georgy Toloraya, Chair of the Regional Projects Department, Russkiy Mir Foundation, and Executive Director, BRICS National Research Committee in Russia, explained that ‘in the wake of increasing conflict with the West and European Union, Russia has to turn its attention (especially in economy) elsewhere and Africa is the obvious choice. The time has come to make meaningful efforts to implement agreements on bilateral basis. Furthermore, Russia is a part of the BRICS efforts in Africa, which might be one of the areas of investment activities by the newly created New Development Bank of BRICS.’

As media reports have indicated, Russia will assume the BRICS presidency and prepare the 7th Summit in 2015, President Vladimir Putin may attempt to use the group to strengthen its policy in Africa. Observers also noted Russia considers the grouping an absolute foreign policy priority. Brazil, India and China are very visible on the continent, but can they also have a meaningful unified BRICS foreign policy in Africa? Foreign players have their individual interests and varying investment.

Some experts acknowledge that it is never too late for Russia to enter the business game but what it requires here is to move beyond old stereotypes, prioritize corporate projects and have a new policy strategy for the continent - a market of some 350 million middle-class Africans. Of course, Russia has to risk by investing and recognize the importance of cooperation on key potential investment issues and to work closely with African leaders on the challenges and opportunities on the continent, Andy Kwawukume, an independent policy expert told me from London, noting that Russians were trying to re-stage a come-back over the past few years, which was a commendable step forward.

Kwawukume, a Norwagian trained graduate, pointed out that ‘there is enough room and gaps in Africa for Russians to fill too, in a meaningful way, which can benefit all parties involved. The poor and low level of infrastructural development in Africa constitutes a huge business for Russian construction companies to step in. Energy is another sector Russians can help in developing. Over the past few years summits have become increasingly common and interactive dialogue is also very helpful that Russian officials should consider using its Russian trained African graduates as bridges to stimulate business cooperation. Really, what Russia needs is a multilayered agenda for Africa.’

But, John Mashaka, a Tanzanian financial analyst at Wells Fargo Capital Markets in the U.S., argues that Russia is going to remain relevant in Africa if its leaders can design a policy or mechanism that will enable its people and corporations to secure credits – loans - with favourable terms including payment.

It must counter China’s increasing economic influence with much better packages such as concessional and low-interest loans. There are chances to turn the business tide and if Russians can come with a different mix of economic incentives, without doubt, they will be taking off from the track where the former USSR left after the collapse of the Soviet era.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has earlier said in interview with the Hommes d’Afrique magazine that At present, Russia’s relations with African countries were progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

He noted Russia has maintained an intensive political dialogue with African countries on one hand and on other side, representatives from African countries are active participants in international forums hosted by Russia.

The writer is an independent research writer and a policy consultant on

African affairs

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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