Why do Russia and Africa need each other?



The agenda and meanings of the Second Russia-Africa Summit to be held in St. Petersburg on July 27–28.

In the current circumstances, when the Western world and the United States have declared almost complete isolation of Russia, frozen its foreign exchange reserves abroad, and are supplying Ukraine with the most modern weapons, the attention of politicians is focused on the upcoming summit. It will show that despite all efforts, it is not possible to isolate Russia from the rest of the world. Latin America has not turned its back on Russia, and Africa has perhaps never been as close as it is now.

“Almost all countries have confirmed their participation, at the highest level — not one and not two dozen. I simply do not remember now, but more than half of African countries have confirmed their participation at the highest level,” Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference, adding that they are being shamelessly pressured, demanding either to cancel their presence in the summit or to reduce the level of participation.

And this is vivid proof that the world is moving from a monopolistic system of the United States and the West to a multipolar one. The “Black Continent” is increasingly asserting its rights to not only become full participants in important international processes, but even to lead them. Thus, even before the summit, on June 17, African leaders visited St. Petersburg, where they held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussing with him the peace initiatives of African countries in the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

Let us recall that four years ago, in 2019, the first Russia-Africa summit took place. It could be called Russia’s return to Africa. After all, since 1991, Russia has not had much time for Africa: the collapse of the USSR, the breakdown of the entire socialist economy, and the need to simply survive has pushed Russia’s political and economic ties with the African continent to the periphery. Although even in this difficult time, Russia was canceling the debts of the poorest countries.

It should be recognized that the past four years have not seen a decisive leap in Russia’s relations with African countries. Russian business and government agencies have been very cautious about entering the Black Continent, preferring other directions, not launching long-term projects or sharing modern technologies. In addition, the pandemic, which practically cut off many international ties, also played a negative role. Africans’ expectations of large Russian investments turned out to be somewhat unjustified. The fact that the Soviet ties, which were strong during the time of USSR, had weakened considerably, modern Russian business simply did not understand how to work with Africa, where the entry points to Africa were, and was reluctant to make long-term investments. Here are the dry figures that were voiced at the Valdai Forum: in 2019, trade turnover between Russia and Africa was $13.9 billion, and in 2021, it grew by not much — only to $14.7 billion;

Africa has not forgotten the support of the Soviet Union and its assistance in decolonization, and there was a strong demand for diversification of relations, for giving Russia a special role as a counterweight to the post-colonial policy of the West, the memory of whose barbaric actions is still alive there. Both Russia and the Africans realized that it was time to revive, strengthen and bring friendly relations to a new level.

It should be recalled that the result of the 2019 summit was a joint declaration, where the Russian and African leaders outlined 47 points of cooperation. 20 of them concerned trade, economic, educational and humanitarian spheres. In addition, the parties agreed that every year between summits they would hold political consultations between the Russian foreign minister and three African ministers (current, previous and future chairpersons of the African Union), and one such meeting was held in 2020. All this has had a positive result, Russia has confidently returned to the Black Continent, today it maintains political relations with 54 African countries and has diplomatic missions in at least 50 of them. The first Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Africa will soon appear, Russian banks are gradually opening branches there, the number of Russian Centers of Science and Culture has reached 11, and the number of scholarships allocated by Moscow for education has increased from 1.9 thousand to 4.7 thousand this year.

What is the program of the second summit and the Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum in St. Petersburg, where representatives of various ministries, Russian and African businessmen, and experts in international relations will meet? They will discuss the challenges facing Russia and Africa, and look for options to stimulate Russian-African relations in the economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres. The business program includes four large thematic blocks covering all areas of Russia’s cooperation with the African continent: “Economy of the New World”, “Comprehensive Security and Sovereign Development”, “Cooperation in Science and Technology”, “Humanitarian and Social Sphere: Together Towards a New Quality of Life”. One of the main events of the New World Economy track will be the panel discussion “Doing Business in Africa: Risks, Conditions and Opportunities”. Speakers will touch upon the topics of expanding business cooperation between Russia and African countries, talk about export potential in the face of new challenges, as well as programs and projects that are being implemented in Africa today.

The main event of the Comprehensive Security and Sovereign Development block will be the panel discussion “Russia and Africa: Partnership for Food Sovereignty.” It will discuss issues of vital importance for the Black Continent — how can Russia help Africa develop its agricultural infrastructure? How to maintain uninterrupted supplies of Russian mineral fertilizers and agricultural machinery and remove political risks when paying for their imports? After all, without Russian grain and mineral fertilizers, Africans could face starvation. And Russia has repeatedly stated that it is even ready to supply grain and mineral fertilizers to African countries free of charge. One of the reasons why Russia made the grain deal with Turkey and Ukraine was at the request of the United Nations, which was concerned about the threat of famine in Africa, but when it turned out that Russian aid did not reach Africa, Russia had to withdraw from the deal.

In addition, the following events will be held on the margins of the Economic and Humanitarian Forum: Media Forum, Congress of University Rectors, round table with the participation of the highest audit bodies of Russia and African countries, events within the framework of the youth program and much more. As for the meeting of university rectors, we hope that, remembering the Soviet experience, when hundreds of thousands of Africans received higher education in Russia, it will be possible to agree on a new stage of cooperation in the educational sphere. After all, there are still many local specialists working in Africa — Russian graduates who received education in Soviet universities, which is still considered prestigious.

The high level of the meeting in St. Petersburg is also evidenced by the fact that participants in the African initiative to settle the Ukrainian conflict are likely to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 28. It has become known that representatives of African countries want to discuss their peace initiative with the Russian leader. The document proposed by them consists of ten points concerning security guarantees, freedom of movement of grain across the Black Sea, release of prisoners of war and the earliest possible start of negotiations on the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine. The latter issues are particularly important for African countries, as the situation in Ukraine has a negative impact on the food security of African states.

What the countries will undoubtedly discuss at the summit is the need to change the West’s attitude towards them as raw material appendages. Without Russia’s help, Africa cannot expect to achieve full decolonization and take its rightful place in the world ranking. We must recognize that both Russia and Africa need each other.

Many countries now have interests in Africa: at the end of last year, a summit of African leaders was held in the U.S., so the United States is trying to compete with China in Africa. They are worried about 20 years of China’s active participation in infrastructure and mineral development in Africa, because a somewhat neglectful attitude to former colonies has led to the White House lagging behind Beijing in the development of Africa. In addition, the U.S. attempt to “bend” the Africans by forcing them to take their side in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has caused them active irritation. Africans saw this as a relapse of the policy of neocolonialism — to force them to do the will of the United States and the West. It should be recognized that any attempt of Western pressure on African countries is perceived by them through historical memory as evidence that they are still treated as colonies. Therefore, faced with unprecedented pressure, they have not forgotten their long-standing ties with Russia, which they still perceive as the heir of the USSR, supporting them in the national liberation struggle.

In addition, African countries saw the real attitude of the U.S. and the West towards them. They were extremely offended that aid from developed countries went to Ukraine, to the detriment of the poorest countries of the Black Continent.

Aid to sub-Saharan Africa fell to $29 billion (– 8%) last year, and to Ukraine it raised to $16 billion against less than one billion a year earlier, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The visit of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to Africa in order to balance the growing influence of China and Russia provoked a strong reaction from African leaders who said: “The U.S. cannot teach us democracy.”

The advantage of Russia lies precisely in the fact that it does not treat developing countries with condescension and conducts business on an equal basis, as the summit in St. Petersburg will demonstrate.