By - Tobi Idowu
When it had bigger strength as in the USSR, Moscow was a crucial player in Africa, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders. But that definitive ties with Africa would collapse with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In recent years, Russia has been devising ways to return to an enviable echelon of world dominant power, and that will have to be proved with interest in and influence on not a few neighboring countries, but far off continents. And Africa is always willing to be influenced!
It is precisely because of that quest , and significantly the encouragement it got from the seemingly easy ride China is having as it makes more and more inroads into the heart of Africa, that Russia is determined to up its stake on the continent. China’s continued almost unchecked strides on the continent, Russia couldn’t but reenact another scramble for Africa.
Money oils all ambition
Russia knows so well that its quest for a larger chunk of the African pie is largely dependent on how willing it can dangle its money (aids, hard currency, NGOs etc.) to a very receptive African leaders, who only know how to open their countries to rich and powerful non-African powers but unwilling to deal and trade with one another.
As it stands, the European Union, China, India, the United States and United Arab Emirates are the leading economic partners (some call it sugar daddies) with Africa. It was in part the desire to change this order that precipitated the Russia-African forum.
So, while addressing the forum in Sochi, Putin made a skillful pitch to the 54 attentive African leaders for a doubling of trade between his country and the aggregation of all the countries in Africa. He would go on to tell his African brothers what unimaginable gains their respective countries will get and the overall benefits which this new found foster big brotherhood will amount to for Africa.
To show its willingness to become a generous and thoughtful big brother, Russia knew it must show a significant act. And it did. No sooner was the forum commenced than President, Vladimir Putin, announced that his country had written off $20 billion of accumulated debt owed by African countries during the Soviet era.
Not only that. He added that the funds from those debts were being used to set up special programmes to support Africa’s economic development. “Russia had recently written off $20 billion of debt owed by African countries,” Putin said, adding, “funds from those debts were being used to set up special programmes to support Africa’s economic development.”
But he added very calmly, yet notably, that: “It was not only an act of generosity but also a manifestation of pragmatism because many of the African states were not able to pay interest on these loans,” he said.
What’s really fueling this interest according to Putin
The Russian president did not mince words on why his country desires more and more ties with Africa. According to him, Africa is becoming more and more attractive to Russian businesses as many of the countries have become centres of economic growth. In other words, an omen of growth perceived in Africa, which has drawn other big brothers to the continent, attracts Russia too. Right thinking people know that this kind of omen will not have been that attractive if it does not show a potential to be propitious to the sign seekers. No one wants to miss out on a potential bumper harvest, it seems!
And then the AfCTA!
Well, 54 African countries have, on paper, pledged to open up their respective markets to one another a la European Union. As Russia is not part of the EU, it does not mind becoming a part of the AfCTA, albeit as a guiding collaborator. This was what President Putin would have meant when he said that the Russian Federation was eager to work with Africa to support the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement. He made the point that this was essential in particular as it would help foster collaboration with the Eurasian Economic Union, which Russia leads.
Business: Russian guns
Only a few people would have missed the point of Russia’s willingness to become Africa’s new caring big brother. It was all too easy to observe that, although the Russia-African forum appeared on the surface to have had range of discussions – from nuclear technology to mineral extraction – it was the seemingly marginal activities that stands out. The stands for arms companies on the sidelines of the forum took the shine off the whole forum. It is difficult to think it wasn’t planned to be so.
Russia’s intention was to display its new next generation Kalashnikov assault rifles, helicopters and facial recognition systems to impressionable African leaders, whose countries now account for 40% of Russian gun maker, Rosoboronexport orders. “We would like to expand our presence there, of course,” Rosoboronexport director Alexander Mikheev told AFP.
One needs little clue as to the potential benefits of the new relationship between Russia and Africa: pecuniary gains for Russia, more debt for Africa. Yes few Africans, the unconscionable leaders will accrue some humongous wealth from the deal, all at the expense of the people, who continue to rank at the lowest ebb of the poorest in the world. Perhaps we should be less pessimistic and, in optimism, hope it’s not all doomed for the African people. History, however teaches us otherwise.
Follow us on Twitter @aprecon
Follow on Instagram @_aprecon
Like our Page on FB @aprecon
Copyright © The African Progressive Economist 2019. All Rights Reserved.